The founder of a fundamentalist Christian men’s movement plans to forge a new alliance with “messianic Jews” that could undermine crucial relations between pro-Israel Evangelical Christians and the Jewish community.
Bill McCartney, the former University of Colorado football coach who in 1990 created Promise Keepers, a national Christian men’s ministry, is planning to launch “Road to Jerusalem.” The group is designed to strengthen ties between Evangelical Christians and messianic Jews — a term used to describe people who believe that Jesus is the messiah, but continue to identify as Jews and perform Jewish rituals. Jewish organizations frequently have accused messianic Jews of adopting misleading tactics in their attempts to win over other Jews.
In recent years, Jewish organizations generally have succeeded in convincing many evangelical groups to refrain from working with messianic Jews. This arrangement has made it significantly easier for American Jewish organizations and Israeli officials to embrace evangelical support for Israel.
Some observers, however, say that a new era could be dawning, with Evangelical Christian groups more willing to risk their good relations with Jews and Israel by allying themselves with the messianists.
“What I’m sensing now, and I’m concerned about it, is a deliberate effort on the part of some evangelical groups to affirm their messianic components,” said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president and founder of International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Eckstein, whose organization raises money for Israel each year from evangelical donors, said that he was unfamiliar with McCartney’s efforts, but has seen hints of such a trend for months.
“Until now,” Eckstein said, evangelicals “have realized that if they want to have relations with the Jewish community and Israel they have to put messianic groups aside because they know people like myself aren’t going to work with them.”
Similar views were expressed by Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, interfaith affairs director at the Anti-Defamation League, and Rabbi James Rudin, senior interreligious consultant to the American Jewish Committee.
Eckstein, who advises Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, said he would strongly urge Sharon and other Israeli leaders to shun evangelical leaders who support messianic attempts to proselytize Jews — even though evangelicals have poured tens of millions of dollars into Israel and have been steadfast visitors to the Jewish state during the intifada.
Few details about McCartney’s project have been made public. McCartney, who resigned from Promise Keepers last year, reportedly to care for his ailing wife, did not respond to calls and emails from the Forward.
McCartney founded Promise Keepers, which preaches male responsibility to the family, in the same year that he coached the Buffaloes to a share of the national football championship. McCartney stopped coaching in 1994 to devote his full time to the organization.
In May, McCartney, quoting the New Testament, told worshippers at a Phoenix church that “we are going to save the unbelieving Jew.
“On the shirt of reconciliation, the top button is Jew and gentile,” McCartney said, according to press reports.
“Road to Jerusalem” is not expected to be officially unveiled until December 3, at a public event in Palm Springs, Calif. But some messianic Jewish leaders are already hailing “Road to Jerusalem” as the first major Christian evangelical effort to affirm the beliefs of messianic Jews.
“McCartney is saying that his support for Israel and the Jewish people is really going to start with support of the messianic Jewish movement,” said Russ Resnik, the Albuquerque-based executive director of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations.
McCartney outlined his vision at the messianic union’s national convention in Boston last month, Resnik told the Forward. In 1997, messianist leaders participated in a Promise Keepers rally, which attracted 60,000 people.
“I think the hope is that as messianic Jews and Christians stand together, that may attract the interest of the Jewish people,” Resnik told the Forward. Referring to Jesus by his Hebrew name, as is common among messianic Jews, Resnik added: “We certainly seek to promote the message of Yeshua among our people.”
Resnik described “Road to Jerusalem” as a “very significant” boost for messianic Jews, a group that he says has historically been marginalized by both the Christian and Jewish communities.
“When Christian leaders want to express support for Jewish causes and for Israel, they tend to leave us out,” Resnik said. Also, he added, many evangelicals often pressure messianic Jews to convert to Christianity — “which we don’t believe we are called to do.”