About this time every year the so-called “Jews for Jesus” (JFJ), an evangelical Christian missionary organization that targets Jews for conversion, sends out its traveling road show called “Christ in the Passover,” as reported by the Kentucky News Enterprise.

Such programs are typically staged within evangelical and fundamentalist churches and they seek to superimpose Christian beliefs over the historic understanding of the Jewish Passover observance.

According to the Kentucky newspaper this year’s JFJ program will be presented within “5,000 churches.”

Christian missionaries posing as “Jews” generally have received a “bad reception” from the Jewish community as reported by the Washington D.C. Jewish Times.

The fact that Passover has an established meaning that predates both Jesus and Christianity doesn’t seem to bother JFJ and/or its supporters.

The missionary group’s version of “Passover” is at best misleading, but it also can be seen as an expression of ethnocentric religious arrogance, which largely disregards both the history and the intrinsic significance of the Jewish holiday.

As anyone acquainted with the Book of Exodus or the movie classic the “Ten Commandments” knows Passover is not about Jesus or Christianity, it is a holiday specifically observed to commemorate the deliverance of Jews from bondage in ancient Egypt as recorded within what Christians call the “Old Testament.”

But the purpose of Passover to JFJ appears to be more of a fund raising gimmick. And the organization, which has had its share of money problems, seems anxious to continue its annual program that apparently has become something like a sacred cash cow.

At the end of its “Passover” shows comes JFJ’s pitch, or as it is most often described the call for an “offering.”

This also affords an opportunity for the controversial group to collect names and thus expand its mailing list.

JFJ is the creation of Pastor Martin Rosen, an ordained Baptist minister who retired some time ago from his long-running position as head of the missionary organization.

However, a while back the peripatetic pastor hit the road once again in an effort to rally the faithful to his somewhat fading ministry, which was first launched in the 1970s.

Martin likes to be called “Moishe,” which makes him seem Jewish.

Jewish surnames also suffuse the list of front line JFJ staff, again giving the group a seeming patina of supposed “Jewishness.”

However, JFJ’s funding comes essentially from Christian fundamentalists.

Isn’t it just a bit presumptuous for a missionary organization founded by a Baptist minister to define the meaning of a Jewish holiday and its symbols?

JFF and its supporters don’t seem to think so.

Financial support of such groups from evangelicals along with their overwhelming enthusiasm for last year’s Mel Gibson film “Passion of the Christ” despite its disturbing anti-Semitic content, continues to raise eyebrows within the Jewish community regarding the actual sentiments of so-called “born-again” Christians.

Positive ecumenical dialog has existed for some time between more moderate or “Mainline” Protestants and Jewish denominations. And there have been historic breakthroughs in recent years between Jews and the Roman Catholic Church.

But what meaningful interreligious dialog actually exists between evangelical Christians and the organized Jewish community?

These are the same Christians who frequently say they “love” both Jews and Israel.

But if evangelicals truly “love” Jews why would they continue to support insulting and confrontational groups such as JFJ year after year, while essentially ignoring the bad reception they receive from the Jewish community?

Doesn’t such continued support demonstrate a disregard and/or insensitivity to the concerns of Jews?

In fairness it should be noted that some evangelical leaders have spoken out critically against groups like JFJ, such as Billy Graham.

Jesus once offered the analogy that you would know a tree by its fruit.

It appears that there may be quite a few rotten apples hanging from fundamentalist Christian trees.

One rabbi displayed this troubling truth in a recent article titled “An Exchange With a Missionary” published by Israel’s Arutz Sheva.

In this rather poignant piece the rabbi reviews the ethnocentric aspects of fundamentalist Christian dogma through an imagined conversation with a JFJ operative.

He ultimately concludes, “Hell doesn’t sound so bad after all, if I’ll be with…Jewish martyrs. And I’m not so sure I’d want to be in Heaven with guys who think like you!”

Note: Rick Ross is a former member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) National Committee on Interreligious Affairs.

Mel Gibson’s controversial movie “The Passion of the Christ” will be in general release at theaters beginning tomorrow.

The film is “relentlessly savage [with a]…pronounced streak of sado-masochism” reports Newsweek.

Perhaps the public should expect such horrific detail from the Oscar-winning director of Braveheart, which after all included heads lopped off, gored guts and culminated with its star impaled.

Newsweek critic David Ansen speculates that maybe The Passion might be subconsciously autobiographical.

The middle aged Gibson has said his film is the product of more than a decade of personal reflection that at times included suicidal thoughts, which were ultimately resolved by his renewed religious faith.

The Braveheart star is a member of a schismatic fringe group that has often been charitably labeled by the media as “traditional Catholics.”

However, the extreme movement that broke away from mainstream Catholicism, which includes the Hollywood star, has no official connection to the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, its members and leaders frequently denounce truly traditional Catholics who accept church authority as essentially “apostates.”

Gibson’s current movie focuses upon the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life, apparently in a brutally graphic way.

It “plays like the Gospel according to the Marquis de Sade” says Ansen.

What was Gibson’s purpose in producing this bloody “Passion,” which reportedly cost the actor/director about $30 million dollars?

Is it just the product of faith, like the star of Lethal Weapon claims?

Despite Gibson’s rather cynical but savvy marketing approach the star seems driven more by his childhood indoctrination than a desire for profits.

Mel Gibson grew up in a family ruled by a father who has denied the extent of the Holocaust and seems consumed by bizarre conspiracy theories.

Religious leaders have criticized Gibson’s film for its dark portrayal of Jewish people and rabbinical authorities. “Those inclined toward bigotry could easily find fuel for their fire” from this movie, Ansen said.

Gibson’s marketing strategy has specifically focused upon the fire of faith burning amongst fundamentalist Christians and perhaps has delineated the differences between that community and more ecumenical believers.

The star skewed virtually every advance screening of his new film towards this demographic group, which he apparently feels will assure its box office success.

The popular action hero is probably right. He will no doubt not only recoup his initial investment, but also reap hefty profits.

The film and its faithful audience is telling though, not only because of Gibson’s seemingly dark view of Jews, but also because the film’s fans include so many Christians that like the star eschew mainstream ecumenism in favor of the theology of triumphalism.

And Gibson, like many of his fundamentalist supporters, appears to think you cannot really question his religious vision.

“The Holy Ghost was working through me on this film,” the actor has reportedly said.

Is Mel Gibson’s film “anti-Semitic”?

“I don’t want to lynch any Jews…I love them. I pray for them,” Gibson said somewhat cryptically.

But Mel Gibson has made “artistic” choices for his film that cannot be supported either historically and/or biblically, which shed a less than loving light on Jews reports Newsweek in the article “Who Really Killed Jesus?” (Feb. 16, 2004).

In The Passion the director/producer has chosen to have Mary Magdalene plead with the Romans to save Jesus when he is taken away to be tried by Jewish authorities.

However, there is no such scene in the New Testament. And it does suggest greater Jewish culpability than can be supported historically.

Likewise, in Gibson’s film the High Priest Caiaphas must determine if Jesus will die, despite the fact that historically the priest had no such authority without Roman approval.

Again, Gibson made a historically inaccurate choice by portraying the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate as a conflicted sensitive man, who only executes Jesus because he is pushed into it by screaming Jews.

History records Pilate objectively as a cruel tyrant, even by questionable Roman standards.

In fact, according to Gibson’s script Jesus actually tells Pilate that Caiaphas specifically bears the “greater sin” for his execution. But only the governor could actually determine that sentence, which after all was a Roman form of execution.

In a less guarded moment Mel Gibson was reportedly overheard describing those who opposed Jesus as “either Satanic or the dupes of Satan.”

Mel Gibson may not see himself as “anti-Semitic,” anti-Semites seldom do, but his selective version of the final hours of Jesus’ life seems to depict a decidedly negative image of Jews.

To some extent the New Testament can be read this way, but biblical scholars concerned with placing the Gospel accounts within their historical context explain that such depictions reflect the political concerns and polemics of early Christians.

In fairness it should be noted that fundamentalist and evangelical Christians have called such scholarship, “liberal” and “unbiblical.”

And it seems Mel Gibson has more in common with such conservative Protestants than he does Roman Catholics.

The Roman Catholic Church has officially resolved such issues, acknowledging that such negative interpretations of the Gospels caused rampant persecution of the Jews, such as the Inquisitions.

But Gibson’s faction of supposed “traditionalists” does not endorse Vatican II and the modern ecumenical dialog between Catholics and Jews.

And as for his film’s largely fundamentalist Christian fan base, they frequently see religious dialog as largely a means of proselytizing to reach the “unsaved,” which includes Muslims, Buddhists and Jews.

However, authentic ecumenical dialog is actually a two-way street based upon mutual respect and regard for other religious beliefs, which is not something fundamentalists like Gibson and many of his current movie fans are known for.

Those who oppose their religious views are at best “lost,” or maybe as Mr. Gibson purportedly puts it “dupes of Satan.”

And how does such ethnocentric triumphalism affect the mindset of its proponents?

Maybe it would be interesting go to The Passion, more to study its fans than to see the movie.

Note: Rick Ross is a former member of the National Committee for Interreligious Affairs of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, a large denomination of Judaism.

In a bizarre twist a missionary organization that targets Jews for conversion is bashing fellow Christians in a “cult” controlled newspaper.

The so-called “Jews for Jesus” (JFJ), founded by an ordained Baptist minister, took on Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie, American Values President Gary Bauer, singer Pat Boone, Rev. Jerry Falwell, broadcaster Pat Robertson and even Billy Graham in an attack launched within the Washington Times.

A JFJ spokesperson told the Times a subtle plot to “demonize” the organization has apparently taken hold amongst prominent evangelical leaders and many churches.

The alleged conspiracy supposedly can be seen through fading support for JFJ. Evidently, church invitations for their programs have dropped by 25% and donations slipped $371,130 in 2003.

The leadership of the controversial proselytizing organization chose to air its grievances within the Washington Times rather than a more traditional evangelical media outlet such as Christianity Today.

Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed “messiah” whose followers are often called “Moonies,” controls the Washington Times.

Moon is the founder of the Unification Church, which has been called a “cult.”

The Unification Church teaches that Jesus essentially failed in his role to redeem the world, which Rev. Moon must now complete. Jesus was also stuck in spirit world until Moon married him so he could enter heaven.

Apparently, JFJ isn’t concerned about such theology when it comes to finding an outlet to discuss its budget worries. Concerns about cash flow seem to trump doctrinal differences with the paper’s primary funding source.

Jerry Falwell appeared to play both ends against the middle. “I highly regard the work of Jews for Jesus,” he told the Times while also endorsing the work of Yechiel Eckstein of the International Fellowship of Christians, which opposes JFJ.

Falwell is also friendly with Rev. Moon, who has generously given his ministry millions of dollars.

Once again, budget worries seem to be more important than religious conviction.

JFJ has historically been accused of exercising “cult-like” control over its members. Maybe its more than money that makes the group feel comfortable with “Moonies,” who allegedly have been “brainwashing” recruits in the US since the 1970s.

Who should determine the parameters and/or identity for a religious denomination?

Most people would answer that the historically established leadership of a religion and/or denomination has this exclusive and traditional right and role.

But some disgruntled former members and/or splinter groups seem to think otherwise.

Movie star Mel Gibson belongs to just such a group composed largely of former Roman Catholics. The actor was raised from childhood within such a religious environment.

Gibson and his fellow religionists consider themselves “traditional Catholics.”

But ironically such so-called “Catholics” have abandoned perhaps the most established tradition of Roman Catholicism, which is the teaching of one church under the direction and ecclesiastical authority of the Pope.

“We just want to be good Catholics,” says one “priest” from a schismatic group quoted by Knight Ridder Newspapers.

However, a “priest” like this has no standing in the Roman Catholic Church and is very often an excommunicate.

But some media reports persist in calling such groups “traditionalist Catholics,” whatever that means.

There is an old axiom, “If you want to be a member of the club you must abide by its rules.” But somehow this doesn’t seem to apply to “traditional Catholics.”

Instead they apparently want to have it both ways. That is, to have the status of being in the club generally, but make up their own rules.

Isn’t that non-traditional?

Catholic authorities seem to regard such splinter groups largely as a nuisance and there are only about 20,000 members in the US. An insignificant number, given the size of Roman Catholicism worldwide.

The present Pope excommunicated a renegade French priest, Cardinal Marcel Lefebvre, once a key figure in the so-called “traditionalist” movement.

Lefebvre has since died, but his faithful followers soldier on. The largest single group is the Society of St. Pius X; perhaps named after the last Pope they really liked.

The Roman Catholic Church has endured an assortment of schismatic “kooks,” “crazies” and “cult leaders,” who claim to speak for Mary, God and/or the Holy Spirit.

This burgeoning list of former Catholics includes Caritas of Birmingham, William Kamm known as the “Little Pebble,” the Army of Mary, His Community/Christ Covenant Ministries, Four Winds Commune, Friends of the Eucharist and the Magnificat Meal Movement.

The most destructive and tragic group of former Catholics was the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments, responsible for the mass murder/suicide of hundreds in Uganda.

Not unlike the problems posed by pseudo-Catholics the Mormon Church also has its share of troublesome splinter groups.

Polygamist groups that are often called “fundamentalist Mormons” practice their faith largely in Arizona, Utah and parts of Canada. They are an embarrassment to the Mormon Church, which abandoned the practice of polygamy more than a century ago.

Yet some media reports confuse the public with the label “fundamentalist Mormons” to describe these disparate sects, frequently run by absolute leaders much like “cults.”

Recently, an author apparently striving for better book sales said, “Mormon authorities treat the fundamentalists as they would a crazy uncle — they try to keep the ‘polygs’ hidden in the attic.”

His book titled Under the Banner of Heaven, places grizzly murders within the context of so-called “Mormon Fundamentalism” reported Associated Press.

An official church spokesman made it clear that such groups have nothing whatsoever to do with the Mormon Church and that those Mormons. And when Mormons do become involved with them they are excommunicated, much like former Catholics in schismatic groups.

Recently since the 1960s Jews have also endured apostates setting up their own so-called “Jewish” groups.

Interestingly, these groups, which are composed of converts to fundamentalist Christianity such as “Jews for Jesus” and so-called “Messianic Jews,” are closely aligned and supported by Protestant denominations within the “born-again” movement.

These “Jews” like the polygamists and former Catholics have no standing in the organized Jewish community.

Israel’s “Law of Return” does not recognize them as Jews and recently a Canadian court rejected one such group’s attempt to use historical Jewish symbols for self-promotion reported Canadian Jewish News.

But some media reports continue to confuse readers with a mixed bag of historically incoherent labels and/or oxymorons, such as “traditionalist Catholics,” “fundamentalist Mormons” and “Jews for Jesus,” that are self-referentially incoherent.

Even if such a group has a celebrity sponsor like Mel Gibson, it’s unlikely to be a meaningful substitute for the Pope’s blessings.

And there is a historic right of denominational leaders to determine the parameters of their own faith’s identity, which should be recognized by responsible and objective journalists, rather than misleading the public.

Some evangelical Christians are seriously questioning the practice of so-called “spiritual warfare,” reports Associated Press.

Long-time evangelical cult-watching organization the Christian Research Institute (CRI), founded by Walter Martin and now headed by Hank Hanegraaff, has put out a warning.

Hanegraaff warns the faithful about “spiritual warfare,” a practice popular amongst Pentecostal and Charismatic Protestants, who subscribe to the belief that Christians, can be influenced by “demons” dwelling within them.

Those that believe in this controversial doctrine insist they must literally go to war with the devil’s minions.

This religious activity has also often been called “deliverance ministry.” That is, to “deliver” someone from “evil,” by “casting out demons.”

In one lawsuit a jury awarded a plaintiff $300,000.00 for personal injuries sustained through just such an effort.

Hanegraaff has come out swinging, but not against alleged demons. The radio commentator known as the “Bible Answer Man” is fighting against what he sees as “false doctrine.”

The CRI CEO says that sin should be seen as the effect of poor judgement and that the solution is “spiritual disciplines,” implemented through a “discipleship model,” not exorcism.

Secular authors Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, within their groundbreaking book Holy Terror, describe something broader and more pervasive, they call it “holy warfare.”

Conway and Siegelman write; “holy warfare appears frequently and fundamentalist texts are filled with words and images depicting God’s armor and militant strength…creating a…reality in which the everyday world becomes a battleground between warring forces, between good and evil.”

This type of thinking may explain seemingly bizarre statements made by some prominent fundamentalist figures.

Jerry Falwell claimed that God’s judgement on America could be seen through terrorists attacking and destroying the World Trade Center. He later apologized.

Falwell also once claimed that the all-female Lilith Fair was “named for a demon.”

In similar fashion evangelical Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, said that Islam “is a very evil and wicked religion.”

But on an individual level “spiritual warfare” and/or “holy warfare” may become personally destructive.

Many fundamentalist believers are often taught to label thoughts and/or feelings contrary to their teachings, essentially as either “evil” or “demonic.”

This process may lead to a self-destructive stripping away and eventual disintegration of individual personality and autonomy.

Perhaps the best defensive weapon people possess against such potentially destructive warfare is critical thinking.

After all, according to the bible didn’t God provide humanity with that capacity? And isn’t it one of the best defensive weapons we personally possess?

The controversy surrounding an Easter article run within the Chicago Tribune has spilled over into Christianity Today.

It was reported that more than 250 Chicago churches held Passover dinners called seders this year.

However, some of these “seders” were apparently based upon rather questionable and self-serving interpretations, concocted by groups such as the controversial fundamentalist Christian missionary organization called “Jews for Jesus” (JFJ).

An ordained Baptist minister who once worked for the American Board of Missions to the Jews founded JFJ, which is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

Missionaries from JFJ have a traveling road show titled “Christ in the Passover,” which passed through Chicago. This program often serves as a rather viable vehicle for fund-raising.

Basically, the theme of this JFJ program is to present the Passover ritual observance superimposed with alleged prophetic references to Jesus. The actual meaning and historical significance of the traditional seder is thus distorted and/or negated.

After the Tribune ran the report about these pseudo-seders Jews in Chicago protested that their holiday was being misrepresented in the paper. The staff writer responsible for the report admitted to some religious bias.

“Misinformation and outright falsehoods, said one Jewish reader. And added that the piece did “great harm to the cause of interfaith understanding,”

Rabbi Ira Youdovin, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis said, “Fundamentalists [who] seek to co-opt an ancient Jewish ritual…appreciate Jews not for what they are…but for this caricatured identity as proto-Christians. This is highly offensive to Jews.”

Another rabbi noted, “We have problems with Christians transforming our symbols and stories into a Christological message that robs us of our holy experience and thoughts.”

Of course JFJ doesn’t seem to care about such things. In fact they probably enjoyed the controversy. Why do you think they chose their name in the first place?

After all, the more controversy, the more attention and that attention just might translate into contributions.

JFJ had a serious shortfall in its budget last year and staff layoffs followed.

It seems many within the evangelical Christian community have grown tired and perhaps a bit bored with the organization. They have actually not produced many “Jews for Jesus,” despite their multi-million dollar annual expenditures.

Perhaps the group hopes its annual “hit and run” Passover programs will rejuvenate some interest and help their sagging revenues?

A strange fundamentalist Christian missionary group that calls itself “Jews for Jesus” is conducting a multi-city “Passover” tour.

The group works the Jewish holiday as an opportunity for self-promotion and fund raising amongst fellow fundamentalists.

Some recent pit stops for “JFJ” included Gales Creek, Oregon, New Orleans, Kansas City and even Juneau, Alaska.

Their program “Christ in the Passover” supposedly shows the audience how this Jewish holiday that predates Christianity, is really somehow about Jesus.


This makes about as much sense as members of Rev. Moon’s Unification Church putting on a show to reveal how Easter is really an allusion symbolically foretelling the coming of their “messiah.”

After all, they believe Moon must finish the job Jesus failed to complete, but insist they are “Christians.”

Does this make them “Christians for Messiah Moon”?

The Jewish community has historically objected to having its holidays misrepresented this way.

Never mind.

Missionaries paid by “Jews for Jesus” are not exactly concerned with either political correctness or promoting ecumenical understanding. They just like to put on their show, leave town and let the community deal with the fallout.

However, other evangelical Christians such as Billy Graham, don’t seem to agree with the group’s agenda of targeting Jews for special proselytizing.

At least one group called a “cult” has been the recipient of substantial government funds in the United States–and without President Bush’s “faith based initiative.”

Millions of taxpayer dollars have already flowed into the coffers of one guru’s pet projects.

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who supposedly created Transcendental Meditation (TM), has a university called, what else, “Maharishi U.” The school in Iowa has received “$20 million dollars in state and federal funding for TM-related research,” reports Canada’s National Post.

Maharishi’s town in Iowa known as “Vedic City” was also recently granted $29,000 by the state for a salaried consultant.

The consultant “will research and coordinate energy saving technology into new construction at Vedic City, as well as for older buildings on the Maharishi University of Management campus,” reports the Fairfield Ledger.

The clever guru also managed to make a lucrative land deal late last year in the Bush family home state of Texas.

The Texas Department of Transportation paid the “Maharishi Global Development Fund” $14 million for acreage necessary to complete a highway, reported the Coppell Gazette.

It’s interesting to note that a guru, who controls a vast financial empire worth billions, can rely upon state and federal agencies to help him out.

At 92 Maharishi is as astute about money as ever and he doesn’t need to stand in line like evangelist Pat Robertson for any presidential “faith based initiative” funding.

Maybe it’s the guru’s vaunted meditation discipline or some special money mantra that enables him to so successfully scoop up government cash?

Nevada’s elected officials are not interested in visiting Mexico on a free junket, at least not if it involves Scientology.

Only two legislators indicated that they would go on the proposed trip to visit a Mexican prison that uses the Scientology related Narconon program, reports the Las Vegas Sun.

One pro Narconon state assembly member said she is sponsoring a bill for a similar prison program that would rely upon federal funding through President Bush’s faith-based initiative.

It’s unlikely that any such legislation will pass, but it’s interesting to note the connection to the Bush plan that allows federal dollars to be used by religious groups to fund supposedly non-sectarian social programs.

All three Nevada legislators who now seem interested in the Scientology program are social and/or religious conservatives.

But religious conservative Pat Robertson once opposed the Bush initiative on the grounds that controversial groups like Scientology might seek funding.

Looks like the televangelist was prophetic.

However, Robertson later lifted his objections after receiving a half million dollars from the fund for one of his pet projects called “Operation Blessing.”

Regardless of Robertson change of heart, evangelical cult watchdog groups such as “Watchman Fellowship” continue to warn conservative Christians and the general public about the perils of groups like Scientology.

Perhaps Nevada legislators should consider carefully Watchman Fellowship’s assessment of Scientology.

The Fellowship says, “Controversy continues to rage around Scientology due mostly to the totalitarian and abusive nature of its practices…It does, in fact, involve religious belief (in what most outsiders would regard as science fiction). But that belief appears to have been built chiefly as a cover for exploitive commercial operations.”

When President George Bush gave his State of the Union address Tuesday it was reported (“Bush Touts Religion-Based Drug Treatment,” Associated Press, January 29, 2003 by Laura Meckler) that Henry Lozano of Teen Challenge in California, was sitting with the first lady throughout the presentation.

Bush pushed the idea of funding faith-based drug rehab programs with federal money.

But would it be appropriate to include Teen Challenge within such a scheme?

According to Teen Challenge literature its entire approach can be summarized as “Basic Confrontational Evangelism.” And the organization has stated specifically, “The only cure for . . . drug abuse, is Jesus Christ.”

The Teen Challenge program is essentially religious training and indoctrination.

There is nothing wrong with including faith as a meaningful component when confronting drug abuse. And such approaches can be successful.

But should federal money be used to pay for a sectarian cure? This would certainly seem to set a troubling precedent.

Before televangelist Pat Robertson received $500,000 for a pet program through Bush faith-based funding, he pointedly objected to the president’s project.

Robertson previously said such grants would be like opening “Pandora’s Box.” And that once opened would not easily be shut.

How can the federal government decide which theologically based cures should be funded?

Would Scientology’s Narconon drug rehab receive federal money? What about Krishna? They might have a substance abuse solution based upon chanting? Maybe the Raelians have some special cure coming from outer space?

Will the government now be in the business of judging which religion works best?