Bart Gingerich, reportedly on assignment as a "mole" for the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) infiltrated the July 4-9 summer camp sponsored by the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (BPFNA). He posted on the IRD website several mean-spirited blogs about the conference that are full of distortions, omissions and outright lies. Mark D. Tooley, the head of IRD, then posted a second article--with the same material, exaggerated, more distorted and with a more vicious tone--for David Horowitz's Front Page website.
This post is an attempt to correct some of the misrepresentations in these articles. I am also reaching out to Mr. Gingerich in the spirit of Christian reconciliation.
Gingerich crept into the camp like the Biblical thief in the night, without identifying himself to anyone as a representative on assignment from a hostile organization. Few of the Christian pastors, educators, and young people can remember seeing the stranger on the Harrisonburg Virginia campus. Contrary to Gingerich's uninformed and spiteful descriptions of the camp participants, we are Christian activists many doing peace and justice work in some of the world's most dangerous war zones.
The speakers on the Middle East share decades of experience in the Holy Land and direct contact with Palestinians and Israelis and are therefore affected deeply as are other Arabs, Christians and Jews everywhere, every time an "incident" occurs.
Unlike Gingerich we Baptists proudly proclaim and live our faith.
Gingerich's detailed, if inaccurate, blogs are based on his attendance at plenary sessions, workshops, film showings and discussions at the Eastern Mennonite University. I facilitated three events that were targeted by Gingerich's blogs. We are saddened that Gingerich secretly betrayed a faith community for money. That act is reminiscent of an unsavory character in Christian history.
Gingerich's underhanded behavior also represented a spiritual and intellectual loss for both the interloper and the hundreds of Christians at the six-day annual conference. Had this young man introduced himself in any venue as a recent graduate in history from Patrick Henry University — or even as an employee of the IRD — his views and concerns would have been welcomed and respected in every discussion I facilitated. Most of the group leaders would agree; after all Jesus' life is replete with examples of this kind of response.
Gingerich's and Tooley's blogs imply homophobic feelings. Gingerich could have shared these in the discussion after the showing of the film "Through My Eyes." It is a powerful documentary spotlighting dozens of young Christians speaking directly into the camera about their lonely struggles to reconcile faith and sexuality. I announced in my introduction to the film that the discussion would provide a safe place for all thoughts and feelings about homosexuality. I had youngsters like Gingerich in mind.
Furthermore, Gingerich's religious and political views on just and unjust wars implicit in his blogs would have enormously enlivened the debate over conscientious objection, a debate already central to the film "Soldiers of Conscience" that war resister Camilo Mejia brought to the conference.
I am a long-time facilitator and civil libertarian so I would have eagerly embraced Gingerich's critique of my presentation on Zionism, Christian Zionism and the Middle East. The same can likely be said of the Christian participants in hundreds of lively and inspiring formal and informal discussions during the week. Gingerich was with us, but not part of us, so missed all of it!
What prevented this young man from joining us and sharing our common quest for meaningful lives consistent with Jesus' mission and teachings? Was it simply lack of courage? Was he ashamed of his own religious and political views? Was he intimidated, envious or surprised by Baptists' depth of faith, knowledge and commitment?
Or was he just a snitch in it for the bucks?
The camp organizers and participants would still like to know the answers rather than be forced to speculate. As soon as someone at the conference discovered Gingerich's articles on line, a pastor called the IRD office with an invitation. We assured IRD that we had created a safe zone for our visitor to introduce himself, break bread and dialog with us.
The IRD official promised us a meeting. At that point Gingerich disappeared and his blogs ended.
The invitation stands.
As Christians who frequently bear witness to our faith, we uncompromisingly honor truth. Truth was also an unnecessary victim of this young adult's evasive behavior. Of course, we acknowledge Gingerich's right to publish his opinions on-line. He has a right to his own opinions, but he doesn't have a right to his own facts.
He could have avoided numerous factual errors, mischaracterizations, and — frankly — a great deal of incoherency in his piece "Anti-Zionism Escalates at BPFNA Conference" had he simply followed the practices of professional journalists instead of those of Stalinist police informers. A professional would have fact checked his story and verified the accuracy of his quotations with his sources.
I am hereby offering Mr. Gingerich a second opportunity to correct his blogs on the July 6, 2011 presentation on Zionism and Christian Zionism, and the Middle East that I facilitated.
We provided countless examples of why "[Americans] are the least informed people in the world about [the Israel-Palestinian] issue." Regretfully both Gingerich's and Tooley's articles inadvertently support that contention.
The folks working on the Middle East invite both to join them on a visit to the region, perhaps on a Friendship Tour by the BPFNA, or with other groups that try to see through the lens of both--or, more accurately, all-- of the sides in the conflict.
Contrary to Gingerich's assertion, Obama's May 19 support for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders is the position of all previous U.S. presidents since 1967, all European countries, all of the members of the United Nations and the Arab states. United Nations resolution 242 was adopted unanimously in 1967 by the Security Council. Subsequently Israel has participated in negotiations based upon that solution. It also represents a resolution to the conflict for a majority of American Jews and millions of Jewish Israelis.
Obama's "absurdity" lay in his abject reversal of decades of this US policy in response to Benyamin Netanyahu's warm reception by the US Congress on May 24, five days later. To my remarks I cited two other contemporary "absurdities" in order to "capture the moment" in July 2011.
The second was the absurdity of Greece's "socialist" prime minister's flagrant violation of international law by seizing the Freedom Flotilla in the middle of Europe's bankers' crippling attacks on the country's middle and working class.
Third, I characterized as absurd Netanyahu's boasts about Israel as the "only democracy in the Middle East" at a time when racist, undemocratic and theocratic rabbis and their violent supporters were openly rejecting the authority of the nation's laws, police and High Court. Indeed the Israeli press is expressing genuine alarm that the country is close to a fascist coup d'état.
I cited these three apparent "absurdities" as symptomatic of the profound economic, political and moral crisis humanity now faces. At the end of one workshop I presented a short account of the essence of the current crisis typified by the present $600 trillion Wall Street "derivatives" bubble.
Against that background I suggested that the bizarre behavior of world leaders reflected the weakness of Zionism and the vulnerability of democratic institutions everywhere. Gingerich and Tooley's hysterical responses reflect the same weakness.
I could not have maintained — as Gingerich asserts, both that Israel is "the most powerful democracy in the Middle East region" and plagued by "radically right-wing Jewish fascism." My point clearly was the underlying dynamic at work. Israel's political system is degenerating from one to the other. I also suggested that Obama's abandonment of his campaign promises reflected the United States' own fragile Weimar Republic dilemma.
Yes, as Gingerich reports, I boasted in the workshops about an area of my expertise, but I was making a more humble point that everyone else seemed to understand. I would never say "I know more about Zionism than 95% of Zionists". I said that of Christian Zionism.
Zionists know they are Zionists. As I recounted, Jewish nationalism has been around for more than a hundred years. However Christian Zionism was shunned by most American Christians until 1967 and the publication three years later of Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth. From the confines of two small Bible colleges (Lindsey attended Dallas Theological Seminary) Christian Zionism (or dispensationalism) morphed from a fringe of American fundamentalism into the stock doctrine of hundreds of wealthy televangelists.
The televangelists' audience has been estimated to be larger than the circulation of Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times combined, and the "Rapture industry" produces billions of dollars in annual revenue.
Readers can find a succinct summary of dispensationalism in "What is Christian Zionism: Ten Questions and Answers" on this site http://notinkansas.us/monkeys.html#CZ
The televangelists' un-Biblical "cut-and-paste" End Times scenarios; Biblical "prophecy = predictions" fallacy; cherry picking Bible quotes to pair with the latest newspaper headline; and the shameful trashiness of the Left Behind fantasies have confused millions of sincere Christians. As a consequence most Christian Zionists don't even know they are Christian Zionists--even when they cite a piece of the elaborate and bizarre doctrine.
That was the purpose of my jocular boast.
So Mr. Gingerich please correct your blog by inserting "Christian Zionists" for "Zionists" because that is what I said--twice.
Gingerich's following description of my comments must confuse his readers.
"Especially woeful is [the Christian Zionist] view's popularity within Southern Baptist circles, which Hall painted as the political arm of the Republican Party. Indeed, Hall portrayed the 1970s recovery of orthodoxy within the SBC as a kind of Zionist overthrow".
Mr. Gingerich got it all wrong, a failing he could have avoided simply by showing the common sense to talk to me.
I described the Republican Party's manipulation of social issues (abortion and homosexuality) since the seventies as a successful strategy to win the votes of working middle class Christians to a rich man's party with economic interests opposed to those of ordinary Americans.
I did not connect the Republican "Christian strategy" with the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention in the late seventies by a small cadre of Christian Zionists. A ruthless theological minority imposed a new doctrine on a denomination of millions of believers who had always accepted the two-thousand-year-old traditional Christian theology. If anyone was "orthodox" it was the thousands of mainline Baptist pastors, editors and academics who were purged in Stalinist fashion. Dispensationalism was a radical "demolition" not a "recovery"!
I integrated my account of the history of Christian Zionism with the parallel history of Zionism. I called the two trends "Siamese twins". Zionism was a fringe movement among the world's Jews before the establishment of Israel in 1948. The one agreement between the "twins" was that God had promised today's Palestine to "Abraham's seed" thousands of years ago.
Gingerich asserts "Hall was quick to point out that stable, middle-class 1800s Jews tended to be good internationalist Marxists."
Gingerich's gaffe is surprising from a college graduate in history!
In the twentieth century (not the 1800s) Jewish workers and intellectuals in the United States and Europe were drawn in large numbers to socialist internationalism — many more than were drawn to nationalist Zionism. This is accepted history even among Zionists.
His assertion that the Six-Day War "had been a defensive conflict on the part of Israel against three surrounding foes" is no longer accepted by Israeli or American historians.
Why did Gingerich omit my description of Israel's brutal air and sea attack on the American intelligence ship USS Liberty during the Six-Day War that killed 150 American crewmen and wounded many more? I connected that brazen attempt to sink a friendly country's ship to the now acknowledged obsession of the Israeli government to conceal evidence that Israel's leaders had planned the Six Day War well in advance. This was a critical omission from Gingerich's account.
I would also never make a ridiculous generalization like "The villains of world harmony are now Israel and America" — a sophomoric fabrication.
However, the following is a correct representation of the current crisis in Israeli democracy as I described based on the contemporary Israeli press:
"The ultra-orthodox and Jewish settlers are now taking over Israel, calling for a state ruled by Torah. Hall recalled that, after the ultra-orthodox scholars had allowed their followers join the Israeli military, they have become "a very dangerous Fifth Column in the military."
Gingerich simply refused to connect the dots. Rather, he removed my connections. I and many American Jews and some Israelis are more than concerned that "Now the Israelis are the Nazis and the Palestinians are Jews." I also recommended Shlomo Sand's The Invention of the Jewish People that sheds light on the origins of the peoples in the current conflict.
As a septuagenarian myself, I would not have asserted that "Holocaust survivors are persecutors" — even with a wink and a smile. In fact Holocaust survivors in Israel protested recently in the Israeli Knesset against the government's negligence in meeting their daily needs as aging citizens.
Both my observations that "Islamaphobia [sic] has become America's new McCarthyism" or that post-9/11 "Israel's terrorists are our terrorists. . . ." were hardly original enough to merit Gingerich's attention. I wish if he had found such assertions outrageous or unclear, he would have challenged me.
I suggest that Gingerich's unethical reportorial methods discredit his message. This is not a promising way for a recent college grad to begin a writing career.
Yes, I proudly trained draft resisters during the Viet Nam War. Those of us who opposed the war now sadly feel vindicated that the textbooks used in American classrooms today make the same assessments of the war that we made then.
I did not so much "protest" the Gulf War (there was only one) but I wrote the definitive four-part series on the use of depleted uranium in that conflict. As a consequence of radioactive poisoning the number of veterans of the Gulf War who have been forced to apply for disability claims exceeds the total number of American fatalities in World War II. http://notinkansas.us/du_1.html
Yes, I have been a political activist for more than a half century. In 1960, when I was Gingerich's age, I willingly jeopardized my career for my political principles — a few years before student protests became fashionable.
Not by lurking around college hallways or classrooms. And no one paid me a dime.
I protested the House Committee on Un-American Activities right in front of the national TV cameras! I took a stand in defense of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, including the separation of church and state.
I celebrate my baptism by fire hoses on the "We're Not in Kansas Anymore!" website:
"It was a blessing to have been arrested, to experience youthful righteous solidarity, to plead a just cause against mass media lies, to challenge the FBI and Congress—and win.
Wordsworth's words captured our exhilaration:
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!"
Incidentally, the best history of the 1960 protests is David Horowitz's book Student — the same David Horowiz of the Front Page website that posted Tooley's article. I wrote the chapter in David's book on the Meisenbach trial that vindicated the students.
The two most disturbing passages in Gingerich blogs are the revelations of his own convictions, a rejection of the principles that made America great.
I am puzzled how a graduate of a university named after Patrick Henry could condemn the principle of a "a nation-state. . . built around a liberal constitution which receive[s] consent from a vast majority of the country."?
". . .What Hall wants is a liberal secularization: a separation of religion and state that would allow everyone in a country's borders to get along. Government authority seems invalid in his eyes unless it meets this standard."
We hold these truths. . .all men are created equal."
I believe, along with Patrick Henry, that the freedoms that Americans enjoy belong to everyone: including folks who live in Israel-Palestine.
Of course I don't naively believe that the purpose of a democratic and secular state of Israel/Palestine is to "allow everyone to get along."
However, such a state would guarantee equal rights to the 20% of Israeli citizens who are Palestinians, democratic rights to the millions of Palestinians in Israel's occupied territories who have no rights, and the rights to millions of Palestinians languishing in refugee camps scattered throughout the Middle East.
Why did Gingerich omit the following sentence?
"The world has no more responsibility to recognize Israel as a Jewish state today than in 1960 to recognize Mississippi as a Caucasian state."
Is it possible that Gingerich's behavior at the conference among fellow Christians reflects an uncomfortable fact? Might it be true that neither he nor his paymaster, the "Institute on Religion and Democracy" respects the values the Christian religion or the fundamentals of American democracy?
Forgiveness was the guiding theme of the 2011 BPFNA summer camp. We are all capable of redemption. I'd still love to talk to Mr. Gingerich who can reach me through this website at firstname.lastname@example.org
Incidentally when I entered college I was a religious fundamentalist and a Republican.