A 22-year-old man affiliated with Neo Nazi groups decided to vandalize what he apparently believed to be a “Jewish” house of worship in Mobile, Alabama.

The man arrested, Thomas Hayward Lewis, was charged with third-degree criminal mischief, criminal possession of explosives and possession of a controlled substance.

The words “Juden raus,” which is German for “Jews get out,” was spray painted on a building occupied by a religious group known as the “Congregation Tree of Life.”

However, the congregation named is really not Jewish at all, but rather composed of self-proclaimed “Messianic Jews” that are essentially fundamentalist Christians who “believe” in “Jesus Christ,” reports the Press Register.

After all, a belief in Jesus is what defines Christians and Christianity, not Jews, who historically are defined by a belief in Judaism.

To put this in context imagine a group of Krishna devotees declaring that they were somehow fulfilled “Krishna Christians.”

And the young Nazi is either too ignorant or just plain stupid to make such distinctions.

It seems that within this idiot’s confused mind pretended “Jews” are as likely as real Jews to become the focus of his wrath.

Ironically, the neo-Nazi and the targeted congregation actually appear to share at least one thing in common.

That is, both would like to see an eventual end to Judaism, as we know it, albeit by different means.

One peacefully through religious conversion and the other through violent extermination.

Susan Felt, a reporter for the Arizona Republic newspaper, speculated that perhaps a minister in Phoenix was being directed by the ”voice of God” regarding real estate transactions.  

Jonathan BernisThe man supposedly tuned in to heaven is Jonathan Bernis, who heads a so-called “Messianic Jewish” group.

Bernis’s full-time work, essentially funded by evangelicals, is to specifically target Jews for conversion to fundamentalist Christianity. He also stages festival events and programs designed to superimpose christological significance upon Jewish holidays and rituals.

Bernis calls himself a “rabbi,” but seems as likely to be seriously considered one as Mel Gibson.

The controversial organization he leads was initially launched by Louis Kaplan in 1968, an evangelist ordained by the largest Pentecostal denomination, known as the Assemblies of God.

Kaplan called his radio show the “Jewish Voice Broadcast” and once boasted that “Messianic Jews…would conquer even the biggest rabbis in this country.”

Louis KaplanHowever, when the evangelist died in 1998, what he had accomplished could largely be measured in property assets.

Bernis got the keys to Kaplan’s kingdom, which was later renamed ”Jewish Voice Ministries International” (JVMI) and it includes radio shows, television broadcasts and a bi-monthy magazine.

Apparently both savvy business administrator and fundraiser Bernis grew the ministry steadily building upon Kaplan’s lucrative legacy. According to Charity Navigator JVMI took in total revenue of $5,729,219 in 2005. And the net assets of the ministry are now in the neighborhood of $5 million.

Bernis has even jumped aboard ships, guiding custom “Christian cruises” in the Caribbean, to purportedly “help needy Jewish believers in the land of Israel.” 

But the peripatetic pastor seems most proud of his efforts to convert Russian Jews.

In the JVMI publication “Jewish Voice Today” Bernis is critical of eccumenical dialogue between Christians and Jews, which has led to ”full acceptance and respect.”

Instead, he favors continued confrontation and claims there is “no choice” for “bible believers.”

Of course without such confrontation bent upon conversion, Bernis would be out of business. 

According to Ministry Watch during the latest real estate boom between 2001 to 2004 the net assets of JVMI more than tripled from less than $1 million to more than $3 million dollars.

JVMI, like a similar group called “Jews for Jesus,” is also a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. 

The Republic newspaper reported details of Bernis’s latest business plan, which is to move the ministry during March from its old home of 27 years within pricey Northeast Phoenix, to a bigger building on less expensive land in the more moderately priced Northwest section of the city.

The old property that took Louis Kaplan decades to build up is apparently about to be flipped.

And according to Bernis this is “a miracle.”

The self-proclaimed “rabbi” told The Republic he believes in ”a very real personal God who performs miracles.”

But does the same God that parted the Red Sea also do Phoenix real estate deals?

It appears Jonathan Bernis thinks so.

The Evangelical Christian missionary organization called “Jews for Jesus” is stirring up quite a ruckus in South Florida reports the Sun Sentinel.

The hit and run antics of these peripatetic proselytizers has been reported by the media since the 1970s, when an ordained Baptist minister named Martin Rosen founded the controversial group.

Pastor Martin was previously associated with an organization known as the American Board of Mission to the Jews, but he had bigger plans. So about thirty years ago he set up his own shop.

Business was good because Martin was clever in the way he marketed his missionary enterprise. Instead of just another Christian ministry he picked and trademarked the name “Jews for Jesus” (JFJ).

This garnered immediate attention, which then led to increasing fund-raising opportunities amongst his fellow Evangelicals.

Baptist, Nazarene, Evangelical Free and other churches included within the so-called “born-again” movement of Christians, essentially supports JFJ.

The Assemblies of God, the largest denomination of Pentecostal Christians, seems to prefer its own network of “Messianic Jews,” such as the so-called “Jewish Voice.”

Pastor Martin is retired now, but the ministry he created is something like a little kingdom. The annual budget for the group is $24 million and it has 240 full-time paid staff located in numerous offices.

However, if anyone were to judge the group strictly by its results (i.e. the number of conversions actually achieved) their success rate is modest. Very few Jews convert to fundamentalist Christianity, and even fewer through this group’s efforts.

Nevertheless, like many well-funded enterprises this one keeps chugging along anyway.

JFJ typically stages “campaigns” targeting large Jewish populations. Subsequently, they then inundate a community with unsolicited tracts, handouts etc. Some communities have found that they can cause a serious litter problem, as their tracts are quickly tossed aside by pedestrians.

But JFJ thrives on confrontation. “It’s a slick marketing technique. They perfected it over 30 years,” one Jewish leader told the Sentinel.

Recently in Palm Beach this was clearly evident as their confrontational strategy garnered controversy and press attention.

“It provided more publicity than we could have afforded on our budget. The publicity has been a great help for us,” the Florida JFJ coordinator told the Palm Beach Post.

The point apparently is to stir up a reaction through incendiary events and tracts and then exploit this eventually for fund-raising.

However, not all Evangelicals support such efforts.

Billy Graham has denounced the idea of targeting specific religious groups in missionary drives. And some Evangelical leaders in Florida announced that they too oppose this type of proselytizing reported the Palm Beach Post.

JFJ has repeatedly been accused of using “deception” to convert Jews. And one Jew has taken them to court.

A Jewish woman who claims that it was falsely reported within JFJ’s newsletter that she converted is currently suing the organization.

She is the stepmother of a JFJ staffer and her stepson wrote for the group’s newsletter in 2002 that she tearfully converted at her husband’s bedside.

But the Jewish mother said the account was “completely fictitious” reported Associated Press.

JFJ likes to cast its conflict with the Jewish community as an old one. Claiming it’s a “2,000 year old argument” between Jews about the identity of Jesus.

However, that’s not the principle issue that raises concern. Instead, it’s the issue of Jewish identity.

Simply put, the Jewish community has historically always established the parameters of its own identity.

“There’s no rabbi…who’s going to be the arbiter of what the Jewish religion teaches,” one JFJ leader retorted.

This is a new argument.

Since when are the rabbis not the arbiters of what the Jewish religion teaches? Who is then “Jews for Jesus”?

Would JFJ and its supporters concede that someone outside of Christianity has the right to determine the parameters of their faith’s identity?

Specifically, what Christian denomination has officially acknowledged that Mormons are Christians?

None.

But Mormons say they are “Christians.”

Would Evangelicals that claim “Jews for Jesus” are somehow “completed Jews,” also accept Mormons as “completed Christians”?

After all Mormons say their Book of Mormon essentially completes the New Testament.

No, you won’t find any Evangelicals or JFJ staffers making that argument.

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.