Violence against Christians in Jerusalem appears to be rising as concerns increase over the millennium and its affect on fervent cult groups making pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Israeli officials said this week. Jerusalem police said they are investigating a recent wave of threats and assaults against Christian organizations in Jerusalem.
In one incident, vandals hurled stones at Jerusalem’s St. Andrew’s Church of Scotland two weeks ago, breaking several of its stained-glass windows.
In another wave of incidents, photographs of a bullet shot through the forehead of one of the Swiss Catholic women whose apartment in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea She’arim was burned down last November were plastered outside two churches and a Bible bookstore on New Year’s Eve, police said.
“Two pictures of the Swiss woman with a bull’s-eye around her face and bullet hole in her forehead were glued on our door,” said Judy McClean from the Torch Book Shop on Jaffa Road.
The bookstore, a non-denominational organization, publishes Bibles in different languages. McClean believes the incident was the result of haredi violence against Christian organizations.
Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said police don’t know if the events are related, and no suspects have been arrested.
But some Christian leaders are concerned that the violence has resulted from the recent deportation of the Concerned Christians, the apocalyptic cult accused by Israeli police last month of planning a violent attack in Jerusalem to bring about the Second Coming of Jesus.
“The recent TV coverage has painted all the Christian groups as one and the same — as violent,” said Charles Kopp, chairman of the Union of Christian Councils in Israel. “There are all kind of incidents taking place lately which might have resulted from the coverage of this millennial event.”
Kopp’s Baptist House Center on Narkiss Street was also plastered with the bull’s-eye posters.
The pictures were posted prior to the arrest and deportation of the Concerned Christians, and Kopp believes that recent anti-Christian activities are the result of negative images of Christians portrayed as missionaries and cultists in the media.
The incidents have led some Christian leaders to distance themselves from the concept of the millennium, saying there is no scriptural basis supporting it.
“The vast majority of Christians do not take seriously anyone who may be setting with certainty either 2000 or 2001 as the date for Christ’s return,” said David Parsons, a media officer for the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.
“There has been a gross distortion of Christian views on the approach of the new millennium that has caused unnecessary apprehensions in Israel about the millions of Christians expected to make pilgrimage here over the next two to three years to mark this event.”
Parsons noted that most scholars agree that the actual anniversary of Jesus’ birthday occurred in 1996, and this is more a “symbolic” birthday celebration and not an expectation for the Second Coming.
Meanwhile, Israeli law enforcement officials have not revealed the alleged evidence for arresting and deporting the 14 members of Concerned Christians.
Linda Menuhin, foreign press officer for the Israel National Police, declined to provide any details about what prompted a special anti-cult police force to raid two homes in Jerusalem suburbs where the members had been living since vanishing from Denver last October.
“The police had good reason to believe that this group intended to commit a violent and extreme action in the streets of Jerusalem,” she said. Israel never filed charges against the group after arresting them.
American religion experts are concerned that without concrete evidence, Israel’s actions may signal trouble for the hundreds of thousands of American millennial Christians planning to visit Israel in the next 24 months.
Chicago University Religion expert Martin Marty said there’s a danger in Israel persecuting religious groups only for their beliefs.
“Millions of Americans believe in the literal Second Coming of Jesus,” Marty said. He said “Israel is overreacting” if it takes action only based on that belief.
But he said that if a cult group has announced plans to take it upon themselves to bring about the Apocalypse, then there is a legitimate concern for Israeli officials.
The question remains whether Concerned Christians leader Monte Kim Miller, a 44-year-old former marketing manager, has advocated violence.
Miller has been quoted saying he will die next December on the streets of Jerusalem. Some say he used the words “violent death.”
But cult observers said they are not sure exactly what that means.
Miller, who was not among those deported, is believed to be hiding in England.
About 50 other members who did not go to Israel also are missing.