Sarah Palin’s looming pastor problem?

The 2008 campaign has already offered one object lesson in what happens when the press starts looking into your pastor’s sermons. Now it’s Sarah Palin’s turn to come under the microscope.

Less than three weeks ago, on Aug. 17, Palin’s church, Wasilla Bible Church, hosted a talk by David Brickner of Jews for Jesus (audio here, transcript here).

Palin’s pastor, Larry Kroon, introduced Brickner by calling Jews for Jesus “a ministry that is out on the leading edge in a pressing demanding area of witnessing and evangelism.” Jews for Jesus is the same group the ADL accused of “aggressive proselytizing with a deceptive message: that Jews who accept Jesus as the son of God and their savior remain Jewish.”

Brickner then spoke for about 30 minutes about his group’s successful effort to introduce Israelis to Jesus. More on that in a second.

After Brickner’s talk, the congregation took an offering for JFJ, and then Pastor Kroon offered this prayer:

We stand before you as a people who’ve experienced your grace, and we acknowledge that that grace was first extended to our people through your people, the Jews; that there is not a one here in this room who would know Jesus and serve him if there had not been a Jew, generations ago, that spoke Jesus’ name to our people. Father, that comes full circle and we wish to extend your grace back to your people. And we pray and we ask that as a result of this time here, and as a result of this offering, there will be people among the Jews today who come to say the name “Jesus” with faith.

On the surface, not all that different from the Catholic prayer for Jewish conversion, whose revival aroused great concern in the Jewish community and nearly railroaded Pope Benedict’s recent visit to New York City. In the end, he visited a synagogue and the Vatican gave some signals that this was a wish for the end of times, not the beginning an evangelical effort aimed at Jews.

It’s going to be near impossible for the Palin camp to follow that road map after listening to Brickner’s sermon, with its effusions over his group’s success in Israel.

Here’s his description of playing music in Jerusalem with his evangelical band The Liberated Wailing Wall:

Now, most Israelis are secular. And they were drawn by the music, and we had t-shirts on that said “Yehudim L’man Yeshua” (Jews for Jesus), so they knew who we were; but that was ok. They were enjoying the music; some were clapping. There were some that were even dancing off to the side. I thought to myself, “Boy, this is great! We’re preachin’ the gospel right here on the streets of Jerusalem.”

Brickner talks about what he calls the “Jerusalem dilemma,” essentially the apparent conflict between the fact that Jerusalem has been the site of so much religious revelation and also the nexus of so much war and bloodshed. The reason? Israel’s rejection of God’s messenger:

But what we see in Israel, the conflict that is spilled out throughout the Middle East, really which is all about Jerusalem, is an ongoing reflection of the fact that there is judgment. There is judgment that is going on in the land, and that’s the other part of this Jerusalem Dilemma. When Jesus was standing in that temple, He spoke that that judgment was coming, that there’s a reality to the judgment of unbelief …. And Jesus’ words have echoed down through the centuries. Not a generation after He uttered this promise, Titus and his Roman legions marched into that city and destroyed both the city and the temple … Judgment is very real and we see it played out on the pages of the newspapers and on the television. It’s very real. When Isaac was in Jerusalem he was there to witness some of that judgment, some of that conflict, when a Palestinian from East Jerusalem took a bulldozer and went plowing through a score of cars, killing numbers of people. Judgment—you can’t miss it.

Isaac is Brickner’s son, who just came back from a proselytizing trip to Israel and India. In India, he targeted Israeli backpackers on holiday after completing their army service. For Isaac, it was life-changing:

And for me, that personally has changed my life, making me realize how much God has a plan for each and every one of us, and how much we all need to witness to our fellow unbelievers; and for me, as a Jewish person, to my fellow unbelieving Jewish family.

No word yet on whether Palin was present in church on Aug. 17, but we’ll find out. We’re also trying to find out more about Pastor Kroon’s apparently long connection to Brickner – Kroon says the pair go back to the 1970s – who was making his second appearance at the church. In his first appearance, in 2004, Kroon said: “If it were not for Jews for Jesus, I would not be standing here.”

ADL chief Abe Foxman – whose organization has criticized Jews for Jesus as “deceptive,” who called on Barack Obama to confront his “black racist” minister, and who called the Catholic prayer a “body blow” to relations with the Jews – told JTA Tuesday he didn’t have much problem with Palin’s pastor. For one, evangelicals, unlike Catholics, never promised to renounce proselytizing. For another, they don’t have the same sort of history of violent persecution of Jewish non-believers. For one more, there’s no evidence Palin knows or shares those views.

“If you could tell me that she approves of this guy, she invited him, I’m not aware of any of that,” Foxman said. “The fact that she belongs to a church that believes in it, I don’t have a problem.”

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