By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
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"We want people to read the Bible and throw away end-times books like the Left Behind series," he says. "If the world ends tomorrow, what difference does it make to a follower of Christ? The rest gets into guesswork. Reading tea leaves, that kind of thing."
If he's going to pry the slick novels from eager evangelists, however, Carlson's going to have to come up with a better alternative than what he currently offers.
Perhaps as a result of his relative inexperience working with the public, Carlson's literature and spiel is amateurish and confusing. His compatriots are even worse communicators. The few people who stop to speak with Project Strait Gate demonstrators are liable to get an earful of dense, perplexing discourse about the Scofield Bible, poorly explained tales of violence against Palestinians and conspiratorial-sounding claims of Israeli influence on American politics.
Even worse, Carlson offers dozens of books and tape cassettes with anti-Semitic themes for sale on his Web site. Prominent play is given to books that recycle hoary myths of Jewish plots in international finance and the control of American politics.
Carlson and his colleagues, it turns out, believe that evangelicals support Israeli foreign policy because they've been duped by tricky Jews.
Gershom Gorenberg, the Israeli author, after looking at Carlson's Web site, says he thinks it's ironic that Carlson would promote such books in an effort to oppose evangelicals clinging to fantasies about Jews and prophetic visions.
"Dispensationalists don't see real Jews. They see Jews as parts in a divinely drawn drama," Gorenberg tells New Times. "But when people [like Carlson] speak in terms of Jewish conspiracies and vast Jewish influence, they're essentially doing the same thing. They're making up stories starring the Jews.
"The irony is that they're working within the dispensationalist mindset – that there are secret forces affecting history, and one of those forces is the Jewish people," Gorenberg says. "They come to different conclusions about what those secret forces are doing, but they're still not thinking of the Jewish people as real people."
Chip Berlet says he's seen such Jew bashing before. "I have run across several types of groups who take similar positions," Berlet wrote in an e-mail to New Times. "[There are] Conservative Christian evangelicals who oppose apocalyptic versions of dispensationalism, and who are critical of U.S. support for Israel and Middle East war plans, and who avoid anti-Semitism." Others, he says, "slide into anti-Semitism." And another group goes even further. Members of the Christian Identity movement agitate for a white, Christian America and subscribe to a "belief system that denounces mainstream Christian support of Israel, and claims the U.S. is manipulated by a Zionist conspiracy," Berlet says.
Carlson denies vehemently that he or his friends have any affinity for the Christian Identity movement. "We don't believe that at all. That's just another form of religious racism," he says. "It stems from a belief that white people have a special dispensation from God. Well, that's exactly what we don't believe, that anyone should get special treatment over anyone else."
However, when he's asked if he denounces anti-Semitism, Carlson dodges the question by raising technical questions about the term. He also has a disconcerting response when he's told that We Hold These Truths members have been known to carry the literature of such racist Christian Identity groups as the National Alliance.
Carlson says he's willing to read anything that's sent to him, and doesn't deny that he's spoken to questionable groups in the past. "I see that stuff. I will speak to anyone, including the National Alliance. But I speak about what we're about, not what they're about. Would Jesus stay away from them? I don't think so. I think he'd walk in their front door and try to tell them about their mistakes."
Carlson will have to rid himself of that kind of political naiveté if he's going to reach his goal of growing We Hold These Truths across the country. He'll also need to jettison the Jew-baiting literature on his Web site.
It will be a shame if he doesn't. He's probably right when he says that born-again Christians like himself are best qualified to hammer home to other pro-life evangelicals that their support for war is inconsistent.
Carlson threatens, "We want every church in the county wondering when we're coming."