Jews Angry Over Remark By Falwell
Antichrist Speculation Called Antisemitic
By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 23, 1999; Page B11
American Jewish leaders have accused the Rev. Jerry Falwell, one of Israel's most vocal Christian supporters, of inciting antisemitism by his assertion that the Antichrist will be a Jewish male who is probably "alive somewhere today."
The Lynchburg, Va.-based evangelist told a group of pastors in Kingsport, Tenn., last week that the Antichrist--a New Testament figure who will spread untold evil at the end of time--"will be a full-grown counterfeit of Christ. Of course, he'll be Jewish."
"We deplore the equation of an ultimate figure of evil with a Jewish individual, especially when made by an individual as prominent as Rev. Falwell is on the religious right," B'nai B'rith International President Richard D. Heideman said in a statement.
The comments by Falwell, founder of Lynchburg's Liberty University and the now-defunct Moral Majority, were a double jolt to Jews because he is a prominent Israel booster and has visited the Jewish state some 30 times.
"Here's a man who professes to be sympathetic to Jewish causes of all kinds, and at the same time, he indulges in this kind of brutal statement," said Phil Baum, the executive director of the American Jewish Congress. "Most people who hear it will think that Jews . . . are responsible for evil in the world. What he's doing is causing an antisemitic response, and he is accountable for that."
In a telephone interview, Falwell, whose Sunday sermons at Lynchburg's Thomas Road Baptist Church are nationally broadcast, said his remarks were "very innocent" and biblically based.
"This pretender, whose mission is to deceive the Jews and everyone else into believing he is the true Christ, must resemble the Christ of 2,000 years ago," Falwell said. "For that reason, many evangelicals believe that he will be Jewish."
Falwell called it "outrageous" that anyone would characterize his remarks as an antisemitic statement.
"If there is a person on Earth today outside the Jewish community who has stronger credentials of being pro-Jewish and pro-Israel outside Jerry Falwell, I haven't met him," he said. "And when Abe Foxman, of [the Anti-Defamation League], without bothering to give me a phone call, sends out one of his scorched-earth statements, it ticks me off."
Falwell was angered by ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman's statement this week that despite "years of Christian-Jewish dialogue, Rev. Falwell hasn't learned a thing. Reverting back to a distorted interpretation of the text of the New Testament, he revisits the worst in intolerance that resulted in persecution of the Jewish people and inquisitions."
Falwell, who believes the Bible should be interpreted literally and has said he "wouldn't be a bit surprised" if Christ returns in the year 2000, said his views about the Antichrist are based on Scripture and widely held among Christian evangelicals.
But some dispute this.
"I think very highly of Rev. Falwell but . . . he's gone beyond what the Bible says. The Bible doesn't say the Antichrists will be Jewish," said John Walvoord, chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary and an expert on evangelical views about the end of the world.
Bernard McGinn, a professor at the University of Chicago's School of Divinity and a specialist on the Antichrist, said that since early Christianity there have been "two lines of interpretation."
"One line insists he will be Jewish, and one says he has to be a Christian because he has to pretend to be Christ," said McGinn, adding that most Christians today regard the Antichrist as a symbol of evil and not as a person.
The American Jewish Congress urged Falwell to follow "the example of the Catholic Church, which has demonstrated its sensitive awareness of the great harm that can be caused by the careless spread of doctrinal antisemitism."
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