People tend to have firm opinions about the American Christian Evangelical movement and its relationship to Israel – and it’s generally a divisive issue for Jews and Israelis. Maya Zinshtein explores these Evangelicals in her new documentary, ’Til Kingdom Come, which just had its premiere at Docaviv, the Tel Aviv International Documentary Festival, which was held online.
KAN 11 is one of the film’s producers, and it will be shown on the station, as well as on television and in theaters abroad.
Zinshtein, who made the documentary Forever Pure, a fascinating look at the fanatical supporters of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club, seems to be drawn to extremists. But unlike so many aggressive documentary filmmakers who have a clear agenda, she is truly interested in what makes her subjects tick and gives them a chance to express themselves.
Evangelical Christians have been in the news often lately due to their support of US President Donald Trump and his “Deal of the Century” peace plan, as well as the recent peace deal with the United Arab Emirates. If you are negatively inclined toward Evangelicals, you may feel that Zinshtein isn’t tough enough on them. But if you come to this film wanting to understand them better, you may find it worth your while.
She focuses on what motivates American Christians to support Israel and what form their support takes. ’Til Kingdom Come looks at Israelis who work with Evangelical Christians, chiefly the late Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein – who died last February and who created the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, one of Israel’s largest nonprofit organizations – and his daughter Yael, who is continuing her father’s work.
The Ecksteins have raised more than $1.5 billion for Israel through the fellowship, and they are shown giving a much-needed package of food to an elderly Israeli survivor of a terrorist attack and distributing other aid to the needy.
BUT THE documentary also zeroes in on the source of some of this aid, and interviews Kentucky Christian religious leaders Pastor William Boyd Bingham III and his son, Associate Pastor William Boyd Bingham IV. The documentary explores their community in a rural area of Kentucky, which has been ravaged by poverty, drug addiction and crime.Listening to the Binghams and trying to understand why their congregants feel it is important for them to send some of their hard-earned money to Israel is the most fascinating part of the film. It’s clear that much of the funds that come to Israel are small donations from Christians like the ones who worship at places like the Binghams’ church. These worshipers, who see themselves as “the forgotten people of America,” contribute a huge percentage of the cash that ends up funding soup kitchens and other charities here.
While Zinshtein portrays the political alliance that has formed between the Evangelical movement and West Bank settlers – and allows various commentators to dissect this relationship – the film is most interesting when she tries to answer theological questions that make this alliance so unlikely.
According to the Binghams and other interviewees, they believe that before the Second Coming, there will be a series of horrific battles that will wipe out two-thirds of the world’s Jews, and the remaining third will then convert. Asked about what will happen to Jews who never accept Jesus, the elder pastor says, “That’s an old question. And it’s a huge one. And it’s disturbing to many people. What will God do with those who won’t accept Jesus? The Bible says they’re going to have to go through seven years of great tribulation. "I don’t want it to be bloody, gory, violent. I don’t want that," he says. "I don’t want to have to say, ‘My way’s right, and turn or burn. You’re going to get roasted in hell forever.’ It’s not my motive. It’s not my goal. It’s not. It’s really not. But Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, and no man comes to the father but by me.’”
Yael Eckstein admits that talking about these issues is a “trigger” and a “paradox,” saying: “When you go five steps ahead of that, it gets really freaking complicated. But that’s why I don’t go those five steps.”
When people with such contradictory worldviews interact, they tend to stay within their lane and compartmentalize, just like Yael Eckstein. As the younger Bingham pastor goes to Bethlehem and meets with Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac of the Evangelical Christmas Church, who tries to explain Palestinian Christians’ take on these issues, it’s as if the two are in separate universes. Neither can really understand the other’s concerns or worldview.
At the end, as a choir that includes children in a Kentucky church sings, “My sins are all covered by his blood,” it seems clear that for many of us, an understanding of these Evangelicals will remain elusive.