As we commemorate what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King's 92nd birthday today, it's important to celebrate him and his life, and recall the significance of what was perhaps his second most famous speech, which was also his last, as he was assassinated the next day.
Some ascribe a prophetic element to what's known as his "mountaintop" speech. Indeed, his final words were, "Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop, and I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will, and He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. I've looked over and I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land!"
The mountaintop speech was delivered in Memphis, at COGIC's (The Church of God in Christ) Annual April Call Business meeting. It's unclear if King prophesied his own death the next day, or was just ready for that, given all the threats he received and struggles that he overcame. It is clear that he was not speaking merely rhetorically, but in fact literally, about Israel and the significance of Israel to Christians in general, and the Black church in particular.
More than five decades later, Dr. Glenn Plummer has taken up the mantle of Dr. King's vision in and vis-a-vis Israel. Appointed as the first bishop of Israel in 2019 by the same COGIC to which King delivered his Mountaintop Speech in 1968, Plummer took up his role in Israel this past fall.
Plummer has studied King's words carefully and is sure King was speaking specifically about Israel. Just minutes prior to his closing remarks, King recounted his first trip to Israel, descending from Jerusalem to Jericho, and the significance of Israel to the Jewish Jesus. In fact, according to Dr. Plummer, King was scheduled to visit Israel again in 1967 but deferred that trip and was murdered just several months later before being able to return to the mountaintop.
Plummer sees the significance in his presence in Israel today as an opportunity to pick up where King was headed in relation to Israel. In a recent Inspiration From Zion program hosted by the Genesis 123 Foundation, Plummer discussed these and other issues relating to his being in Israel now, and plans for his work and ministry.
Despite coming to Israel with a big vision, following the footsteps of King, Plummer's arrival was met with a degree of controversy. One reason that is the case is because he arrived during a pandemic while the country wasn't (and as of this writing, still isn't) even letting Jews from overseas, with children and grandchildren in Israel, to come visit. Plummer wasn't the only Christian to be given unique permission to come to Israel during this time, but criticism surrounding his coming to Israel was unique.
The bigger issue was accusations of Plummer coming to Israel to convert Jews, specifically Ethiopians. He's taken exception to this in no uncertain terms. He has been bothered by undertones of racism in these allegations.
Plummer continued, "These accusations are baseless misinformation, intentionally to stir up and upset people. They are uncalled for, unethical and even immoral because its untrue, and they are perpetuating falsehoods that I am trying to convert Ethiopian and other Jews. As a church we are open, straightforward and don't operate clandestinely or subversively. Our target has never been Israel; sharing the life-changing message of the Bible is among the Gentiles. When I have spoken about winning souls and making disciples, I've specifically had Gentiles in mind. Our church has never focused on proselytizing Jews and Israelis, nor have I."
Plummer also spoke of his decades-long relationships with Israel and Jews in America as evidence of this. "I have considered myself one of Israel's best friends for many years. I have deep relations among the American Jewish community and close relations in Israel for over 20 years. I have spoken in orthodox, conservative, reform synagogues as the keynote speaker. In all these years there has never been a claim by anyone, ever, that I have said something that has crossed a line to be offensive to a Jew."
When asked what he would say to Christians who think he should be proselytizing Jews in Israel, Plummer responds with clarity. "It's not up to them what we are here to do. Stay in your own lane. Mind your own business. Two thousand years ago the gospel went to the Jew first; all the apostles were Jews. Jesus was a Jew. Now, since then, it's to the Gentiles. I have a little more understanding than most people in Black America about some things you don't say or don't do." But the bottom line, he says is to "be friends, be kind to people. Black America has been friends of the Jews for over 50 years."
Bishop Plummer is convinced that Dr. King was speaking specifically about Israel in his "mountaintop" speech and sees part of his responsibility in Israel as building upon and continuing King's legacy related to Israel. To that end, he's not only representing COGIC, the largest Black church, but also continuing what Dr. King began as it relates to Israel. Dr. King was "speaking specifically about Israel because he had been to Israel, and Israel had a profound impact on him."
Bishop Plummer sees the fact that COGIC made an historic decision, to reach out to embrace Israel, as a way to continue what Dr. King aspired, "to reach out to building a bridge to Black America and the larger African-American community" with Israel.
There are many good reasons why Black America and the church in specific should care about and focus on Israel, and why Israel should care about Black America. "Half of the founders of the NAACP and National Urban League were Jews. The first or second president of the NAACP was a Jew. Blacks have had long-term relationship with American Jews. Nobody was concerned that Dr. King was trying to convert Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. We understood who we were; we were celebrating each other, not trying to change one another. During civil rights, white Christians did not stand with us. Who stood with us? The Jews. Why? Because they understood."
Asked if he saw a biblical analogy in his being in Israel, Plummer reacted enthusiastically. "Rahab was a Gentile, and Ruth was a Gentile. That Gentiles are connected into the lineage of the Jewish people is significant." He continued, relating to the allegations made by some detractors, citing the injunction to "Welcome the foreigner and the stranger who want to stand with you." "The Bible says it but even if it doesn't, it just makes sense. Why would you want to defame friends who want to stand with you?" he said.
Acknowledging a distrust, or lack of understanding, Plummer noted, "Most Israelis think that Black Americans are anti-Israel because of Louis Farrakhan, and people like him, yet they don't represent the church or Black America. Millions of Black Americans have given their $20, $100 or $1000 to support Israel" through many different organizations in Israel and the U.S., such as the Genesis 123 Foundation and others.
"We also need to educate Israelis so that when our people come here, we can have a real relationship."
"Black people in America are the only other people who have slavery in their culture and DNA, like the Jewish people. Jews still say avadim hayeinu, 'We were slaves.' Jews thank God every day for their liberation from thousands of years ago. Why are Jews still talking about slavery? We understand that; we have a fellowship of suffering. For Jews, it's not about history but about remembrance, zachor. Your experiences are not simply historical incidents. You feel it. It's in your system, it's part of you. We do too; it's affected us. It's part of our history, and it's who we are also."
Noting the civil rights era in the U.S., Plummer recalled, "There were signs that said "No [inappropriate racial slur]. no Jews, no dogs." We understood one another. Our relationship was not about converting each other, but empathy for one another."
There's another significant bond between Israel and Black America about which Plummer speaks. "Most Black Americans think of Jews as Ashkenazi, European and white. When they hear the stories of Ethiopian Jews who look like them, it brings tears to their eyes. I applaud Israel. The rescue of Ethiopian Jews is the first time that Black Africans were brought out of oppression into freedom, not the opposite. Israel should be celebrated."
"Ethiopian Jews are a great connection between us. Not to proselytize, but for Black Americans to understand their story. They're stunned when they come over here and see people who look like them, but they're not Black Americans. Black Americans don't know that there are Black Jews, or anything about Operation Solomon and Operation Moses. Think about it; they have maintained their faith and Jewish identity for more than 2500 years. That's why there should be a connection, to encourage each other and build one another up. It can happen and everyone wins."
What are Plummer's goals coming up? When it's possible, after the pandemic, he sees increasing tourism to Israel as essential. "When people come to Israel, Israel clarifies itself; people get it. They see one thing in the media and then they see the reality when they are here. That's what I want to see happen. Churches should embrace the idea of people coming here. Christians are so in awe of the blessings of the Lord, the place, and the people and the culture. Understanding Israel and Jewish tradition causes people to be more enriched. They come to Israel and see all this godly Bible stuff going on. This is faith reinforcing, specifically, in the Black church in America."
The COGIC Israel Jurisdiction wants to increase tourism in general, among "moms and dads," and famous Black Americans as well as to increase business opportunities. Noting that there are 40 million Black Americans and that 80% are affiliated with the Black church, Plummer underscores that the potential is significant. Citing his professional career in media and Christian television, he mentions that his bigger plan is through a media and broadcasting institute in Israel. He has also served as chairman and CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters, the international umbrella for Christians in media. This will "attract Millennials to come to a study abroad program and study media in Israel." Because so many things have gone virtual, now is all the more significant time to start this.
"I would like our people to come over here and experience that and benefit from it. They'll come over and learn the politics, culture and make friends. And when they go back, they'll be advocates for the land, the people and the state. We want them to experience and fall in love with Israel. The goal is to connect Black America with Israel. One of the best ways of doing that is through media and young people. I pray I am alive to see at least some of it come to fruition and to build a foundation."
Plummer was asked what's the one special thing that Black Americans need to know about Jews and Judaism. "Shabbat dinner. One of the simple things we have in common is how important family is. To sit and eat together, a day of rest, magnifies that. Experiencing Shabbat will revolutionize Black people. Family matters. One of the most profound things about Jewish culture is family. But things like Shabbat dinner don't happen in Black America. There needs to be time to enjoy one another, to cut the phones off. There are so many other biblical perspectives woven into the culture of Israel. I want our young people to experience that."
Recalling King's final speech, Plummer notes, "His prophetic statements are all the more critical and important. When one considers his overall prophetic statements and how they impacted the global society after his death, it seems to add an urgency to my assignment."
For information about the Genesis 123 Foundation and its mission to build bridges between Jews and Christians and Christians with Israel in ways that are new, unique and meaningful, and specifically in the Black church, please visit Genesis123.co.
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