When it comes to American religion there is typically only one unifying idea: that in this country people have the freedom to believe anything they want. Beyond that, religion remains a source of great conflict in both politics and in people’s everyday lives. The latest convergence of this is the announcement of an appearance by President George W. Bush at the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute or MJBI. According to Mother Jones, MJBI’s goal is “to ‘restore’ Israel and the Jews and to bring about the second coming of Christ.” The Messianic Jewish movement is often criticized for their efforts to “convert” others, as their website puts it, “to bring Jewish people into a personal relationship of faith with Yeshua the Messiah.”
Critics of the movement are disappointed with Bush for agreeing to attend the event, suggesting that it is a tacit endorsement by the former president of their mission. Rabbi David Wolpe—who was named by Newsweek as the most influential rabbi in the nation—tweeted as a response to this story, “This is infuriating.”
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Author of the Mother Jones article, Sarah Posner describes the problem as less about conversion than about the fact that their belief in Jesus as the Messiah directly contradicts a fundamental tenet of the religion. In another article she points out, “in Judaism, the divine cannot be made human; the messiah cannot be divine.” If anything, the group is mostly Christian, although they have adapted many Jewish rituals and choose to identify as Jewish.
According to promotional materials, Bush is going to talk about his time in the White House, and nothing explicitly religious. The event is limited to 1000 guests, as opposed to the event held by the MJBI in Cowboys Stadium where Glenn Beck was the keynote speaker. Ironically, at that event he said “I’m a Mormon, which kind of a Jew of the Christian world,” to a large group of Jewish Christians. The former president’s press office did not respond to Posner’s request for comment, so the question remains if his attendance at the event constitutes an endorsement of the MJBI’s mission or is just an occasion where he can speak to a group of people who seemingly love Jesus as much as he does.