To avoid a public relations fiasco, a prominent anti-gay crusader and member of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board has been urged to stay away from a Knesset event scheduled for Tuesday that he helped plan.
The Bible study session initiated by megachurch pastor Jim Garlow is set to take place on the same day the Knesset holds its annual tribute to Israel’s LGBTQ community.
Garlow is visiting Israel with fellow members of the evangelical board, on a trip sponsored by Israel’s Tourism Ministry.
The Bible study session will take place as planned, its organizers said. However, according to a Tourism Ministry spokeswoman, Garlow will not be in attendance. Nor will any other members of the evangelical delegation, she said.
Ten years ago, Garlow was instrumental in rallying conservative groups behind a proposed ban on gay marriage in California. Proposition 8 was later approved, only to be subsequently overturned by the courts.
In 2014, calling into a radio talk show, Garlow made an unusual offer to supporters of gay marriage. “All the people who advocate for so-called same-sex marriage ought to have to live in homes in which the plumbers who built them, or the electricians who built them, didn’t understand the difference between the male and female end of piping or plumbing or of electrical as well, and see how that works for them,” he said.
Among the initial group of evangelicals to throw their support behind Trump in the 2016 election, Garlow has compared Americans who would vote for Hillary Clinton to Germans who failed to resist Nazism.
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The Tourism Ministry spokeswoman said the Bible study session was never part of the delegation’s itinerary. “If members of the delegation wanted to attend on their own, that was their business,” she said.
Asked why the organizer of the event – who had presumably put so much work into planning it – would not be in attendance, she was unable to provide an explanation. She said that was because “the Tourism Ministry was not involved with the event, which was never, at any time, on the itinerary of the delegation.”
The Knesset regularly holds Bible study sessions, but this is the first time Christians have been invited to attend.
Garlow, who serves as senior pastor at Skyline Church in La Mesa, heads a Christian organization that has introduced Bible study sessions at the U.S. Congress and the United Nations.
In a recent video message posted on YouTube, Garlow said it was “a joy to get to partner with members of the Knesset and other leaders” in Israel in organizing the Bible study session.
The organization he and his wife founded, he said, aimed “to help forge greater and stronger and more wonderful relationships between Jews and Christians, but above all to honor the word of God, the Bible, the Tanakh, the Torah, and have it taught any place we can. God.”
Welcoming remarks at the Knesset session will be delivered by right-wing lawmaker Yehudah Glick (Likud). The session will be led by Rabbi Naphtali “Tuly” Weisz, the publisher of Israel365 – a daily newsletter distributed to 250,000 Christian Zionists around the world – and Rabbi Yishai Fleisher, a radio broadcaster and settler activist.
The 17-person evangelical delegation is led by Mike Evans, the founder of Jerusalem Prayer Team – a U.S.-based nonprofit whose goal, per its website, is to enlist 10 million people in America and around the world to pray daily and 250,000 houses of worship praying weekly for the peace of Jerusalem.
The organization’s Facebook page has 35 million followers. Last year, during Trump’s visit to Israel, Evans financed a major billboard campaign aimed at pressuring the U.S. president into recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
A Tourism Ministry spokeswoman said the Israeli government was financing a “major” share of the costs of the trip. The delegation members, who also will be meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, include James Dobson, a prominent evangelical leader and founder of the Focus on the Family organization; Ralph Reed, founder of Faith and Freedom Coalition; Richard Land, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary; Tom Mullins, senior pastor at the Palm Beach Gardens-based Christ Fellowship megachurch; Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas; Jack Graham, senior pastor at the Prestonwood Baptist Church; and Harry Jackson, senior pastor at the Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland.
The Knesset event honoring the gay community was organized in conjunction with The Aguda: The Israel National LGBT Taskforce. This is the third year the event is being held. Various Knesset committees will address issues relevant to the local LGBTQ community during the course of the day.
In a statement about the evangelical delegation, the Tourism Ministry said it “attaches great importance to the visit, which is intended to ensure the continued close ties and visits to Israel of the evangelical community in the United States, which today numbers 80-90 million believers.
“The delegation members will experience Israel as a destination for evangelical tourism, as part of the ministry’s efforts to develop Christian tourism to Israel,” the statement said. “Church travel is a global trend that has been gaining momentum in recent years and, accordingly, the goal of the Tourism Ministry is to make Israel a ‘must-visit’ destination for these organized church tours.”