Glenn and Pauline Plummer deny their goal is evangelizing, say they’ve been targeted.
JERUSALEM – When Dr. Glenn R. Plummer, an African American pastor, moved to Israel from Detroit with his wife, Dr. Pauline Plummer, in early September, he wasn’t expecting a large welcoming committee.
But Plummer, who holds the title of first-ever Bishop of Israel for the Pentecostal denomination Church of God in Christ (COGIC), also didn’t anticipate that their lives would be threatened after anti-missionary activists said the couple moved to Israel to proselytize.
“I was not prepared for the kind of attack we experienced and, as a result, have decided to address the matter,” Plummer told the Jewish News. “We’ve had to contact the police to discuss this. They gave us some advice, which we’ve followed.”
He did not elaborate on the nature of the attacks or on their contacts with the police.
The Plummers’ experience reflects longstanding Israeli fears that evangelical Christians are interested in Israel for just one reason: to convert Jews to Christianity.
Under Israeli law, missionary activity in Israel is illegal only if a missionary targets a minor or offers money or something of financial value to another person. Missionaries often place Christian-centered written materials in the mailboxes of private homes, and some quietly hand out New Testaments translated into Russian, Hebrew and Amharic, an Ethiopian language.
In an interview, Plummer, a prominent Christian media personality who served as the first and only African American chairman and CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters, told the JN that he and his wife are not missionaries. He said he learned of the accusations soon after arriving in Mevaseret, a Jerusalem suburb.
“Our only purpose here is to build a relationship with an even broader group than our church and establish a bridge between Black America and Israel,” Plummer said of COGIC — the largest African American church in the U.S., boasting 6.5 million members in the States and millions more in 100-plus other countries.
In addition to Glenn Plummer’s title of “Bishop of Israel,” COGIC has granted Pauline Plummer the title of “First Lady of Israel,” saying in a 2019 press release that the title had been left “vacant” after the death of Nechama Rivlin, wife of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
Rabbi Tovia Singer, founder and director of Outreach Judaism, a Jewish counter-missionary organization, insists that the relationship-building is an attempt to convert Jews to Christianity.
“They’re here for the same reason so many other Christian groups come to Israel: to evangelize Jews in Israel,” Singer said.
Singer created and shared videos containing recent and not-so-recent footage of the couple discussing their move to Israel — the Plummers refer to it as “making aliyah” — on their TV show, as well as the importance of evangelism to their church’s followers. Singer interspersed the videos with his own commentary on their motives.
In one spliced segment, Plummer says COGIC’s purpose is “to win souls and second, to make disciples.” In another, the pastor declares, “We have work to do. The time has come to go to Israel … to lift up a nation for the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In another segment, Plummer says, “The Ethiopian community now in Israel becomes a great door of connection for those of us who are African American. Now we see people who look like us and us like them. That’s opened all kinds of dialogue.”
Singer claimed that the Plummers moved to Mevaseret because of its very large population of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel.
The Plummers “are very interested in converting the Black Jews here in Israel,” Singer told the JN. The pastor “has said explicitly, ‘I am of African descent and the Ethiopian Jews are of African descent. We both share the same skin color, so it will be easier to cultivate relations with them, to bring them to the church, to make them disciples.’”
Singer also claimed that COGIC “has partnered” with five Messianic Jewish (also referred to as “Jews for Jesus”) congregations in Israel.
Plummer denied every accusation.
“I am stunned at the aggressive, hateful comments we’re getting” in response to Singer’s videos, he said. “What Rabbi Singer did was so immoral and so wrong. He takes clips from Sunday school lessons for Christians from one to two years ago and combined it with another video.”
Plummer also denied ever having made the “easier to cultivate relations” comment regarding Ethiopian Jews.
Plummer acknowledged that he and COGIC have ambitious plans in Israel, but says none include proselytizing.
“We are establishing an educational institution targeted to millennial-aged Black Americans who will study media and broadcasting arts while being exposed to Israel for 90 days,” he said. “They will get a real experience of living here: The geopolitics, the religious world and life that happens here.”
Plummer, who has led many short-term pilgrimages to Israel over the years, also hopes to vastly increase tourism to Israel among the 40 million-strong African American community.
Despite sometimes strained relations between African Americans and some Jewish Americans over Black Lives Matter, the role of the police and other issues, African Americans “have a love for Israel because of the Bible,” Plummer said. “They name their churches after locations in Israel. We have a history with American Jews as a people. Jews were marching with us, singing with us. Some gave their life and blood for us.”
But few African Americans know much about modern-day Israel, said Plummer, who is considered a top ally to Israel by the Israel Allies Foundation.
“That’s why part of my role is to not only familiarize our people with Israel, but to build a bridge in a relationship that will be longstanding and sustained between Black America and Israel,” he said.
Plummer said Israel and the Black American community can help each other, and that both will be better for it.
“I consider Israel to be the Silicon Valley of the world. It has made tremendous technological advances that Black America can benefit from,” he said.
At the same time, Plummer said, Black Americans can support Israel economically.
“We spend $1.3 trillion a year. We are a significant market. Israeli businesses need new markets, especially coming out of [COVID-19]. Black America has money, it has spending power. And on top of that we have smart, capable people who can help [Israelis].”
There is also controversy around how the Plummers managed to obtain permanent residency in Israel during the coronavirus pandemic, when such permits have been broadly restricted. In a recent interview with World Israel News, Plummer said, “The government allowed us to come.”
Among Detroit-area Jewish clergy who know the Plummers, there is little question of any impropriety.
“Glenn and Pauline have been forthright from the very beginning that [proselytizing] is not their mission,” said Rabbi Marla Hornsten of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield. Hornsten and Glenn Plummer worked together at the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity, a Detroit-area group promoting solidarity between the Jewish and African American communities.
Hornsten is a co-chair of the Coalition, and she is also good friends with Pauline.
In addition to being one of the founding members of the Coalition’s executive committee, Plummer has also spoken at Temple Israel in the past.
“He’s saying his role is to build bridges with the Black community here in the United States and Israel. I trust that is what he’s doing. He’s never given me any reason to think otherwise,” Hornsten said. “I see his position of ‘Bishop of Israel’ as an ambassador to Israel from his church.”
Hornsten acknowledged that, “in general, the Jewish community is skeptical of Christian support for Israel and what their motivations are.” But she said the Plummers had “proved themselves” with their decades of history in Detroit faith communities, including their work with the Jewish community.
In fact, Hornsten said, the Plummers’ move was “a loss for our Jewish community here because we had a real partner in Glenn.” She added that discussion of Christian support for Israel never came up in their Coalition work, which focused instead on addressing racism and antisemitism.
Another one of the Coalition’s organizers and longtime friend of the Plummers is Mark Jacobs, who is also the AIPAC Michigan Chair for African American Outreach and a JN contributor.
“Glenn is quick to defend Israel and Jews in all the time I’ve known him,” Jacobs said. “I’ve witnessed him preach that from the pulpit, and it’s evident his convictions are deep and sincere.”
Jacobs noted that Glenn Plummer has also written extensive criticisms of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan for his antisemitism, for which Plummer has said he received death threats.
The Coalition shared a Rosh Hashanah greeting from the Plummers on Facebook shortly after their move.
“I am smiling because I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be,” Glenn Plummer wrote to the group.
Singer said that American evangelical groups have a strong presence in Israel, and that although the official staff “don’t go around missionizing,” they have created a “thoroughfare of evangelicals” who see it as their mission to convert Jews to bring about Jesus’ second coming.
Jonathan Feldstein, president of the Genesis 123 Foundation, which builds bridges between Jews and Christians, noted that Plummer is the first evangelical pastor to take up a religious position in Israel on behalf of a major ministry.
“You have this major evangelical church that happens to be predominantly Black saying Israel is significant enough to Christians and theology that we want to have a presence here,” Feldstein said.
Plummer insisted that COGIC’s presence is “a blessing” for Israel. “We are friends and allies.”
“But if you’re going to treat me this way, what will happen when my people decide, okay you’ve convinced us, let’s create some lasting relationship with Israel? What will happen then?”
Andrew Lapin contributed additional reporting from Detroit.
Correction (11/2/20): This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Rabbi Marla Hornsten’s name and clarify Glenn Plummer’s position within the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity.