An initiative is underway that could connect 6.5 million Black Pentecostal Christians with Israel. Though relatively new, this spiritual endeavor was first conceived 60 years ago by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on his visit to Jerusalem.
Bishop J. Drew Sheard, the Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), recently wrapped up his historic visit to Israel but Bishop Glenn Plummer remains as COGIC’s Bishop of Israel, continuing the efforts to further relations between the largest Pentecostal denomination and the Jewish state. This initiative is the first faith based connection between Black Christians and Israel since Rev. King was killed in 1968.
Bishop Sheard’s visit to the Holy Land three weeks ago marked the first time the church has held a holy convocation in Israel. With a delegation of over 200 people including dozens of bishops, 150 COGIC delegates, and a separate group hosted by COGIC of Black women in political leadership.
His visit was part of a larger plan to connect with Israel.
“Three years ago, our church made the decision to formally and officially embrace Israel,” Bishop Plummer told Israel365 News. Toward this end, COGIC appointed Bishop Plummer two years ago as the first Bishop to Israel as the first step in building stronger ties between Israel and Black American Christians.
“We wanted to see how we could best serve and be a blessing,” Bishop Plummer explained. “Israel is unique in this regard as it is the home of our faith. So our efforts are to connect our Church with Israel but we also want to connect Black America with Israel.”
The timing of the initiative was auspicious.
“We made this decision in 2019, which was 400 years since the establishment of slavery in the US,” Bishop Plummer explained. The church, founded in 1907 by African Americans who had come out of slavery, reportedly has 6.5 million members, making it the largest predominantly African-American church in the world, represented in over 113 countries.
“Biblically, the Jews were enslaved for 400 years in Egypt. It was the Jewish story of slavery in the Bible that inspired enslaved Blacks in America,” the Bishop explained. “The Blacks likened getting out of slavery to crossing over the Jordan. The Jewish story of being enslaved in Egypt is in our spiritual DNA.”
“You, as Jews, became a people when you came out of slavery and the Lord delivered you and brought you to this land. Now you are back in the land. We have embraced the Hebrew Bible because we have a similar story. So we have a natural love of Israel.”
The Bishop explained that a love of Israel is focused on three things: the land of Israel, the people of Israel, and the State of Israel. Bishop Plummer emphasized that blessing Israel, as stipulated in Genesis, includes all three.
“History has shown time and again that nations who curse Israel are invariably cursed,” Bishop Plummer said. “As Americans, we must acknowledge that the blessings that have come to our country and made it great came to us through Israel.”
Bishop Plummer noted that his church’s initiative is the first of its kind since the passing of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Bishop related a little known story that illustrated the deep spiritual connection Rev. King had with Israel. Rev. King gave his last address on April 3, 1968, the night before he was assassinated, at the COGIC headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee. Known as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon, the speech was in support of the striking Black Memphis sanitation workers.
“In the speech, he referenced a New Testament story about a Samaritan and the road to Jericho,” Bishop Plummer explained. “Rev. King made a tangent, describing his visit to Jerusalem with his wife and their car trip to Jericho. Most people were not aware that in 1959, when he was 30 years old, he visited Israel and that it was a life changing experience for him.”
According to Bishop Plummer, most people don’t listen to the entire speech.
“They don’t get that context for the conclusion of the speech,” he said. “But when Rev. King said that he had been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land, he was speaking literally, talking about Jerusalem. And you can describe many places metaphorically as paradise, but the only place in the world that can be called the promised land is Israel.”
“This speech, his final words, was an expression of brotherhood with Israel.”
Bishop Plummer emphasized that at the time of his death, Rev. King was organizing a trip of 5,000 Black Christians to Israel. The trip was delayed due to the volatility following the Six Day War. The trip never took place since Rev. King was killed.
“There was a real relationship and he was a Zionist,” Bishop Plummer said. “He laid the foundation and was paving the way for a formal relationship between Black American Christians and Israel. We are pursuing a somewhat delayed continuation of that.”
Bishop Plummer noted the importance of the initiative, explaining that approximately 80% of the 47 million Black Americans are affiliated with a church.
“A small minority are antisemitic and anti-Christian,” Bishop Plummer said. “These are groups like the Nation of Islam led by Louis Farrakhan. They have their foundations in rejecting Judeo Christian values. They are very small, about 20,000 people, but volatile and vocal. They rejected Dr. King’s philosophy of non-violence. If we can connect with the Palestinians, we would want to give them this message that the only way to effect change is through non-violence.”