Monday, February 2, 2015

Young men flock to ‘church’ with a different kind of Christian doctrine

     After the shooting death of Michael Brown and the resulting media firestorm, old racial wounds between African Americans and law enforcement quickly resurfaced. Israel United in Christ, however, was there in Ferguson, Mo., trying to quell the frustrations that African Americans were feeling by spreading “the word of God.”
     Israel United in Christ is not your average Protestant church, where worshippers sing traditional and contemporary gospel songs. It also is not a church where a charismatic preacher delivers the sermon using pulpit theatrics and the age-old practice of “call and response.”  
     “It’s a (faith-based Christian) church/school. And we focus on the laws, statues and commandments of the Bible,” said Michael McVay, a 31-year-old mental health case manager calling himself Michael Ben Israel, a surname the members adopt meaning “son of Israel.”
     The church/school also recognizes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, said McVay, who once worshipped in the Baptist faith with his mother and sister. His grandmother, he said, is a member of the Church of God in Christ.
     “I’ve done my research and I felt the teaching I was getting in the Christian church didn’t touch me as a person,” said McVay. “I left the Christian church in 2010, and was studying (the word of God) on my own since that spring.”
     McVay joined the church/school last year in November after surrendering the tenets of the Baptist church for a “black” focus taught by Israel United in Christ, which is located at 1661 Lamar in the Glenview community. Members meet on Saturday for worship and/or study sessions.
Members of Israel United in Christ.
     Bishop Nathanyel Ben Israel, the principle teacher, founded the church/school in New York 12 years ago. Within that time span, he’s planted other church/schools in Ohio, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Kentucky, Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, North Carolina, Louisiana, California, Virginia, and Tennessee.
     “We’re working on getting schools in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Jamaica,” said Hoshaiah Ben Israel, one of the top “officers” overseeing the Midwest region – about eight states total, including Canada.
     “As the truth becomes widespread, more schools will be opened,” said McVay, subscribing to the ideology and tenets that black people are “the chosen people that the Bible speaks of.”
     “We teach everybody to learn the truth for himself or herself,” said Ben Israel, 31, an entrepreneur and recent convert who was around 8 years old when he last attended Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church with his mother.
     “When I started following the commandments, I got an understanding,” he said. “It changed my life when I applied the laws to my life.”
     Before Ben Israel committed to the church/school, he trekked to Orlando, Fla., to meet the church/school elders. “I read the entire Bible and watched a video that showed we are the true Israelites,” he said, and embraced the teachings with a determination to teach others.
     Although the Bible refers to the Jewish nation of Israel as God’s people, both Ben Israel and McVay surmised that today’s Jews are not descendants of ancient Israel.
     “They do not fit the prophecies concerning Israel and they do not suffer the curses that were placed upon Israel by the Most High,” said McVay, motivated by self-study and the “knowledge” that he’s acquired since he first joined the church/school.
     “It’s important to my faith,” he said, adding, “In grade-school were taught that we’re African-American. But we’re taught in the Bible that we’re Israelites. We can’t be two people from two different continents.”
     McVay pointed out Deuteronomy chapter 28, verses 15-28 to support his argument. He said black people and brown people throughout world history have suffered through slavery and degradation because of their disobedience.
     “We are here to wake up the so-called blacks, Native Americans, and Latinos to our true heritage – Hebrew Israelite,” he said. “The one way for the so-called blacks, Native Americans, and Latinos to identify with our true heritage is to turn to the Holy Bible.”
     Referring to the King James Version and the “1611 King James Version,” McVay said members of the church/school derive knowledge from the latter version because it includes the “Apocrypha,” or “the missing books of the Bible.”
     Although Israel United in Christ is fairly new to this area – about 2,000 members total across the country – Ben Israel said the church is growing.
     “We got a lot of young men with us,” he said. “We got the solution to change people. Young men catch on to this quickly because they’re looking for a solution.”
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