Last month I had the privilege of speaking at a large church in the small town of Wasilla, Alaska. At the time, few people outside of Alaska had heard of Wasilla; now almost everyone in America knows that it is the hometown of Sarah Palin, John McCain's Vice Presidential running mate. She not only grew up in Wasilla; she served as its mayor before being elected governor of Alaska. The Palins now attend the church where I spoke; in fact, during the second service the entire family stood before the congregation as their newborn son was dedicated to the Lord.
My message that morning from Matthew 23: 37-39, titled, "The Jerusalem Dilemma," made reference to sin and judgment, and the need for all people, both Jews or Gentiles, to repent and seek forgiveness through Y'shua. I pointed to the many conflicts and tragedies that we hear about daily on the news, as evidence that the whole world is suffering the effects of sin and stands under God's judgment; that we all need the grace and forgiveness of God found only in Christ. These are no more or less than basic tenets of the Christian faith. Then I spoke of God's great love for Israel and for the world, and shared the encouraging news of how many Israelis are now open to hearing about Jesus.
Once Mrs. Palin's candidacy as vice-president was announced, my message became a matter of sudden public interest. A blogger on Politico.com quickly tore a small portion of the message out of context and twisted my words into something ugly and hurtful:
"Brickner also described terrorist attacks on Israelis as God's 'judgment of unbelief' of Jews who haven't embraced Christianity."
That is not what I said and it is certainly not my belief.
However, this misinterpretation of my beliefs became fodder for the media's reporting. Scores of news reports online, in print and on TV have repeated Politico's fabrication as fact without further scrutiny, sometimes even furthering the distortion. Typical of this was political pundit Rachel Maddow, as she criticized Sarah Palin in an exchange with Chris Matthews. The following was taken from NBC's national coverage of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
Maddow: Jews for Jesus founder [was] speaking at her church while she was there two weeks ago making incredibly, incredibly out of line comments about Israel and Jewish people. Saying that's why Israel was subject to terrorist attacks. It was God's judgment for not believing in Christ.
Matthews: What's the source?
Some reports have even mistaken me for Sarah Palin's pastor, further comparing me to Jeremiah Wright who was Barak Obama's pastor. Last Saturday yet another story has come out in "The New York Times." As a result, I was interviewed by MSNBC News the following day.
I recognize that I am not the real target of this scrutiny; Sarah Palin is. By the time you read this, the whole story may have blown over for me and for Jews for Jesus, with the media moving on in search of other issues that might color people's view of all four presidential and vice-presidential candidates. Nevertheless, here are a couple of my reflections on the events of the past few days.
First, it is amazing how ready people are to believe a false report. Numerous friends and colleagues wrote to ask me if these reports were true. I'm sure it never would have occurred to them to think I would think or say such things if they had not seen them in print. How much quicker will strangers be to assume the views attributed to me were truthful? This experience has confirmed the old adage: you can't always believe what you read in the press.
I am certainly grateful for the institution of free speech and a free press. Jews for Jesus has relied on those freedoms as we proclaim the gospel. But freedom of speech can also be abused with deathly cruelty. For example, Raymond Donovan, President Ronald Reagan's first Secretary of Labor, was the victim of a long campaign of rumors and innuendo, which led to criminal prosecution. After incurring legal bills in excess of a million dollars, Donovan was acquitted of all charges. When he emerged from the courtroom, reporters swarmed around him vying for his comment. In response, Donovan posed the poignant question, "Where do I go to get my reputation back?"
Proverbs 18:21 tells us, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit." How true! Words that roll off this two-ounce slab of muscle and mucous membrane have an inordinate capacity to affect lives. Consider for example, the speeches of Nazi miscreant Adolf Hitler, contrasted with those of statesman Winston Churchill, during the Second World War. Both were eloquent orators. Hitler, on one side of the Channel, used his words to lead a nation into devilish crimes against humanity. Winston Churchill, on the other side of the Channel, used his rhetorical skill to lead a nation to the highest and most noble sacrifice, to England's credit in her finest hour.
We need to be discerning about what we listen to and what we are quick to believe. The Talmud asks, "Why do human fingers resemble pegs?" and then answers, "So that if one hears something unseemly, one can plug one's fingers in one's ears" (Ketuvot 5b).
We need to be especially discerning when it comes to negative or critical remarks, because those are the ones that people love to repeat. Bertrand Russell once dryly observed that no one ever gossips about another's secret virtues.
Second, I am grateful that God can use almost anything to further His work and to get out the gospel. Case in point: the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) is a wire service for the Jewish print world, much like the Associated Press is for secular publications. The JTA released an article titled, "McCain team: Palin rejects views of church's Jews for Jesus speaker" in which they repeated the distortions of my views. However, they also provided a link to my entire sermon, both the transcript and the audio version. Anyone who chooses to check the source by reading or listening to this message is going to hear the Good News.
I will never avoid the subject of sin and its consequences, but my message says more about God's love in Christ than it does about judgment. Here is one brief excerpt:
"And so all of the controversy that we see swirling in Jerusalem is really a mirror that the world looks into to see the controversy within. The Jerusalem Dilemma is the Wasilla Dilemma; it's the dilemma of the human heart. And so it's important for us to notice Jesus' response to this unbelief, this rejection.
"'How often I've longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.' And Jesus says 'Come under My wings, O Jerusalem. There's a place of grace that I want to establish for you in spite of your unbelief.'
"And so committed was Jesus to that place of grace that not many days after He said this, He stretched out His arms on a cruel cross and shed His blood to pay the penalty for your sin and for mine. But because of who He is—because He is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God—death could not hold Him, and the grave could not keep Him, and He rose again from the grave. And now that same resurrection power of God is available to be applied to the lives of all those who trust Him, in Jerusalem and around the world. That is the answer to the Jerusalem Dilemma, the dilemma of unbelief—the mercy and grace of God, this place of grace that whosoever will may come under and find God's forgiveness."