By the s, Mr. Cahn was leading outreach for a hippy-style church in New Jersey.
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His hair and beard grown shaggy, he led services with a guitar slung around his neck. Cahn later broke off to lead an independent congregation, Beth Israel, and built his following through a slot on Christian radio, where his messages took on an end-times flavor. After the terrorist attacks struck Manhattan, Mr. Cahn adopted a sharp, even more apocalyptic focus. In sermons, he began comparing the attacks to the ancient warnings of the Bible, drawing largely from the book of Isaiah, where God vows to punish the disobedient nation of Israel. Cahn said abortion, gay rights and the perceived retreat of religion in the public square were all troubling signs that America, like ancient Israel, had lost its way.
Once rolling with this comparison, Mr. Cahn began seeing patterns everywhere. As the Israelites turned away from their God, they were attacked by Assyrians; America, in modern times, was also attacked by a foreign army from the East, Al Qaeda terrorists. After the ancient siege, the Israelites vowed to replant a destroyed sycamore grove with new trees; near ground zero, a huge sycamore tree was also destroyed, as the towers fell.
The supposed connections go on. Tenuous as they may seem, Mr.
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Cahn saw the links as compelling. His flock did too. A charismatic preacher inveighing against imminent devastation is nothing new. America has long been fertile ground for would-be doomsday prophets, stretching back centuries. Cahn fits a unique American mold. Sutton said. Among several of Mr. Cahn brings the tradition fully into the social-media age: many of his fans first saw him on Facebook; hundreds of posts and reposts of his sermons are uploaded on YouTube, slipped into the corners of the web where esoteric religion and conspiracy theories overlap.
Into this mix came Mr. Cahn says, who have a unique relationship with God. He then argues that all sorts of figures in contemporary politics have biblical counterparts. Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, for example, are the modern-day analogues to wicked Ahab and Jezebel.
Read the Bible with Your Heart
Trump is the warrior-king Jehu, who took control of the nation and cast idols out of the capital. Cahn goes on. Cahn casts Trump as a heroic figure. He also has political aspirations. Cahn speaks at events in Washington alongside conservative standard-bearers like Michele Bachmann and James Dobson, where his portrayal of America as a cultural battleground falls on sympathetic ears.
In , he even addressed a United Nations gathering. Cahn likes to say he is surprised by his own success, preferring supernatural explanations. When speaking, he begins slowly but picks up pace, almost falling over his words with excitement. He also has a flair for the theatrical tale.
The Book of Revelation, a Prophecy of Warning and Hope
Lounging in a back office at the church, surrounded by framed paintings of biblical landscapes, he sprinkled enchanted anecdotes in conversation. How did he raise money for his first church? They called him Wahoo. God instructed him to come to me. How were his books received? For the release day of the new one, my appendix exploded.
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People called it spiritual warfare. He even presents his family life in magical terms. As Mr. The congregation more than tripled over the years and outgrew its humble perch in Bergen County.
In , Beth Israel moved to a cavernous old department store a half-hour away and remodeled the building to resemble the white-stoned city of ancient Jerusalem, recasting the drab industrial structure as a mystical suburban barracks. In the parking lot, massive Israeli and American flags billow in the breeze. Beth Israel draws from the Charismatic movement, which has roots in Pentecostalism, and also incorporates elements of Messianic Judaism. Congregants alternate between calling Mr.
Cahn their pastor or rabbi, and their place of worship a church or synagogue. Services are also held on Friday evenings, at the start of the Jewish Sabbath, and Mr. Cahn arrives to the building just moments before worship begins. By the time he bursts on stage with a headset microphone, the crowd is fully primed. A dance troupe of women, dressed in red and waving scarfs, prance nearby as the crowd sways in song.
During a recent evening service, some congregants gathered as helpers lit traditional Shabbat candles near the foot of the stage. Cahn dropped Hebrew into his sermon, and at times, the crowd haltingly joined in to pronounce the foreign words themselves. In a middle row, one elderly woman pulled out a worn Bible with stickered pages, the margins filled with notes from previous lectures.
Cahn intoned from the pulpit. Open your mind, brace yourself. Progressive groups, like the website Right Wing Watch, have been tracking Mr. Others have raised questions about whether his messages about Trump veer from protected religious expression to political endorsement. Churches are unable to participate in political campaigns on behalf of, or in opposition to, candidates; if they do so, they risk losing their tax-exempt status. Cahn shrugs at the charge.
Others object to his claims to divine insight. In particular, Mr. Cahn has attracted the attention of a network of Christian critics who see him as part of a growing stream of over-the-top supernaturalism in the church. Tensions came to a climax in , when Mr. Cahn suggested in a book and during several TV appearances that an imminent cataclysm was on the horizon. Leaning on arcane readings of the early books of the Bible, Mr. In came terrorist attacks, in there was an economic crash.
Cahn asked: could bring another disaster? But months passed, and the doomsday date came and went. He was dismissed as a grifter. And, most certainly, it is about the end-times. Why Jerusalem's holy sites are so significant When I was young, our pastor insisted that Jerusalem had an important role to play in these end-times events.
When the Jews rejected Jesus as the messiah, he explained, God chose the church to accomplish his mission. Soon this "church age" would end with the rapture of true believers. But God still loved the Jews, he told us, and wanted to redeem them. Thus, absent the church, the Jews would experience a great religious rebirth and rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.