''Til Kingdom Come': Film Review

Til Kingdom Come
Courtesy of Abraham (Abie) Troen
Illuminating and disturbing.
2/26/2021

Maya Zinshtein's documentary explores the reasons for the support given to Israel by evangelical Christians.

In the opening scene of Maya Zinshtein's documentary, Boyd Bingham IV, the pastor of a rural Kentucky church, explains how Donald Trump has fulfilled the agenda of the parishioners in his impoverished community. As Bingham makes his points in thoughtful and articulate fashion, he casually fires rounds from the automatic weapon to which he's clearly paid much loving attention.

It's almost as if he's providing a visual aid to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama's much-criticized 2008 observation that people living in economically deprived small towns often "cling to guns or religion."

It's not surprising that many of those people are evangelical Christians. What may be surprising to some people is that a good portion of them are staunch moral and financial supporters of the state of Israel, whose present government eagerly embraces their largesse. 'Til Kingdom Come, scripted by Mark Monroe (The Cove, Icarus), explores the reasons for that alliance.

At first glance, one could simply chalk it up to Christian charity. And to be sure, the premier organization behind the alliance, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, does a lot of good. Founded in 1983 by American Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, Israel's leading philanthropic institution has raised more than $1.5 billion for Israel since its inception, much of it going to the needy and to support Jews from around the world who wish to move to Israel. The organization gained much of its evangelical support after it was spotlighted by Pat Robertson on his Christian Broadcasting Network show The 700 Club.

As the documentary vividly illustrates, it's what's motivating that evangelical support that proves problematic. The film largely focuses on the Bingham dynasty of pastors and the Kentucky communities they've served for several generations. Despite the fact that the area has been ravaged by the loss of much of the coal industry and the residents now suffer from staggeringly high rates of addiction and poverty, their congregants provide much financial support for the organization benefiting Jews.

We see a schoolteacher delivering a lesson about Israel to his students, some of them as young as elementary school age. "Their people, the Jews, are better than all of us," he tells them. "And you need to accept that."

Much of that support stems from the idea that there will be a Second Coming. That's fine for the Christians, but not so good for the Jews, since this will come only after the Armageddon. Apparently, during this cataclysmic event some two-thirds of the world's Jews will be wiped out, and the rest will have to accept Jesus as their savior before rising to heaven. At least, after enduring seven years of "great tribulation."

This apocalyptic scenario doesn't seem to greatly concern Yael Eckstein, who became the leader of the Fellowship after the death of her father in 2019. Eckstein, a tireless fundraiser, shrugs off the prophecies. "It's a paradox. … When you go five steps ahead of it, it gets really freaking complicated," she admits. "So I don't go those five steps."

A self-interested Donald Trump also saw the benefits of catering to the evangelical population, who constituted a significant portion of his political base. His administration catered to Israel and ignored Palestinian concerns at every opportunity, including the controversial decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. The film includes footage of the opening ceremony, attended by an exultant Benjamin Netanyahu and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and numerous evangelical leaders including John Hagee, the founder of the organization Christians United for Israel. The embassy relocation led to the deaths of 58 Palestinians in a single day of protests.

Hagee exhorting his congregants to rejoice if Israel should go to war is one of the film's more disturbing moments. But not nearly as disturbing as Boyd Bingham stating without equivocation that "there is no such thing as a Palestinian" or his pastor father William Bingham III angrily dismissing "you blind, stupid Jewish people" when challenged about the reasons he supports Israel. Apparently, it's not just politics, but also religion, that makes strange bedfellows.

Available in virtual theaters
Production companies: Ventureland, Passion Pictures, KAN IPBC
Distributor: Abramorama
Director: Maya Zinshtein
Screenwriter: Mark Monroe
Producers: Abraham (Abie) Troen, John Battsek, Maya Zinshtein
Executive producer: Maxyne Franklin
Director of photography: Abraham (Abie) Troen
Editor: Elan Golod
Composer: Miriam Cutler

76 min.