A Pastor With a Drive to Convert
"I finally got to Matthew, Chapter 11, where Jesus said, 'Come to Me, all you who are heavy laden, and who are burdened down, who are overwhelmed, and I will give you rest,' " he said. "And when I read that, I'll never forget looking up and saying, 'Bingo! Bingo! That is exactly what I'm looking for.' " Solomon knelt and prayed, telling God he would become a believer in Jesus.
His parents and brother were furious at his conversion, but Solomon later persuaded them to become Christians, too -- including his father while he was on his deathbed.
But Jewish leaders said Solomon's determination to convert other Jews will harm relations between the faiths.
"When I hear about Christians starting campaigns to convert Jews, I'm reminded of the thousands upon thousands who died at the hands of Christian missionaries during the Middle Ages when Jews were forcibly converted to Christianity," said Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who leads Ohev Sholom Talmud Torah, the oldest Orthodox synagogue in the District. "There's an enormous link between Christian conversion and anti-Semitism."
A Friend of the Church
The story of how the church won county approval for its 52-acre campus on Route 7 shows how Solomon uses influential allies to his advantage.
As Solomon tells it, he was approached in 1995 by Stuart Mendelsohn, a relatively unknown McLean resident on the Fairfax County School Board.
Mendelsohn, a Republican who wanted to make the leap to county supervisor, asked for Solomon's permission to shake hands with folks as they were leaving services at the church's original sanctuary on Balls Hill Road. About 3,000 people were attending then.
The pastor balked, until Mendelsohn revealed that he, like Solomon, was a Jew who became a born-again Christian.
Mendelsohn won by about 1,200 votes and speculated to Solomon that McLean Bible's support was a key factor. The pastor replied: "You're welcome, and at some point I'll ask you for a favor."
Two years later, Solomon cashed in. He wanted to buy the headquarters of the National Wildlife Federation off Route 7 in Mendelsohn's district and build a huge sanctuary there. This time it was Mendelsohn who balked, saying it would cause traffic problems and an outcry from the neighbors.
Solomon responded: "I know this may be difficult, but this is what we believe God wants us to do." Then he added, tongue in cheek: "You don't get to choose the favor we ask you to do. This is it. This is our favor."
Mendelsohn became the church's champion among county staff members. Solomon said McLean Bible could not have relocated to Tysons Corner without Mendelsohn's help.
Mendelsohn, who said he attends the church occasionally, confirmed the story but said Solomon embellished some parts.
"He never said you owe me and you have to do it. That's where he took some license in telling the story," said Mendelsohn, who served two terms on the Board of Supervisors before retiring last year. Still, he added: "There's no question I played a key role [in the church building approval]. . . . God was working in my life to make this whole thing possible."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
The Saturday evening service fills one of the smaller sanctuaries at McLean Bible Church's 52-acre complex near Tysons Corner, where a $90 million santuary opens this weekend.
(Michael Lutzky -- The Washington Post)
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