Suit Over Holocaust Survivor Aid Filed in Georgia

A pair of high-profile evangelical Christians who tout ties to President Donald Trump and devotion to Israel are antagonists in a lawsuit filed in Georgia over more than $3.33 million raised in the name of Holocaust survivors.

Churches United with Israel, Inc., and its founder, Michael Evans, of Tarrant County, Texas, allege that Jentezen Franklin and the Free Chapel Worship Center, Inc., based in Hall County, Ga., reneged on an agreement to share funds collected to aid survivors in Israel.

The suit, first reported by The Washington Post, was filed July 7 in the Gainesville Division of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

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There are about 192,000 Holocaust survivors in Israel, one-quarter of whom are estimated to be living in poverty. An estimated 67,000 to 70,000 Holocaust survivors live in the United States, one-third of whom are believed to live at or below the federal poverty standard.

The Churches United projects in Jerusalem included: building a kitchen to prepare meals for Holocaust survivors, implementing a program to feed and distribute meals from that kitchen, building a community center for survivors, and creating a “dedicated center where Israeli Defense Forces and Holocaust survivors could meet and provide mutual support.”

Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post reported that Evans’ attorney said the agreement was verbal, not written, and that “a letter from Franklin’s attorneys to Evans’ attorneys says there was no contract between the men, and Franklin had only offered to give a ‘gift’ — less his own ‘costs and expenses’ for doing the fundraising.”

AJT queries to Evans’ and Franklin’s ministries were not returned.

According to the suit, Franklin proposed that he would “solicit donations for the projects and promised that 100% of the funds [he] collected would be remitted to Churches United.” In exchange, Evans would “introduce Franklin to dignitaries and persons of influence in Israel and vouch for Franklin’s credibility and integrity” and “provide Franklin with contact information for donors who contribute to Churches United.”

The suit says that Franklin advertised that donors of $1,000 or more would have their names displayed on a wall in Jerusalem and that those giving $10,000 or more would have a star by their name. In August, Franklin delivered to Evans a list of 4,215 donors of at least $1,000 and 32 donors of at least $10,000. Evans claims that the minimum donations totaled at least $4.53 million, but that Franklin turned over only $1.2 million.

Franklin and Free Chapel are accused of two counts of fraud, civil conspiracy, breach of contract, violation of Georgia’s deceptive trade practices law, misappropriation of name and likeness, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, and constructive trust/accounting, Evans contends that Franklin “represented to the public that the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, requested Franklin support the Projects, and on numerous occasions represented to the general public that Defendants are the owners of the Property. These representations were not true.”

The suit states that: “Unless Defendants are enjoined from their fraudulent, willful, unlawful, and intentional misconduct, Defendants will likely cause continuing harm to Evans’ reputation in the Christian and Jewish communities, which harm is immediate and irreparable harm for which a monetary judgment would be insufficient.”

Evans and Churches United asked the court to assess damages of more than $3.33 million against Franklin and Free Chapel Worship Center, as well as unspecified “exemplary” or punitive damages.

Tracy Page, a spokesperson for Free Chapel, told Charisma News, an evangelical website, “We do not customarily comment on litigation, but these accusations are so absurdly false that they demand a response. We categorically deny them and we will defend our hard earned reputation to the fullest extent of the law.”

Both men present themselves as allies of the president. “Evans has been a conduit for the Trump evangelical team to officials in Israel and other Middle Eastern/Gulf countries. Franklin has appeared at several White House events seated next to Trump, and his son, Drake, works for the 2020 Evangelicals For Trump effort,” Boorstein reported.

Evans refers to himself as a member of a “Founding Trump Faith Board.” He erected billboards in Jerusalem declaring “Trump Is A Friend of Zion” and “Jerusalem Welcomes Trump” in advance of the president’s May 2017 visit to Israel, and has likened Trump to King Cyrus of Persia, said in the Bible to have aided the Jews in the sixth century B.C.E.

The Jerusalem Prayer Team that Evans founded in 2002 claims to have organized 30 million evangelicals to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and maintains a Facebook page with 73 million “likes.” In 2015, Evans opened a Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem to tell the story of Christian Zionists in the founding of Israel.

Franklin is senior pastor of the multi-campus Free Chapel, which includes facilities in Gainesville, Ga., and Irvine, Calif., as well as four other locations in Georgia and one in South Carolina. Franklin is reported to regularly deliver a sermon in Georgia and then board a private jet and fly 2,300 miles to California to deliver a sermon there.

Franklin has “laid hands” on Trump, literally, when evangelical leaders have prayed for the president in the White House.

Trump declared March 15, 2020, to be “National Day of Prayer for all Americans Affected by the Coronavirus Pandemic and for our National Response Efforts.” He tweeted: “I am watching a great and beautiful service by Pastor Jentezen Franklin. Thank you! @Jentezen”

The publicity materials for Franklin’s programs in Israel include a photograph of Netanyahu’s son Yair carrying a box of Passover supplies.

Many evangelical Christians take an interest in the modern nation of Israel, based on a belief that an ingathering of the Jewish people is necessary to bring about events, including a battle between good and evil at Armageddon — known in Israel as Megiddo — that will bring the second coming of Christ.

In a promotional video for Franklin posted on YouTube earlier the month, Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen says, “This is a vital part of fulfilling biblical prophecy.”

Originally published at https://atlantajewishtimes.timesofisrael.com on July 27, 2020.

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