While enjoying the delights of northern Minnesota’s lake country last week, I stopped by the grave of a patriarch in the charismatic movement.
Art Katz would have turned 80 this year had he not died in June 2007 from a blood vessel disease. A bench, an angel statuette, a stone wall and a birdbath make up a tiny shrine in a grassy field by a dirt road in a tiny community some 10 miles south of Bemidji.
Across the sunny meadow is a deserted olive-green house where Art once lived and wrote his many books. Down the road are several house trailers — remnants of Ben Israel Fellowship, a Christian community he helped found.
A dark red barn that once hosted popular conferences where Art taught now sits abandoned in a field of grass and clover. But Mr. Katz’s writings live on with the help of Simon and Naomi Hensman, a couple who runs www.artkatzministries.org and who graciously showed me around.
The community’s isolated locale served as a possible refuge for U.S. Jews who Art believed will endure great persecution in a future time when America turns against them. Mr. Katz, who was born Jewish before converting to Christianity, had a passion for anything to do with Israel.
His most famous moment was at the 1977 Conference on Charismatic Renewal in the Christian Churches, a gathering of 45,000 Christians in Kansas City. Art was a speaker at a symposium of messianic Jews, who believe Jesus was the promised Jewish messiah. He caused an uproar when he stated that because Jews caused the death of Christ, they reaped the results of the Holocaust.
A journalist at the event said dozens of Jews and Christians — including several Catholic priests — responded by apologizing for past sins and washing each other’s feet. The meeting had been going nowhere spiritually until Art broke the ice.
I first spotted Art at a charismatic convention in New Orleans 10 years later, where he angered some of the organizers with his blunt remarks on the lack of spiritual power there.
I, however, was impressed by his assessment, which is what the journalists covering the event were privately murmuring in the press box. Over the years, I followed this brilliant, complex man who was known as prophetic, provocative and somewhat of a burr in the saddle.
For instance, in a 2004 speech given in New Zealand, he called Princess Diana’s funeral “a scandal of failure” for the church. Here “was a debutante and a jet-setter, immoral, humanist, even receiving occultic consultation, and yet receiving all the trappings of Christian burial at the highest levels of the Anglican church with their clerics of the greatest order, intoning with great solemnity as if this were in fact the burial of a Christian,” he said. “The church should not have stood still. It was a silence that needed to be broken.”
He added, “It doesn’t mean that we’re going to be successful or even heard, but to be silent in the face of some direct contradiction of the faith, and a diminishing of God by it, calls for a statement.”
He made many such statements that no doubt cost him dearly. As I stood in that grassy field, I realized why some men, like the Rev. Billy Graham, are lionized by the Christian world and others, like Art Katz, have a silent grave in the middle of the north woods.
• Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.