B'nai B'rith has launched a campaign against the Southern Baptist Convention's 1996 resolution on Jewish evangelism and is using the campaign to raise funds.
B'nai B'rith, which describes itself as "the world's oldest and largest Jewish organization," founded 153 years ago, operates programs in "community service, public affairs, and disaster relief." The Washington-based organization has members in 56 countries.
In a national mailing, B'nai B'rith urged recipients to send an attached postcard to SBC offices in Nashville, Tenn., which declares, "The outrageous Southern Baptist Convention resolution advocating an active program of converting Jews to Christianity is both condescending and contemptuous. This profoundly disrespectful action demonstrates a basic lack of respect for Judaism as a sister religion. For men and women of the worldwide Jewish community, Jewish identity is a meaningful and joyous part of who we are. Our Jewish values sustain us today as they have through centuries of persecution. And we are proud of our Jewishness. That is why this organizational decision by the Southern Baptist Convention is so deeply offensive. I strongly urge its immediate repeal."
The letter also solicited contributions to be sent to B'nai B'rith, stating, "We cannot remain silent as Jewish children are singled out for Christian evangelism. Enclosed is my contribution to support B'nai B'rith's national campaign to expose and overturn the SBC resolution." Suggested contributions, ranging from $25 to $1,000, were solicited from recipients.
The letter detailing the B'nai B'rith campaign, from the organization's international president, Tommy Baer, was on stationery imprinted with "AIR EXPRESS" and underscored by the word, "URGENT," nine times.
The appeal was mailed to about 100,000 people, said Robin Schwartz-Kreger, B'nai B'rith's director of media relations. She said the organization does not disclose receipts from direct mail pieces.
Several thousand postcards have been received by the SBC Executive Committee and are being answered by Morris H. Chapman, the Committee's president and chief executive officer.
Chapman writes: "The Resolution on Jewish Evangelism, adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 13, 1996, states that 'We are indebted to the Jewish people, through whom we have received the Scriptures and our Savior, the Messiah of Israel.' I believe it demonstrates respect rather than 'a basic lack of respect for Judaism as a sister religion,' as your communication asserts.
"The resolution does not suggest or imply that Jewish people should forsake their Jewish identity or their Jewish values," Chapman continues. "The Southern Baptists who adopted it believe, as did the apostle Paul who held his Jewish identity and values in high regard, that 'there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all men — the testimony given in its proper time' (1 Timothy 2:5-6). The apostle Paul also taught 'That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved' (Romans 10:9-10).
"That belief, coupled with love and goodwill for all people, culminates in the earnest desire that our Jewish friends know Jesus as the Messiah," Chapman writes. "The resolution implies no coercion and no rejection, religious or social. It only affirms the communication of New Testament theology that grows out of Old Testament history and prophecy, in which Baptists have been involved for centuries.
"As examples of what can result when Jewish persons embrace Messiah Jesus," Chapman concludes, "I encourage you to take note of numerous congregations of 'Messianic Jews' in the United States and Israel who celebrate their Jewish culture and historic religious rituals as well as their devotion to Messiah Jesus."
Baer, in the B'nai B'rith mailing, described the SBC resolution as "calling for a nationwide effort to convert Jews to Christianity. The SBC backed up their words with money — funds that will be used to hire missionaries to lead and direct conversion efforts."
Baer added, "At B'nai B'rith, we have a simple message for the Southern Baptist Convention: Leave our children alone."
On June 10, Southern Baptist Home Mission Board directors appointed a couple, Jim and Kathy Sibley, as home missionaries to develop evangelistic ministries among Jews and start churches in predominantly Jewish communities. HMB work with Jewish people began in 1921 when Jacob Gartenhouse was appointed a missionary for Jewish evangelism. While the missionary position was suspended in 1989, work among Jewish people has continued through the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship and dialogue with Jewish leaders.
Phil Roberts, director of the HMB interfaith witness department, said Baer's letter evidences the resolution "has been largely misunderstood and misrepresented by the press and by much of the Jewish community."
"For instance, the word 'conversion' is never used in the resolution, because we don't believe that anyone but God, through the Holy Spirit, has the power or potential to really, biblically convert someone," Roberts said.
"All we're talking about here is evangelism, which is the sharing of our faith in a loving way with those around us, which is an intrinsic part of who we are."
The resolution "grew out of a concern that some people have called for a moratorium on Jewish evangelism," Roberts said, and it was initiated by Sibley and the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, comprising about thirty congregations across the country. The resolution's point, Roberts said, is "let's not neglect the Jewish people in our rush to evangelize the rest of the world." From 1867 to 1921, by Sibley's count, the SBC approved ten resolutions that dealt with Jewish evangelism; in recent years, resolutions condemning anti-Semitism were adopted in 1972 and 1981.
"That people would be shocked that we as Baptists would still be proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the way and means for salvation is commentary on our society and culture, in which everyone believes every other religion is equal to the next one," Roberts said.
"That's not to say the Jewish faith is not of great value," Roberts noted, citing Romans 10 where the apostle Paul, according to Roberts, notes "theirs is the covenant and it was through their lineage the Messiah came; they had the temple and the promises of God, but they still needed Jesus."
Faith in Christ doesn't negate a Jewish believer's heritage, Roberts also maintained. "In fact ... the Christian movement at its beginning was so much an extension and part of the Jewish faith and the fulfillment of its Hebrew scriptures' prophecy that the big issue facing the church was, 'Can you be a gentile and be a Christian?'
"So, in the best sense, a person can be fully Jewish in our understanding and have faith in Jesus Christ," Roberts said. "They don't deny their ethnicity. They don't deny the true Old Testament faith. They don't deny their heritage. Instead, we believe it's clearly a fulfillment."
Roberts said he believes the SBC resolution has given Southern Baptists "an opportunity to highlight the uniqueness of the gospel" — and "to platform the crucial issue of why Jews who believe in Jesus are ostracized. You can be a Jew and be a Buddhist or a New Ager or an atheist. No one says, 'Well, you're not a Jew.' But as soon as you believe in Jesus, suddenly you're ostracized, you're a pariah, you're an outcast."
Roberts said he also hopes the resolution will yield "open, meaningful discussion, that we can sensibly and reasonably sit down and say, 'Yes, we do believe this, we still respect you, we love you, we will support you' — and there are no greater supporters of the Jewish community or Israel than evangelical Christians — 'and we will defend your right not to believe what we're telling you and to hold any other faith you want to,' because Baptists and Jews have had real affection and commitment to religious liberty.
"I just say to our Jewish friends: Look at the history of Anabaptists. Tens of thousands of them were slaughtered in Europe in the 16th century for standing for religious liberty. We have a heritage, if you will, of suffering and martyrdom as well. We identify clearly with Jewish people. But we do want to share Jesus with them. We're not out to persecute them; we're out to share Christ with them."