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'Reach All People...': Media Comments on Jewish Evangelism

American Jewish leaders called (the resolution) offensive and divisive ... "We respect your right to propagate your faith to all nonbelievers," (wrote) Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie ... "But singling out the Jews for special missionary efforts runs contrary to the spirit of the times and the movement toward dialogue and cooperation." - "Southern Baptists offend Jews with conversion resolution" by Mary Foster in the Jackson, Miss., Clarion-Ledger

 

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"The Bible teaches us that Jesus says, 'I am the Way, the Truth and the Light,'" (said Dale Shields of Green Memorial Baptist Church on The Plaza). I'd like to see (Jewish people) right alongside me as Christian brothers and sisters." ... Rabbi James Bennett of Temple Beth El on Providence Road called the resolution outrageous and feared it will set back Jewish-Christian relations. ... "I think the majority of Christians and probably the majority of Southern Baptists, don't feel the disrespect of our faith that the leadership exhibits," he said. - "Baptists stir debate in bid to convert Jews" by Ken Garfield in the Charlotte Observer

 

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You refer to a new missionary effort among Jews in the United States as being "at odds with several other major denominations." You may identify two, out of the Catholic and mainline categories. (A third category is evangelicals, and a) primary belief that differentiates evangelicals is that eternal life -- by way of salvation -- can only come through acceptance of Jesus as God's Messiah as foretold in the Old Testament writings. It is incumbent upon a believing Christian to share this belief out of love. As to focusing on the Jewish community, this is natural. It was the primary mission of the Savior to bring salvation to God's chosen people. Anticipating a Savior is core to Jewish beliefs. ... Regarding the Holocaust ... : The perpetrators were no more followers of Christ than other madmen parading under different banners throughout history. - A letter to the editor of The New York Times by Paul P. Baard

 

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Larry L. Lewis, president of the Southern Baptist's Home Mission Board, said that such steps were necessary now because many Christian leaders -- Baptists among them -- had ... abandoned the imperative to proselytize Jews and turned instead to interfaith dialogue. "We believe that all people need a personal, vital relationship with Jesus Christ," he said. Lewis pointed out that the Southern Baptists had passed 10 resolutions since 1867 encouraging evangelizing of Jews. But as word of the Baptists' move filtered out ... there was the suspicion that the Baptists had singled out Jews in a way that could be construed as antisemitic. - "Southern Baptists resolve to convert Jews" in The Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal

 

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The Convention's resolution puts the Southern Baptists at odds with other major Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church. Rabbi Leon Klenicki, ... (from the) Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, said he felt "very sad" about the resolution. "Especially after the Holocaust, Christians have no right to talk about a mission to the Jews." - "Jewish leaders decry call for conversion" by Mary Foster for Associated Press

 

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I have read a lot of whining from my Jewish co-religionists on the Southern Baptists' decision to target Jews for conversion ... Let us stop being so defensive; we have our own tradition to offer. Let us appoint missionaries, and target the Southern Baptists for conversion to Judaism. - Letter to the editor of The New York Times by Arthur J. Lerman

 

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I see no reason to get worked up over the Southern Baptist Convention's recent decision to appoint a missionary whose task is to oversee the denomination's efforts to convert Jews. Winning converts is exactly what evangelical Christians who take their faith seriously are supposed to do. Moreover, it's what Southern Baptists have almost always done. ... We're not talking about forcible conversion. Contemporary America is a religious free-trade zone where every faith -- from the most sublime to the most ridiculous -- has the right to promote its world view. ... Rather than worry about what Southern Baptists are up to, Jewish leaders would do better to concentrate on creating "intentional Jews" -- Jews who take their faith as seriously as Southern Baptist leaders take theirs. ... Phil Baum, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said the "First Amendment accords (Southern Baptists) the right to try to sell their notion of exclusive access to God. It accords us the right to say that view is misguided, and that no matter how we try to make allowances, it smacks of offensive doctrinal arrogance." That sounds like a pretty good recipe for religious pluralism. Let Baptists practice their version of Christianity and let Jews practice Judaism. And may the theological tensions that result serve to sharpen each group's understanding of God. - "Jews shouldn't be surprised by Baptists' decision" by Ira Rifkin for the Religious News Service

 

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Jewish leaders referred to the Southern Baptist action as a "great setback" to Christian-Jewish relations ... (However) Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, said the nation of Israel and the American Jewish community have not better friends than Southern Baptists and other evangelical Christians. "When everyone else has forsaken the nation of Israel and Jews around the world," Patterson said, "Evangelical Christians will be standing beside them, defending their rights." - "Media airs Jewish evangelism debate over SBC resolution, HMB workers" by Sarah Zimmerman in Baptist Press

 

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"It seems to us that this is a direct attack on the Jewish religious tradition," said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. "In the last half-century we've been moving toward a position where all major faiths recognize the fundamental integrity of each others' beliefs, and recognize that no major faith has a monopoly on truth ... This undermines the very heart of that." - "We must convert Jews, Southern Baptists say" in the Des Moines Register

 

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In ... (passing the resolution), the Convention declared itself solidly in line with the New Testament. The Apostle Paul, who identified himself as a "Hebrew of Hebrews," reminded the Christians in Rome that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation to the Jew first, and also to the Gentiles. (The Southern Baptist resolution) is not a case of religious imperialism or intolerance. Evangelical Christians such as Southern Baptists are the most fervent advocates and defenders of religious liberty for all persons, including the Jews. - Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, explaining the resolution to alumni

 

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The president of the Rabbinical Council of America said ... efforts to convert more Jews to Christianity are destined to fail and are a primary cause of anti-Semitism. "Almost all Jews, have, and will, reject efforts to divert them from their faith," said Rabbi Rafael Grossman of Memphis. "(And) suitors will often turn their efforts, when rejected, to enmity." - "Jewish leaders do not relish Baptist efforts at conversion" by Debra Elliott-Tenort of the Memphis Commercial Appeal

 

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Says David Brickner, "As the leader of the largest independent Jewish mission agency, I am heartened that the largest Protestant denomination has taken such a courageous stand calling for the evangelization of Jewish people. What Jewish community leaders are calling a 'great setback' in Jewish-Christian relations is really a great leap forward in crystallizing the issue that Jesus is the Messiah for everyone, including Jews." - Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus

 

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The Southern Baptist Convention's adoption of a resolution calling for efforts to convert Jews to Christianity is insulting. It's easy for people to get so wrapped up in their zeal that they lose sight of the difference between evangelism and arrogance. After all, Roman Catholics, using the same attitude, could declare that they are the only legitimate heirs to the Christian faith, and explicitly set out to convert Southern Baptists; that would not go over well. Muslims could argue that theirs is the later prophecy, and set out to convert Roman Catholics specifically. People know where to find the various teachings. They don't need groups proselytizing them in a way that cast aspersions on their faith. Most denominations understand that. Most Southern Baptists outside the Convention probably do, too. - "Southern Baptists overstepped," an editorial in the Dayton Daily News

 

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Eugene Merrill, a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and a member of Dallas' First Baptist church, said "singling out the Jews may not have been the best tack to take," but he defended the Baptists' perspective. "It is clearly in line with the New Testament," Dr. Merrill said. "One might argue whether the New Testament has the right to make that declaration with regard to Jews." - "Southern Baptists vow to work harder at converting Jews" by Christine Wicker in the Dallas Morning News

 

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Aryeh Scheinberg of Congregation Rodfei Sholom said the notion of good people being denied salvation because they believe differently is totally alien to the Jewish point of view, which teaches that salvation is open to all decent, honest and sincere people, whatever their religious belief. ... The Rev. Elton (Butch) Ikels, a Baptist evangelist who lives in Marion, said he wholeheartedly supports evangelism efforts toward all people, including Jews. "I believe Baptists would be hypocritical by not trying to reach out to people with a saving knowledge of Jesus ... ," Ikels said. ... But the Rev. Buckner Fanning, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church said the object of Baptists and other Christians "should not be to collect scalps. We should emphasize being good witnesses to Christianity in our practice so that other people, irrespective of their religious belief or lack of it, would be impressed by the quality of our faith." - "Rabbis blast Baptist motion to convert Jews" by J. Michael Parker in the San Antonio Express-News

 

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Naturally (the SBC resolution) roiled the waters, occasioning outrage among some Jews. For such outrage there are understandable reasons: 1) efforts to convert Jews in centuries past often involved the sword rather than the word; 2) historically Christianity often demonized the Jew as an outsider or worse; and 3) the shadow of the Holocaust looms over all such matters. However, Christians from their side may decently answer that: 1) since they regard the doctrines of Christianity as true and universal, it would be a failure of caritas, without which life is as a tinkling cymbal, not to share them with all people; and 2) they do not see any reason to exclude their Jewish neighbors from the inclusive term "all people." While overbearing attempts at evangelizing are spiritually disgraceful, the polite, considerate effort to share Christian claims with one's neighbors should threaten no one -- least of all, devout Jews. - Editorial in the National Review

 

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As one person who calls himself a Baptist, I want to apologize for the religious bigotry and misguided rhetoric of a people who call themselves Southern Baptists. There is no evil quite like religious evil and the actions of a recent gathering of Southern Baptists toward the Jewish community should be characterized as prejudice and cowardice, wrong in spirit and substance. Perhaps we Baptists should remind ourselves that Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian. Whenever we act with such self-indulgence and in these self-centered ways, we are acting more as the children of darkness than the children of light. Is it any wonder why so many Baptists, even Southern Baptists, reach for other contexts to celebrate their faith? As for me, I more than disagree with the actions of the Southern Baptist Convention. I am grieved by the arrogance of that assembly and embarrassed by the apparent abandonment of the Baptist principle of respect for religious diversity. - Letter to the editor of the Macon Telegraph by R. Kirby Godsey, president of Mercer University

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September 1996 Edition
Volume 4, Issue 10
September 1996