CURRENT ATTEMPTS TO CONVERT JEWS TO CHRISTIANITY
The following quotation is a prime motivator of Christian
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one
comes to the Father except through me."
Christian Scriptures, John 14:6.
Note: In this essay, the term "Christian"
refers to any individual or group that seriously, prayerfully, devoutly
believes themselves to be Christian.Our criteria is the same as a government
Very Brief Overview of Jewish-Christian Relations:
Relations between Christians and Jews have traditionally been horrific.
The Christian church taught for many centuries that all the Jews
in 1st century Palestine were responsible for the execution of Jesus. Further,
they taught that successive generations shared equal responsibility with
their ancestors - down to the present day. In the 10th century, Christian
Crusaders systematically exterminated uncounted numbers of Jews on their
way to and from the Holy Land. In 1492, Spanish Jews were given the option
of converting to Christianity or being expelled from their own country.
The Spanish Inquisition was established, in part, to ferret out any Jews
that had not sincerely converted. The predominately Christian American
colonies frequently denied Jews the right to hold public office. Pogroms
(organized persecution and massacre of Jews) in Czarist Russia and in eastern
Europe resulted in the deaths of countless Jews. During the Holocaust
of World War II, approximately 6 million Jews were exterminated by citizens
of various European countries; the vast majority of the murderers considered
themselves to be Christians; all were volunteers. Anti-Semitic attacks
on individual Jews, their property, cemeteries and synagogues continue
today worldwide, and are increasing in frequency.
Theological Differences Within Christianity Concerning
As with so many other theological beliefs, conservative and liberal Christian
faith groups have diametrically
opposed responses to Judaism - particularly over the question whether
Christians have a religious obligation to convert Jews to Christianity.
Christian beliefs are split with regard to the historical covenants described
in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament). Generally speaking:
Fundamentalist and some Evangelical Christians take an exclusive
position. They believe that of all the religions and denominations in the
world, their religious beliefs alone are fully valid. Their doctrines are
based on the inerrant
word of God. Theirs is the only path that will lead people to salvation
and to a living knowledge and intimate relationship with God. Buddhism,
Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and liberal Christianity all lead individuals
away from salvation and towards Hell.
Liberal Christians take an inclusive position. They believe that
there are many paths to God. Many use the analogy of a mountain: there
are many paths leading up the mountain from different locations in the
foothills. But all routes eventually reach the top. All great religions
of the world inspire people to lead ethical lives, and motivate them to
love and care for others. All faith traditions are thus valuable and should
be respected. Part of this respect is to not proselytize groups that do
not wish to be converted to Christianity. Judaism is one such group.
Many Fundamentalists and some Evangelical Christians hold to the
traditional " 'supercessionist idea' that Christianity
replaced Judaism and that God no longer has a covenant with the Jewish
people." (1) This is sometimes called the "theology of displacement."
It relegates Judaism to an inferior position and "regards the Christian
Church as the 'true' or 'spiritual' Israel." This concept was first
developed by Justin Martyr (circa 100 to 165 CE) and Irenaeus of Lyon (circa
130 to 200 CE). It was largely accepted within the church by the 4th century.
Many believe that anyone following the Jewish faith is doomed to spend
eternity in Hell, just as will Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and others who
have not trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior. This motivates many conservative
Christians to attempt to lead Jews (and others) to a "saving knowledge"
of Jesus. To ignore the Jews would be discriminatory. "If Jewish people
are denied the opportunity to hear about Jesus because of Christian self-censorship,
then Christians truly will be guilty of anti-Semitism." (18)
Liberal Christians typically accept the "dual covenant" belief:
That the original covenants between God and the Jewish people are still
valid today, and that
God has also established a new, parallel covenant with Christian believers.
Statement by The Alliance of Baptists (1995)
The Alliance of Baptists broke with conventional conservative Christian
beliefs about Judaism. They issued "A Baptist Statement on Jewish-Christian
Relations" on 1995-MAR-4 (14, 15). The Alliance acknowledged that the
Nazi Holocaust was made possible only by "centuries of Christian teaching
and church-sanctioned action directed against the Jews simply because they
were Jews. As Baptist Christians we are the inheritors of and, in our turn,
have been the transmitters of a theology which lays the blame for the death
of Jesus at the feet of the Jews...a theology which has valued conversion
over dialogue, invective over understanding, and prejudice over knowledge..."
They confessed their sins of "of complicity...of silence...of indifference
and inaction to the horrors of the Holocaust." They called upon all
Baptists to join them in:
In essence, they urged that Baptists abandon the traditional, conservative
concept and accept the mainline and liberal dual covenant belief.
Jews would no longer be evangelized. The Baptists advocated sincere dialog
between two religions of equal stature.
"Affirming the teaching of the Christian Scriptures that God has not
rejected the community of Israel, God's covenant people (Romans 11:1-2),
since 'the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable' (Romans 11:29);
Renouncing interpretations of Scripture which foster religious stereotyping
and prejudice against the Jewish people and their faith;
Seeking genuine dialogue with the broader Jewish community, a dialogue
built on mutual respect and the integrity of each other's faith;
Lifting our voices quickly and boldly against all expressions of anti-Semitism;
Educating ourselves and others on the history of Jewish-Christian relations
from the first century to the present, so as to understand our present
by learning from our past."
The Southern Baptist Convention and the Jewish Proselytization
Resolution of 1996:
There have been many interactions between the Southern Baptist Convention
(SBC) and the Jewish faith:
In 1867, the (SBC) passed its first resolution to urge their organization
and membership to convert Jews to conservative Christianity. During the
following 130 years, 8 similar resolutions were passed. (2)
A struggle developed in the 1970's within the SBC. By 1979, conservatives
had begun to wrestle control of the denomination from their more liberal
members. A former SBC president, The Rev. Bailey Smith, said, at the 1987
SBC convention, words to the effect that "God does not hear the prayer
of a Jew." He was given a standing ovation. In 1994, during a talk
before 15,000 people at a Religious Roundtable meeting in Dallas TX, he
said: "With all due respect to those dear people, my friend, God Almighty
does not hear the prayer of a Jew." (20) The implication is that God
has abandoned Jews and hears only the prayers of Christians. [This is a
fascinating theological concept. It would imply that God would not listen
to the prayers of his son, Jesus, who was an observant Jew.]
A recent SBC goal is to proclaim the Gospel, and thereby to attempt to
convert, every American to conservative Christianity by the year 2000 CE.
Some Southern Baptists feel that ignoring the Jews in this campaign could
be considered as a form of anti-Semitism. It could be seen as a rejection
of Jews as being somehow unworthy to receive the Gospel - as if they were
not worth saving from the endless horrors of Hell.
There is a growing movement of religious groups who attempt to combine
worship of Y'shua (Jesus) with elements of Judaism. Most
Jews find the proselytizing attempts by these groups to be particularly
"Messianic Jewish" congregations retain "Jewish customs, religious
traditions and maintain Jewish heritage," while accepting Jesus as
the Messiah. (3) "They have 'synagogues,' which incorporate traditional
Jewish prayer services with some worship of Jesus. They celebrate the [Jewish]
holidays, and consider themselves 'biblical,' rather than 'rabbinic,' Jews...They,
therefore, use Jewish symbols with a twist of Christianity added to them."
Jews for Jesus, was founded by Moische Rosen. One source (4) claims
that this organization receives most of its finances from Baptists. They
allow members to select the exact blend of Judaism and Christianity with
which they feel most comfortable. "Jews for Jesus can attend messianic
synagogues or Christian churches. Some celebrate Jewish holidays and rituals;
others do not."
More than 30 Messianic Jewish congregations are affiliated with the Southern
Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship was
founded in 1985 to promote the interest of those congregations. They have
been recognized by the Home Mission Board. The Fellowship continually pressed
the SBC for a resolution at a general meeting on Jewish evangelism. They
succeeded in 1996.
Much of the momentum of the resolution came from the SBC' rejection
of the Alliance of Baptists' statement on the dual covenant.
Fellowship President Michael Smith of Ohio called this idea "a sin against
God and man." It would contradict traditional conservative Christian
belief that trust in Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation. You cannot
get any more fundamental than that!
Meeting in New Orleans, LA, in 1996-JUN, the Southern Baptist Convention
(SBC) passed its 10th and latest resolution on Jewish evangelism. They
advocate a major program within the denomination to convert the Jews. The
SBC's Home Mission Board appointed a missionary team, Jim
and Kathy Sibley, to lead this program. Their mandate is "to develop
evangelistic ministries among Jews and start churches in predominantly
Jewish communities" (5) The Home Mission Board had an official filling
this post from 1921 to 1989, but the position had become vacant during
The resolution passed by an overwhelming majority. It urged the membership
to "direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the
Gospel to the Jews." . It criticized "an organized effort on the
part of some either to deny that Jewish people need to come to their Messiah,
Jesus, to be saved or to claim, for whatever reason, that Christians have
neither the right nor obligation to proclaim the gospel to Jewish people."
Responding to the resultant backlash from Jewish groups against the
SBC resolution, Phil Roberts, director of the SBC Home Mission Board's
Interfaith Witness Office, says that the resolution has been misunderstood.
He said: "All we're talking about here is evangelism, which is sharing
of our faith in a loving way with those around us." (7) He continued:
"Let's say you've found a cure for cancer or discovered the fountain
of youth. The right thing to do would be to share it with others."
(8) Discussing Jews who have converted to Christianity, he added "They
don't deny their ethnicity. They don't deny the true Old Testament faith.
Instead, we believe it's clearly a fulfillment." (7)
Richard Land, president of the SBC Christian Life Commission
commented: "It's probably not the politically correct thing to do, but
there are a lot of things about Christianity that are not politically correct."
R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological
Seminary in Louisville, KY said: "We are firmly convinced that there
is salvation in no other name, but we are also confident that all who call
upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Thus, when most faithful, Southern
Baptists are to be found sharing the Good News of salvation through Jesus
Christ. We have no right to exclude Jewish persons from the promise of
the Gospel." (16)
Reaction of Jewish Groups (and others) to the SBC
Reaction was swift and generally very negative:
B'nai B'rith is the largest Jewish organization in the world. Its
international president, Tommy P. Baer, sent a letter on 1996-JUN-14 to
Morris Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was critical
of the SBC's resolution. He wrote: "We believe this is a thoroughly
retrograde step in relations between Southern Baptists and Jews in the
United States...A program of conversion is demeaning to our religion and
to our co-religionists -- including those who out of their own free will
and conviction -- have converted to Judaism...The decisions of the Southern
Baptist Convention are certain to introduce new tensions in the interactions
between Jews and all Christians in this country, and to once again sow
the seeds of distrust. Pluralism is a basic tenet of our American way of
life. It means respecting each other's traditions and religious paths...We
cannot believe that creating such tensions between Jews and Christians
can possibly advance humankind toward the ultimate Messianic Age that both
Christians and Jews look forward to with hope and faith." The full
text of the letter can be seen via the hyperlink in Reference (9)
Baer recommended that "the Southern Baptists to reconsider
these steps." The SBC will have an opportunity to do that again at
its next annual meeting in 1998-JUN.
At a later date in 1996, Tommy Baer, criticized some of Chapman's comments
which he felt suggest "that without accepting Jesus as 'savior' Jews
remain flawed, incomplete, and inadequate."
B'nai B'rith, organized a postcard protest against the SBC
resolution. By 1996-NOV, about 6,000 postcards had been mailed to SBC headquarters
in Nashville, TN. (7)
Conrad Giles, president-elect of the Council of Jewish Federations
said: "We as a people have been subjected to all sorts of oppression...This
is another more subtle form of oppression...We must take it seriously...It
is very disturbing to be targeted by any group for what is basically elimination.
While the elimination is not quite in the same manner as during the Holocaust,
the end point is the same." (10)
Rabbi A. James Rudin, Director of Inter-religious Affairs of the
Jewish Committee called the resolution a "great setback" for
interreligious dialogue. "Many, many Protestants, including some
Southern Baptists, have rejected this kind of aggressive targeting of Jews
as unworthy of Christianity...This [resolution] represents a 180-degree
turn from where they were in the '70s and '80s" (6) He said that he
would ask a simple question of anyone bent on converting Jews: "Does
your spiritual happiness depend on my spiritual annihilation?"
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President The Union of American Hebrew Congregations
(UHAC) responded: "We are offended that the Southern Baptist Convention
is dedicating its resources to an ambitious campaign to proselytize Jews.
This divisive campaign is offensive in that it singles out the Jewish people
at a time when the need is great for interfaith understanding and dialogue
among all religions...Respect for each other's religious beliefs and the
celebration of America's pluralism are fundamental American values...And
we are saddened that the Southern Baptists appear to have removed themselves
from the dialogue by this campaign." (UHAC represents Reform synagogues
in the US)
Rabbi Ilan D. Feldman, Rabbi of the Orthodox Beth Jacob congregation
of Atlanta welcomed the SBC resolution:"The decision should be greeted
by Jews as honest and energizing. 'Honest' because it is based on elementary
Christian dogma that salvation can be achieved through Jesus alone. 'Energizing'
because it should serve as a wake-up call to the Jewish community, a dose
of reality which causes us to 'rally the troops' in the mutual battle for
Jewish souls." (11)
Rabbi Bruce Cole, director of the Institute for Jewish, Christian and
Islamic Studies and Relations, referred to the previous time, in 1973,
when a major effort was mounted to evangelize Jews. That effort generated
a great deal of ill will. He predicted that the current one will as well.
"I think they are going to create tremendous tension between Jews and
Southern Baptists, and I'm projecting it's going to cause tensions between
the Southern Baptists and other Christians who don't believe in going out
and proselytizing Jews in this way."
Yaakov Ariel, professor of religion at the University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill commented "It demonstrates the unwillingness of Christians
to look upon Judaism as a legitimate religion that can offer spiritual
guidance and moral values." (8)
Bishops from the Episcopal, Lutheran and Roman Catholic denominations
issued a joint statement in which they stated that proselytizing Jews is
Eugene Fisher, a spokesperson for for Catholic-Jewish relations by the
Catholic Bishops Conference said: "The Catholic Church does
not have a special mission to the Jews because it might instill fear of
coercion or persecution...The history is there...We respect freedom of
Perhaps the most famous SBC member, Billy Graham, distanced himself from
the resolution and said that he won't take part in any such effort. (8)
Policies of Mainline and Liberal Christian Groups Towards
In recent decades, a "third wave" of academic research into the life and
beliefs of Jesus has been led by mainline and liberal Christian theologians.
They are beginning to appreciate the depth of the relationship between
Jesus' teachings and the beliefs of various groups within Judaism during
the 1st century CE. There is increasing dialog with Jews by non-conservative
Christian theologians interested in discovering the roots of their own
The Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church,
and the Roman Catholic Church -- have entered into dialog with American
Jews, while discontinuing any efforts to convert them. They have gone beyond
rejecting anti-Semitism, beyond tolerance to the point where they value
Judaism as a "sister" religion with whom they have much in common, and
from which they have much to learn. The dialog is conducted between the
two religions as equals.
Ground-Breaking Developments in the United Church of
The United Church of Canada, is the the second largest Protestant
denomination in Canada and perhaps the most liberal. It is similar to the
Church of Christ in the US. It has jokingly been referred to as a church
which specializes in organizing circular firing squads. This is because
of its history of courageously tackling the really tough questions: ordination
of women in the 1930's; ordination of gays and lesbians in the 1980's;
and now a deep dialog between the church and Judaism..
In the very late 1980's. the United Church's general council was petitioned
to come to terms with its past anti-Semitic history and to mend fences
with the Jewish community. (13) The result of this petition is a a report:
"Bearing Faithful Witness: United Church-Jewish Relations Today."
It was submitted in mid-1997 for approval by the general council. It was
released to the public in 1998-MAY.
The report is believed to be unique among Christian denominations in
North America. It calls for the church to:
Reactions to the report were predictable:
stop trying to convert Jews to Christianity
end any Biblical interpretation which negatively stereotype Jews or leads
to anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism.
reject the concept that Christianity is superior to Judaism
reject the concept that Christianity is a replacement for Judaism
recognize anti-Semitism in its past
The Right Rev. Bill Phipps, moderator of the Church commented: "Christianity
does not supersede Judaism...We are not picking up where they left off."
He said that the document urges people to "live your life fully. Try
to make Jesus Christ meaningful and attractive to people...but don't cast
aspersions or criticize other faith traditions." Rev. Phipps notes
that Scripture has been often interpreted in a way that leads to anti-Judaism.
For example, when referring to Jesus criticisms of Judaic practices of
the 1st century CE, Christians must remember that "he wasn't standing
outside of the Jewish community being critical, he was doing it from within."
The "Community of Concern," a conservative reform group within the
United Church, rejected the call for an end to evangelical action among
the Jews. Spokesperson Rev. John Niles said "This is completely against
the Biblical mandate to go out into the world and baptize...It means the
Gospel can't be preached." He expressed confidence that more conservative
ministers will continue to evangelize Jews, even if the document becomes
Rabbi Reuven Bulka, chairman of the Religious and Interreligious Affairs
Committee of the Canadian Jewish Congress commented: "I
think it deserves the highest of accolades...They have not in any way compromised
their own faith, but they have realized failings within the faith and have
honestly said 'Let's clean up this mess.' "
Peter Wyatt, general secretary for theology, faith and ecumenism for
the United Church indicated that no formal apology to the Jewish community
is planned. "Jewish people indicated that wouldn't necessarily be helpful,
and it's not something they're looking for."
Sites which have been organized in opposition to Christian evangelism include:
"Saving our souls," The Southern Shofar, Birmingham, AL,
Merlene Davis, "Stop the madness: Southern Baptists are on power trip,"
Herald-Leader, Lexington, KY. Available at: http://www.
Fritz B. Voll, "What about Christian Jews or Jewish Christians?"
This site includes a history of Christian "conversion" methods.
Meira Bat Avraham, "The Quiet Holocaust," at: http://www.jdl.org/mission.html
"Southern Baptist focus on evangelization of Jewish people drawing media
attention," The Louisiana Baptist Message, at: http://www.lacollege.edu/baptist/message/6.27.96/6.27.96.jewish.html
Christine Wicker, "Southern Baptist convention vows to convert Jews,"
Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX, 1996-JUN-14
Quoted in: Art Toalston, "Evangelism: Jews Oppose Baptist Outreach,"
Christianity Today, 1996-NOV-11, at: http://www.christianity.net/ct/6TD/6TD03a.html
Yonat Shimron, "Jewish faith long been targeted," News Observer,
Raleigh NC, at: http://www.news-observer.com/go/religion/faith/archive/062196.html
"B'nai B'rith Urges Southern Baptist Convention To Reconsider Formal
Resolution Actively Seeking To Convert Jews To Christianity," at: http://bnaibrith.org/pr/sbaptist.html,
Quoted in: Manny Lopez, "Jews find Baptists' new mission of conversion
unnerving," The Detroit News, Detroit, MI, 1996-JUN-18
Ilan D. Feldman, "The Jewish Problem," Congregation Beth Jacob,
Eric H. Yoffie, "Southern Baptist Convention Resolution* to Missionize
Jews," at: http://uahcweb.org/yoffie/sbc.html
Joan Breckenridge, "United Church Reaches out to Jews," The Globe and Mail,
Toronto ON, 1998-MAY-23, Pages A1 & A10
"A Baptist Statement on Jewish-Christian Relations," Alliance of
Baptists (1995) at: http://www.pitts.emory.edu/baptist.statement.html
The Alliance of Baptists has a home page is at: http://www.allianceofbaptists.org
R. Albert Mohler, Jr., "Against the Stream: The Southern Baptist Resolutions,"
The official home page of the Southern Baptist Convention is at: http://www.sbcnet.org/index.htm
R. H. Hamel, "Real anti-Semitism," The Globe and Mail, letter to
the editor, 1998-MAY-27 Page A18
Arthur F. Glasser, "A Reflection on 'Let's Get Biblical!' Rabbi Tovia
Singer's Lecture Series", Page 2, at: http://www.jews-for-jesus.org/CASE/BIBLICAL/Glasser/glasser2.html
Bailey Smith, quoted in the St. Petersburg Times, 1994-JUN-26.
Sites which promote Christian evangelism of Jews include:
Full Text appears at: CURRENT
ATTEMPTS TO CONVERT JEWS TO CHRISTIANITY
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