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CURRENT ATTEMPTS TO CONVERT JEWS TO CHRISTIANITY


The following quotation is a prime motivator of Christian evangelical activity:

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Christian Scriptures, John 14:6.


Topics Covered:


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 census.


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 Judaism

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. Generally speaking: Christian beliefs are split with regard to the historical covenants described in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament). Generally speaking:

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:
  1. "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);
  2. Renouncing interpretations of Scripture which foster religious stereotyping and prejudice against the Jewish people and their faith;
  3. Seeking genuine dialogue with the broader Jewish community, a dialogue built on mutual respect and the integrity of each other's faith;
  4. Lifting our voices quickly and boldly against all expressions of anti-Semitism;
  5. 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."
In essence, they urged that Baptists abandon the traditional, conservative supercessionist 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.

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:
Much of the momentum of the resolution came from the SBC' rejection of the Alliance of Baptists' statement on  the dual covenant. Messianic 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 1990's.

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." (5,6)

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." (6)

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 Resolution:

Reaction was swift and generally very negative:
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)


Policies of Mainline and Liberal Christian Groups Towards Proselytizing

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 faith.

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 Canada:

The United Church of Canada, is the the second largest Protestant denomination in Canada and perhaps the most liberal. It is similar to the United 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: 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."

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."


References:

  1. "Saving our souls," The Southern Shofar, Birmingham, AL, at: http://www.bham.net/shofar/1996/0796/ss0796.html
  2. Merlene Davis, "Stop the madness: Southern Baptists are on power trip," Herald-Leader, Lexington, KY. Available at: http://www. kentuckyconnect.com/heraldleader/news/0620/fdavis.html
  3. Fritz B. Voll, "What about Christian Jews or Jewish Christians?" at: http://www.jcrelations.com/articl1/conv.htm This site includes a history of Christian "conversion" methods.
  4. Meira Bat Avraham, "The Quiet Holocaust," at: http://www.jdl.org/mission.html
  5. "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
  6. Christine Wicker, "Southern Baptist convention vows to convert Jews," Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX, 1996-JUN-14
  7. Quoted in: Art Toalston, "Evangelism: Jews Oppose Baptist Outreach," Christianity Today, 1996-NOV-11, at: http://www.christianity.net/ct/6TD/6TD03a.html
  8. Yonat Shimron, "Jewish faith long been targeted," News Observer, Raleigh NC, at: http://www.news-observer.com/go/religion/faith/archive/062196.html
  9. "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, 1996-JUN-14.
  10. Quoted in: Manny Lopez, "Jews find Baptists' new mission of conversion unnerving," The Detroit News, Detroit, MI, 1996-JUN-18
  11. Ilan D. Feldman, "The Jewish Problem," Congregation Beth Jacob, at: http://www.toll-free.com/bethjacob/rabbi04.html
  12. Eric H. Yoffie, "Southern Baptist Convention Resolution* to Missionize Jews," at: http://uahcweb.org/yoffie/sbc.html
  13. Joan Breckenridge, "United Church Reaches out to Jews," The Globe and Mail, Toronto ON, 1998-MAY-23, Pages A1 & A10
  14. "A Baptist Statement on Jewish-Christian Relations," Alliance of Baptists (1995) at: http://www.pitts.emory.edu/baptist.statement.html
  15. The Alliance of Baptists has a home page is at: http://www.allianceofbaptists.org
  16. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., "Against the Stream: The Southern Baptist Resolutions," at: http://www.sbts.edu/mohler/resoluti.html
  17. The official home page of the Southern Baptist Convention is at: http://www.sbcnet.org/index.htm
  18. R. H. Hamel, "Real anti-Semitism," The Globe and Mail, letter to the editor, 1998-MAY-27 Page A18
  19. 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
  20. Bailey Smith, quoted in the St. Petersburg Times, 1994-JUN-26.
  21. Sites which promote Christian evangelism of Jews include:
  22. Sites which have been organized in opposition to Christian evangelism include:

Full Text appears at:  CURRENT ATTEMPTS TO CONVERT JEWS TO CHRISTIANITY

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 Questions, Comments, Suggestions - please email me at:  danwc@excite.com