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Attempts to convert Jews

Conservative Christians'
statements about Jewish conversion

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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. 1.2 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 fellow 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 dialogue between Christianity and Judaism, accepting both religions as being of equal stature.

The Southern Baptist Convention and Judaism (1867 to 1996):

There have been many interactions between the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the Jewish faith:

bulletIn 1867, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) passed its first resolution to urge their organization and membership to convert Jews to evangelical Christianity. During the following 130 years, 8 similar resolutions were passed. 3
 
bulletA struggle developed in the 1970's within the SBC. By 1979, Fundamentalists had begun to wrestle control of the denomination from their more moderate 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." 4 The implication is that God has abandoned Jews and hears only the prayers of Christians. This would imply that God would not listen to the prayers of his son, Jesus, who was an observant Jew.
 
bulletA SBC goal during the 1990s was 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.
 
bulletThere 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 offensive:
 
bullet"Messianic Jewish" congregations retain "Jewish customs, religious traditions and maintain Jewish heritage," while accepting Jesus as the Messiah. 5  "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." 6
 
bulletJews for Jesus, was founded by Moische Rosen. One source claims that this organization receives most of its finances from Baptists. 6 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."
 
bulletMore 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. 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.

Meeting in New Orleans, LA, in 1996-JUN, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) passed its 10th 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." 7  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." 7,8

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." 9 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." 10 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." 9

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." 8

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." 11

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Reaction to the 1996 SBC Resolution:

Reaction was swift and generally very negative:

bulletB'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." 12,17

Baer recommended that "the Southern Baptists to reconsider these steps." Later 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. 9

bulletConrad 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." 13
 
bulletRabbi A. James Rudin, Director of Inter-religious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee called the resolution a "great setback" for inter-religious 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."  He said that he would ask a simple question of anyone bent on converting Jews: "Does your spiritual happiness depend on my spiritual annihilation?" 8
 
bulletRabbi 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 the Reform synagogues in the US)
 
bulletRabbi 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." 14
 
bulletRabbi 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."
 
bulletYaakov 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." 10
 
bulletBishops from the Episcopal, Lutheran and Roman Catholic denominations issued a joint statement in which they stated that proselytizing Jews is "not appropriate."
 
bulletEugene Fisher, a spokesperson for Catholic-Jewish relations by the U.S. 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 faith."
 
bulletPerhaps the most famous religious leader in the U.S., Billy Graham, distanced himself from the resolution and said that he won't take part in any such effort. 10

The Southern Baptist Convention and Judaism (1999):

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) issued a pamphlet in the Fall of 1999 which urged its members to pray for the salvation of Jews during the Jewish high holy days. 1999-SEP-11 was the start of Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year. SEP-20 was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The pamphlet urged its members to "repent of any attitudes of spiritual pride or arrogance with respect to the Jewish people." It was based on the SBC's belief in supercession: the concept that God has terminated his many covenants with the Jewish people and transferred them to Christians. Thus, the SBC views God as having abandoned Jews, leaving them in great need of salvation. This position has offended many Jews.

Abraham Foxman, Executive Director of the Anti-Defamation League responded: "We are shocked and deeply offended by the call for members of the Southern Baptist Convention to pray that Jews will convert to Christianity during the High Holy Days." Elsewhere Foxman stated that the prayer plan "projects a message of spiritual narrowness that invites theological hatred.15

The Rev. H. Paige Patterson, head of the Southern Baptist Convention, defended the pamphlet on the basis of "absolute religious liberty" He wrote: "We are standing in an open marketplace of religious ideas where it is perfectly permissible for all people to share their most cherished ideas as long as they do not coerce anyone else to a position."

Foxman responded, describing the SBC effort at conversion to be "theological arrogance." He wrote: "We were offended by your attempt to taint our High Holidays with prayer urging our community to convert. Any prayer that invites us to abandon our faith is an attack on our integrity and commitment." Foxman indicated regret that Patterson has "expressed no remorse for the prayer appeal and contemptuously invited us to return the gesture and pray for them. Well, we say 'no thanks.' We will not engage in this kind of base spiritual narrowness.'' 16

Some Messianic Jews welcomed the pamphlet. They are mainly Jews who accept Jesus as their Messiah and have adopted other conservative Evangelical Christian theological beliefs. 15 

The Phineas Priesthood, a Christian Identity hate group was allegedly outraged at this move by the SBC. Some investigator theorize that one of their adherents, an individual suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, attacked a Baptist church in Fort Worth in retaliation. Seven were killed; another seven injured.

More details on the SBC prayer guide.

References:

  1. "A Baptist Statement on Jewish-Christian Relations," Alliance of Baptists (1995) at: http://www.pitts.emory.edu/
  2. The Alliance of Baptists has a home page is at: http://www.allianceofbaptists.org 
  3. Merlene Davis, "Stop the madness: Southern Baptists are on power trip," Herald-Leader, Lexington, KY. Available at: http://www. kentuckyconnect.com/heraldleader/
  4. Bailey Smith was quoted in the St. Petersburg Times, 1994-JUN-26.
  5. Fritz B. Voll, "What about Christian Jews or Jewish Christians?" at: http://www.jcrelations.com/ This site includes a history of Christian "conversion" methods.
  6. Meira Bat Avraham, "The Quiet Holocaust," at: http://www.jdl.org/
  7. "Southern Baptist focus on evangelization of Jewish people drawing media attention," The Louisiana Baptist Message, at: http://www.lacollege.edu/
  8. Christine Wicker, "Southern Baptist convention vows to convert Jews," Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX, 1996-JUN-14
  9. Quoted in: Art Toalston, "Evangelism: Jews Oppose Baptist Outreach," Christianity Today, 1996-NOV-11, at: http://www.christianity.net/
  10. Yonat Shimron, "Jewish faith long been targeted," News Observer, Raleigh NC, at: http://www.news-observer.com/
  11. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., "Against the Stream: The Southern Baptist Resolutions," at: http://www.sbts.edu/
  12. "B'nai B'rith Urges Southern Baptist Convention To Reconsider Formal Resolution Actively Seeking To Convert Jews To Christianity," at: http://bnaibrith.org/, 1996-JUN-14.
  13. Quoted in: Manny Lopez, "Jews find Baptists' new mission of conversion unnerving," The Detroit News, Detroit, MI, 1996-JUN-18.
  14. Ilan D. Feldman, "The Jewish Problem," Congregation Beth Jacob, at: http://www.toll-free.com/
  15. "Baptist prayers for Jews create mixed emotions," Conservative News Service, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/
  16. "Southern Baptists accused of 'theological arrogance'," Conservative News Service, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/
  17. The term "pluralism" has multiple meanings. It is sometimes used to refer to religious diversity. Other times, it refers to the belief that all religions are equally true.

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Copyright © 1998 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-DEC-21

Author: B.A. Robinson

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