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U.S. Professor Justifies Israel’s Objection to Missionary Activities

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"The recent trouble over a fundamentalist church in Jerusalem needs to be seen against a wider background in order that the incident be properly understood," Professor Milton R. Konvitz told a large audience at Cornell University here today.

The speaker, an authority on American constitutional law and Professor of Law at Cornell, said that Israel was not unique in being aware of a missionary problem. In many countries throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America, governments have been concerned with missionary activities and some nations have imposed legal or extra-legal restrictions on the admission and activities of Christian missionaries.

The attitude of these countries is well reflected, said Prof. Konvitz, in the following statement of Ghandi: "If you (Christian missions) feel that the Indian religion is also true, though, like all religions, falls from perfection, and you come in a brotherly spirit of helpfulness to cement friendship then there is room for you here. But should you come here as the preachers of a new gospel to an ‘unenlightened people,’ then, to the extent that I am interested, there is no room for you."

This position, said Prof. Konvitz, was reflected in a statement made to him two years ago by an African leader, himself a Christian, who said that his African country would welcome Christian missionaries who would come as physicians, teachers, or in whatever other capacity, as long as they would come to render productive service, but they would not be welcome if they come merely as evangelists or preachers.

Prof. Konvitz pointed out that at one time mission schools performed an important service in countries where there were no government schools. Many of the present African and Asian leaders received their education in such schools. But now there are government schools in these countries, and mission schools are not as welcome as they were.

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The speaker also referred to the statement made some months ago by Peinhold Niebuhr, leading Protestant theologian in the United States, that the Christian churches ought to end their efforts to convert Jews to Christianity. This liberal position has not been accepted by the Church groups generally, and the last ones that can be expected to accept this position, said the speaker, are the fundamentalist, evangelical churches–like the one that was attacked in Jerusalem.

Professor Konvitz also called attention to the fact that some of the important church bodies have adopted resolutions not to proselytize among children under 18 years of age, but this, too, he said, represents today only a minority point of view. Many of the Christian sects go in for "soul-snatching" without regard to the youthfulness or immaturity–or senility–of the "prospect."

It was especially the activities among children in Israel that was, said Prof. Konvitz, provocative of criticism and even, in some quarters, of strong feelings. "In Israel today there are some 700 Catholic missionaries belonging to about 30 different orders, and about 200 Protestant missionaries belonging to 18 sects or denominations," the speaker emphasized. "They go about their work unmolested; the laws of Israel protect them in their right to conduct legitimate missionary work; but this does not mean that Jews in Israel do not have strong feelings about missionary efforts, especially among children."

American constitutional law guarantees, Prof. Konvitz pointed out, the right of missionaries to preach their religious beliefs even in towns and neighborhoods where they are not welcome, and this is true in Israel, too. But the exercise of this right does not mean that "soul-snatching" and "child-ensnaring" must be indulged in by missionaries without expectation that people will react strongly to these detestable methods. "Fanaticism on one side is likely to arouse fanaticism on the other–souls are as valuable to Judaism as they are to fundamentalist Christians," Prof. Konvitz declared.

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