Christian Evangelical Movement Poses Serious Threat to Jewish Community

Two prominent American rabbis and Jewish academicians warned this weekend that the well-financed, rapidly growing Christian evangelical movement in America poses serious threats to the American Jewish community, especially for Jewish youth on college campuses. Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Inter-Religious Affairs Department and Rabbi Maurice N. Eisendrath, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, both expressed concern over the possible effects of the year-long evangelical campaign known as “Key ’73.”

Rabbi Tanenbaum made his remarks during a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the AJCommittee’s policy-making National Executive Council here. Rabbi Eisendrath addressed a meeting of the UAHC’s Board of Trustees in New York. He urged Christian church bodies to curb fundamentalistic missionary efforts directed toward college and high school youth which harass Jewish young people.

Rabbi Tanenbaum explained that “Key ’73″ has been planned as a nation-wide campaign involving more than 130 evangelical, mainline Protestant and Catholic denominations, church bodies and para-ecclesiastical groups using all forms of mass media as well as personal persuasion to “call the Continent to Christ.” He and two fellow panelists, Dr. Eric Meyers, professor of religion at Duke University, and Rabbi Steven Shaw, director of the Hillel Foundation at Rutgers University, expressed concern that conversion efforts were beginning to have an influence on Jewish youth, especially at college.

JEWISH STUDENTS SUFFER FROM GUILT FEELINGS

They observed that these efforts appeared particularly threatening at a time when American Jews and Jewish communal agencies were engaged in serious discussions about the implications of rising rates of inter-marriage, the need for a heightened sense of Jewish identity and new ways to insure Jewish continuity in a secular society.

Rabbi Tanenbaum called on “The Christian conscience to recognize that a Christian theology based on the negation of Judaism and that sees Christianity as a substitution for the Jewish faith will have the human effect of destroying the existence of the Jewish people.”

Prof. Meyers observed that “Though few Jewish students are probably actually converted to Christianity, the guilt feelings that missionizing activities arouse in many students, often unarticulated, are the kinds of problems that not just Jewish students, but all college students should do without.” Rabbi Shaw expressed the view that the challenge by the Eastern cults posed a more serious threat to young Jews and adults than Christian missionizing.

RESTRAIN EXCESSIVE ZEAL

Rabbi Eisendrath warned that “such highly financed campaigns as ‘Key ’73′ and ‘The Campus Crusade for Christ,’ while not directed specifically at Jews are nevertheless putting unwarranted and unnecessary pressure upon Jewish young people which both distresses and disturbs us.” He said it was “inevitable that missionary movements such as the old American Board of Missions to the Jews and the newly formed Jews for Jesus movement whose primary aim is to convert Jews, will gain impetus from the above movements.”

Rabbi Eisendrath urged Christian bodies such as the National Council of Churches and the Catholic Bishops Conference to “take every possible step to restrain the excessive zeal of the fundamentalist evangelical groups” which “may subject young Jewish people and adults to repeated harassment and attempts at coercion.”

Rabbi Balfour Brickner, director of the UAHC’s Interfaith Department, said young Jews must know “how to respond to Christian fundamentalists who use Biblical proof texts to amplify their points.” He said his department planned to mobilize retiring rabbis, rabbinic students and qualified laymen to visit campuses “to rap about Judaism and Christian-Jewish relations.” He noted that the “Campus Crusade for Christ” has an $18 million budget and a staff of 3000.

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