NEW YORK (Aug. 22)
Alarm raced across much of the Jewish world when the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in June targeting Jews for conversion and hired a missionary to train Baptists to effectively proselytize Jews.
But Jews weren’t the only people upset by the Southern Baptist Convention’s steps. A significant number of Christians, including Southern Baptists, thought it was a mistake as well.
For the sake of demonstrating to Southern Baptist Convention leaders that not even all of their own members, let alone other Christians, agree with the focus on Jews, Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee, is organizing a one-day consultation on the subject in October.
Some Christians have written letters to the editor and published opinion pieces in their local newspapers. Others, including some high-level Catholic and Protestant leaders, issued statements opposing the Southern Baptist move.
“An aggressive direct effort to convert the Jewish people would break the bond of trust built up for over 30 years and recreate enmity between our `elder brothers and sisters’ and ourselves at the start of a new millennium, a millennium which should begin with hope for reconciliation,” wrote the Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran bishops of New York in a statement they jointly issued on June 25.
Several Southern Baptist Convention ministers and theologians have also registered their opposition, Rudin said.
Rudin intends to bring together 20 to 25 representatives of Catholic and several mainline Protestant and evangelical churches, as well as members of the Southern Baptist Convention who, he said, “can articulate in a reasonable way that they’re not here to have a witnessing party.”
Those opposed to proselytizing the Jews believe that “it’s theologically unnecessary to actively seek the conversion of Jews to be a Christian,” Rudin said. “Their view is as legitimate theologically as the Southern Baptist Convention’s. These people also need to be heard.”
“They certainly offer their Christian message to the world, but don’t feel they should single out Jews. Let the message be universal,” he said.
Rudin said he has a strategic goal as well.
“The Jewish community shouldn’t feel it’s so alone out there. The strategic goal is to get other Christians to condemn” the Southern Baptist Convention measures, which is “in the long run as important, and maybe more important, than what Jews say,” Rudin said.
There is also mounting evidence that even some mainstream Protestant and evangelical Christians who say they do not believe in targeting Jews for conversion are financially underwriting the efforts of those who do, making the work of missionaries such as Jews for Jesus possible, Rudin said.
Rudin wants to find out whether the Christian leaders with whom Jews have good working dialogues in any way support evangelism aimed at Jews.
“A lot of Christians say, `I support it but don’t want to get down in the dirt and do it myself,’” said Rudin. “We need to smoke out Christians on this issue, force them to confront” their views toward evangelizing Jews.