NEW YORK (Oct. 8)
A senior Southern Baptist Convention official has charged that Jewish opposition to the denomination’s recent focus on evangelizing Jews is rooted in fund raising rather than fear.
The international president of B’nai B’rith, which has recently engaged in a war of words with the Baptists over the issue, called that charge “utterly distasteful” and untrue.
Jewish outrage was widespread after the Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in America, adopted a policy statement June 13 resolving to “direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the Gospel to the Jewish people.”
The resolution stated that the time is right for such an emphasis in part because of “evidence of a growing responsiveness among Jewish people.”
A broad range of Jewish and Christian groups and leaders condemned the Southern Baptists’ focus on Jews for evangelism.
B’nai B’rith International sent out a piece of direct mail about the resolution to 100,000 homes.
The mailing, which was also a solicitation for funds, included a protest postcard addressed to Morris Chapman, president of the Southern Baptists’ executive committee.
In response, a sea of those postcards has flooded the Nashville headquarters of the Protestant group.
William Merrell, the Southern Baptist Convention’s vice president for convention relations, said the group had received more than 5,000 of them.
The postcard enclosed in the B’nai B’rith mailing read, in part: “The outrageous Southern Baptist Convention resolution advocating an active program of converting Jews to Christianity is both condescending and contemptuous.
“This profoundly disrespectful action demonstrates a basic lack of respect for Judaism as a sister religion.
“I strongly urge its immediate repeal.”
Merrell said it is “not at all likely” that the resolution will be repealed, and that the resolution and its intent had been purposely misrepresented by B’nai B’rith and other Jewish groups.
“Some used the resolution as an occasion for their own agenda of fund raising,” Merrell charged in a telephone interview from his Nashville office.
The fact that the B’nai B’rith mailing took the form both of an action alert and a solicitation for funds makes the Jewish group’s motivation suspect, he said.
“Well-informed people have known for a long time that Southern Baptists believe that evangelism is important, and when the motive is as badly represented” as it was after the resolution was passed, he said, “it causes me to believe that it’s knowing and orchestrated.”
“I don’t understand the shrill alarm, frankly,” Merrell said.
Responding to the charge, International President of B’nai B’rith Tommy Baer said his group’s opposition to the resolution “long predated anything designed to raise funds.”
“They apparently just don’t understand our perspective,” Baer said. “They just don’t get it.”
Baer was equally concerned by a letter sent by the Southern Baptists to the B’nai B’rith members who had protested.
In that letter, Chapman encouraged the protesters “to take note of numerous congregations of `Messianic Jews’ in the United States and Israel who celebrate their Jewish culture and historic religious rituals as well as their devotion to Messiah Jesus.”
Chapman wrote that “the resolution does not suggest or imply that Jewish people should forsake their Jewish identity or Jewish values.”
Citing parts of the Christian Bible that, according to Southern Baptist belief, require evangelism, Chapman wrote that their theology, “coupled with love and goodwill for all people, culminates in the earnest desire that our Jewish friends know Jesus as the Messiah.”
Baer read Chapman’s letter as an attempt to encourage Jews to check out Messianic Judaism.
In a letter to Chapman, Baer wrote, “We cannot accept your response to B’nai B’rith’s concerns over the Southern Baptist Convention’s resolution.”
“To target the Jewish community as a special quarry for conversion is to trample over the trust and mutual respect that lies at the foundation of our pluralistic society,” wrote Baer.
Another B’nai B’rith official said he is pleased with the number of people who have sent in the postcards.
Now the Southern Baptists “know that somebody is aware of what is going on, that they have been recipients of a lot of anger and they’re aware that the action they have taken is looked on with great disfavor by members of the Jewish community,” said Sidney Clearfield, B’nai B’rith’s executive vice president.
“We want to keep reminding them,” he said, though he added that there are no additional plans in the works to do so.
B’nai B’rith International claims 350,000 members in 56 countries.