NEW YORK (Sep. 7)
The High Holidays are traditionally a time of Jewish soul-searching. But during this year’s festivities, a number of evangelical Christians will also be eyeing those souls.
In an effort Jewish leaders describe as “arrogant” and “offensive,” an organization that claims to represent almost 16 million Southern Baptists is distributing a new booklet offering suggestions on how to pray that Jews find Jesus.
The booklet, titled “Days Of Awe” offers background information on Jewish traditions around the High Holidays and urges Baptists to “pray for Jewish individuals you know by name.”
The booklet offers prayers for each day from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, asking Baptists to focus prayers on Jews of different countries each day, although it does not include American Jews. For example, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the book suggests Christians pray for the Jews of Israel.
“On Rosh Hashanah, when observant Jews around the world begin 10 days of seeking God, Southern Baptists will be praying they find his Son,” according to an article about the effort in the Baptist Press.
The same article quoted Randy Sprinkle, director of the convention’s International Mission Board, as saying that the effort is “an act of love.”
“Christian intercessors are people of love,” he is quoted saying. “They love the Jewish people, even scattered across the earth as they are, because God first loved the Jewish people.”
The group also targets other non-Christians. It published a similar guide to help Christians pray for Muslims during Ramadan and plans to publish guides for prayer efforts focusing on Hindus and Buddhists.
Jewish critics see the prayer effort as an outgrowth of the Southern Baptist Convention’s vote three years ago to direct energies and resources toward converting Jews to Christianity.
Rabbi A. James Rudin, national interreligious affairs coordinator for the American Jewish Committee, said this is the first such prayer effort he knows of timed to coincide with the Jewish High Holidays.
“Many Southern Baptists, particularly politicians, want to put the Ten Commandments in schoolrooms and courtrooms, but this program counters two of the commandments: thou shalt not steal and thou shalt not covet,” said Rudin, saying the action was equivalent to stealing Judaism from Jews and “expropriating the Jewish religion.”
“It’s particularly offensive and it’s not going to work,” he said.
He said the International Mission Board does not represent all Southern Baptists, noting that the denomination includes those with more moderate beliefs.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Reform movement’s Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said, “We are deeply offended” by the effort.
“We are particularly saddened that this campaign comes during the holiest time of the Jewish year, shortly after a number of violent, anti-Semitic acts have been committed in cities throughout America,” he said.
James Beasley, the director of the Richmond, Va.-based International Mission Board’s resource center, said that “a large number” of Southern Baptist congregations had requested copies of the prayer guide, but did not give an exact count.
Asked to respond to Jewish criticisms of the effort, Beasley referred to the comments of Don Kammerdiener, the International Mission Board’s executive vice president, in the introduction to the prayer guide.
Kammerdiener acknowledges that “many Jewish leaders reject such efforts as being wrongheaded, arrogant or even contributing to the spiritual and cultural equivalent of the holocaust.” But, he writes, “the Bible is clear in giving Christ’s followers guidance regarding the necessity of sharing the gospel with the Jews.”