SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — Australian Jewish community leaders blasted an American-born minister for suggesting that “a fate worse than the Holocaust” awaits Jews and others who have not embraced Jesus.
Pastor Kevin Harris made the remarks last week while meeting with Jewish leaders on a tour of regional areas south of Sydney to consult with religious leaders, including Anglican and Catholic bishops.
Harris in a published report said his comments were made in a private meeting "in my lounge room" and admitted using the word "holocaust," but said it was biblical language.
New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff claimed that Harris, originally from Virginia, also said that the Jews are “a cancer” and are “going to hell,” but Harris denied making those remarks.
Harris, a Baptist clergyman who leads the Illawarra Community Baptist Church, told JTA he was quoting Matthew 24:21, a New Testament verse that reads, “At that time there will be great suffering, the kind that has not happened from the beginning of the world until now and certainly will never happen again.”
“I am not wishing anything bad on the Jewish people,” Harris said. “I was quoting Jesus’ words.”
Harris, who visited Israel in 2005, added that “I very much love Jews. We bear them no ill will.”
But Alhadeff described the private encounter with the pastor as "chilling."
“His brazen approach and the fact that he is influencing others on a daily basis are the issues of real concern,” he said.
B’nai B’rith’s Anti-Defamation Commission chair Tony Levy also slammed the Holocaust comment.
“They are a grotesque affront to our community," he said, "and particularly distressing for Holocaust survivors who suffered so brutally at the hands of the Nazis.”
The more than 800 Baptist churches in Australia have some 60,000 members.