Leading Baptist ministers and educators from several states have strongly deplored Dr. Bailey Smith, president of the 13 million member Southern Baptist Convention, for his public remark last month that “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.” Scores of letters addressed directly to Smith, to various Baptist church organs and to American Jewish leaders involved in inter-faith affairs, denounced Smith’s views as contrary to the Scriptures and unfair and insulting to Jews.
A number of the letters were just made public here by the Anti-Defamation league of B’nai B’rith which has long been engaged in dialogue with Southern Baptists on such topics as the Jewish roots of Christianity and the Jewishness of Jesus and his disciples.
Smith’s remarks, mode at the National Affairs Briefing, a gathering of Fundamentalist Christians in Dallas on Aug. 22, were recorded by the regional representative of the American Jewish Committee. The AJCommittee subsequently disseminated the transcripts.
JOINS NEFARIOUS COMPANY
In a letter dated Sept. 12 addressed to Rabbi Solomon Bernards, co-director of the ADL’s department of interfaith affairs, J. William Angell, professor of religion at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., charged that Smith “has joined himself to the nefarious company of Homon, Hitler, Arafat and Khomeini.
He observed that Smith’s “statements are not only untrue, unscriptural and unkind; they are also, as you know, for removed from the teaching and spirit of the Jesus whom he pretends to serve.” Angell added, “I do wish Dr. Smith would pause at least long enough to realize that Jesus was a Jew — a loyal and faithful Jew. Does that mean that God would not hear him?”
Another letter addressed to Bernards on Sept. 14 from Bob Wallace, Pastor of Grants Creek Missionary Baptist Church in Maysville, N.C., said Smith’s remarks were “another painful reminder of this man’s ignorance. He may well be speaking for the majority of Southern Baptists but he does not speak for me. I repudiate his statement.”
A letter to Smith on Sept. 3 from the Rev. Glenn Inglehart, director of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Interfaith Witness Department, reminded him that: “In our materials and training conferences we teach Baptists to share their faith without apology and without offense. We and those whom we train speak directly to our Jewish friends of our conviction of the uniqueness of God’s act in Jesus of Nazareth for the redemption of all persons, Jews as well as Gentiles.
“That conviction we can affirm heartily. But to state that God only hears the prayers of Christian when they pray is another matter. Of course when a Jew prays, it is a Jewish prayer, not a Christian prayer. But I feel that we must be wary of placing restrictions on who God will listen to….”
John Laney, Minister of the Twinbrook Baptist Church in Rockville. Md., stated in letters to The Maryland Baptist in Lutherville, and The Capital Baptist, published in Washington, D.C., that the God posited by Smith “would be a God who would have listened to the silent Christians in Nazi Germany while turning a deaf ear to the millions of Jews who cried out from the concentration camps and the gas chambers of the Holocaust.
“I cannot conceive of a God who would eagerly listen to Jerry Falwell and Bailey Smith but who would not tolerate a prayer from such great souls of the recent past as Martin Buber and Abraham Heschel.” Falwell, head of the Moral Majority, is a Fundamentalist preacher who appears widely on radio and television.
RECKLESS, INSENSITIVE WORDS
Another letter to Smith from Jock Altman, Pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Cumberland, Md., stated as its subject “Your anti-Jewish remarks at the Religious Roundtable” in Dallas. In that connection, he wrote: “Such reckless, insensitive words by the president of the Southern Baptist Convention contribute nothing of a positive nature to the work of our Interfaith Witness dialogues with our Jewish friends.”
The Rev. Alfred Johnson, Jr., Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Gary, N.C., wrote to Smith: “We do have our differences with Judaism concerning the messiahship of Jesus. But no true Christian doubts for one moment that both Christians and Jews worship and pray to the same God and that He hears them. Jesus himself in John 4:22 says that ‘Salvation comes from the Jews.’ Please be careful what you say in the future.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.