Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Proselytism Efforts Condemned

March 26, 1987
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington has issued a statement condemning efforts at religious conversion which are deceptive or deny the legitimacy of another religion. Specifically condemned were deceptive practices aimed at Jews.

The statement by the Conference, which is made up of 29 Islamic, Jewish, Mormon, Protestant and Roman Catholic “faith communities” in Washington and the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs, stresses support of “the right of all religions to share their message” with people of other religions.

“But it is inappropriate for one faith group to openly demean or disparage the philosophies or practices of another faith group as part of its proselytizing,” the statement said. “Proselytism which does not respect human freedom is carefully to be avoided. Proselytism must be done with a sense of humility and a respect for others.”

While interfaith groups throughout the country have issued statements condemning a specific occurrence, this is believed to have been the first general statement issued by such a group, according to Dr. Sidney Schwarz, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington, and the Rev. Clark Lobenstine, executive director of the Interfaith Conference.


The Conference statement noted that it felt “compelled to speak out when a religious group promotes or sanctions activities that are harmful to the spirit of interreligious respect and tolerance. We condemn proselytizing efforts which delegitimize the faith traditions of the person whose conversion is being sought. Such tactics go beyond the bounds of appropriate and ethically based religious outreach.”

The statement added that deceptive methods “are practiced on the most vulnerable of populations — residents of hospitals and old age homes, confused youth, college students away from home. These proselytizing techniques are tantamount to coerced conversions and should be condemned.”

As examples, the statement listed practices used by such groups as Hebrew Christians, Messianic Jews and Jews for Jesus.

“These groups specifically target Jews for conversions to their version of Christianity, making the claim that in accepting Jesus as the savior/messiah, a Jew ‘fulfills’ his/her faith,” the statement said. “Furthermore, by celebrating Jewish festivals, worshipping on the Jewish sabbath, appropriating Jewish symbols, rituals and prayers in their churches and, sometimes even calling their leaders, ‘rabbi,’ they seek to win over, often by deception, many Jews who are sincerely looking for a path back to their ancestral heritage.”

The Conference statement will be distributed to some 2,000 churches and synagogues and clergymen in the Washington area, Lobenstine said, and will be sent to some 300 interfaith groups around the country.

Recommended from JTA