A conservative evangelical Christian group that goes by the misleading name “Jews for Jesus” is set to launch a new campaign targeting DC area Jews for conversion to Christianity. Christians are deeply divided over the campaign. The Washington Post reports on the controversy:
The ancient debate over Jesus's claim to be the Jewish Messiah is being renewed in Washington this week as hundreds of evangelists seeking to convert Jews take to Metro stops, parks and college campuses -- along with protesters from the Jewish community.
Jews for Jesus, a San Francisco-based group, said it trained more than 600 local volunteers to evangelize the region's 220,000 Jews as part of a worldwide campaign called "Operation Behold Your God...."
A core belief of Jews for Jesus and other so-called messianic Jews is that one can remain Jewish and accept Jesus as the messiah. As proof, they and other evangelicals often point to the early church, which was filled almost entirely with Jewish believers in Jesus.
But Jewish leaders call that claim "deceptive" and "deeply offensive."
"What we are asking for is a little truth in advertising," Hillman said. Jews for Jesus is "dressing up fundamental Christianity and saying it's Judaism. . . . "Just because Jews are involved in an enterprise doesn't make it Jewish. Jews worshiped the golden calf -- that didn't make [idolatry] Jewish. It was condemned."
Evangelical mega-churches like McLean Bible Church are supporting the effort with money and volunteers:
The Rev. Lon Solomon, senior pastor of McLean Bible Church, was born Jewish and became a born-again Christian in the 1970s. He explains his support for Jews for Jesus in part by pointing to the book of Romans, in which the Apostle Paul wrote that the Christian Gospel was "first for the Jew, then for the Gentile."
"To be honest with you, there are a lot of churches that don't have the courage to stand up and take the heat and criticism that the Jewish community is going to generate," Solomon said. "And we just figured some church is going to have to do that, and why not us."
Jewish groups and the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, whose executive director is a Presbyterian minister, have condemned Jews for Jesus.
In November 2002 members of the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations rejected the historical Christian notion that Jews must accept Jesus as their savior. The statement found some support in the United Church of Christ. A United Church News article from 2002 reports:
Rejecting a centuries-old hall mark of Christian teaching on salvation, an ecumenical group of Christian scholars in September said Jews can be saved without coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
Claiming "Jews are in an eternal covenant with God," 21 members of the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations challenged the traditional Christian view of Jesus as savior for all humankind. Because faithful Jews are already in right relationship with God, they said, "We renounce missionary efforts directed at converting Jews."
"We know there has been a long tradition of anti-Judaism within that Christian tradition," says Joseph Tyson, chair of the scholars group and professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University. "It's based on certain misperceptions of history, and it's theologically invalid ... We're convinced that a re-thinking of Christian attitudes toward Jews is central, indispensable and sacred."
The 10-point statement, "A Sacred Obligation," marks the latest in a series of attempts to bridge historic enmity and divisions between Christians and Jews. It comes in response to "Dabru Emet," a call from Jewish scholars in September 2000 for Jews to rethink their understanding of Christianity. It follows also on the heels of an Aug. 12, 2002, statement in which Jews and a committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said attempts to convert Jews are "no longer theologically acceptable."
In the United Church of Christ, despite general support for the sentiment expressed, UCC voices take issue with certain specifics.
Dale Bishop, Executive Minister for the UCC's Wider Church Ministries, says that many in the church would not join the scholars in conferring special salvation status upon Jews in God's economy. Nor would many consent to tenet nine in the statement: "We affirm the importance of the land of Israel for the life of the Jewish people."
"We recognize it to be a part of their tradition," Bishop says, "but that doesn't mean we incorporate it into our theology or belief system."
The Rev. Martin Duffy, son of a Jewish mother and now a retired evangelical UCC pastor in Easton, Pa., agrees that Christians shouldn't target Jews for conversion, because such "pressure" has caused undue harm through history. But he refused to join scholars in asserting that "Jews are in a saving covenant with God."
"Everyone has to be spiritually reborn to enter the kingdom, and that's not something you get from your genes or your blood," Duffy said. "At some point, you have to make a personal decision for Christ ... That's what Jesus taught, and he was a good Jew. He's my rabbi."
Are non-Christians doomed to the fires of hell for their lack of faith in Jesus? No. I can say that Jesus is the truth and the light and feel confident that I’m hearing God’s word. However, God is obviously bigger than human understanding and I feel confident that God speaks through many religious traditions. Christians have as much to learn from other faiths as we have to share.