Tentative plans have been quashed for a meeting between Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Paige Patterson and six Jewish leaders who charged the SBC with "deception" in evangelistic outreach to Jews.
Patterson, in a December 7 letter to Gedale B. Horowitz, president of the New York-based Jewish Community Relations Council, wrote:
"You have now made it crystal clear that our people cannot sit down with the very people who signed the letter of complaint and look them in the eyes and talk with them as friends. With regret, I accept your refusal of our offer, and there the matter ends."
Patterson said he is left to conclude what he had "feared is true. You are not interested in discussing the matter as friends and coming to a credible understanding. You apparently simply wanted to have the opportunity to bash Southern Baptists in the newspaper.
"I, for the life of me, can fathom no other possibility in the light of the willingness of six of you to sign a letter, which you send first to the press, and then refuse to accept our invitation to meet with you for discussion."
Horowitz, in a December 3 letter to Patterson, had reiterated a counterproposal for a "one-on-one" meeting "in a private setting." He had proposed the meeting after a correspondence between Patterson and six Jewish leaders, including Horowitz and the top administrators of four Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish rabbinical schools.
A private meeting "would be most conducive" to discussing their concerns, Horowitz wrote, further stating, "I am confident that we can arrive at a mutually agreed upon and amicable resolution of our conflict."
Patterson's original proposal was for a daylong conference at a neutral site that would involve "eight Jewish leaders, the six of you and two others of your choice. Southern Baptists will also bring eight leaders to the table in an attempt of Jews and Baptists to enhance understanding and encourage absolute integrity of religious expression as we relate each to the other."
Patterson listed two conditions: "First, that our Jewish friends would have to understand that Baptists cannot abandon the proclamation of our faith, and second, that two of our eight representatives would be, in the interest of maximum understanding, 'Messianic Jews.'" In a November 22 letter, Patterson also suggested that a conservative Orthodox rabbi, Daniel Lapin of Seattle, moderate the discussion.
Patterson, in another exchange of letters, responded to Chicago Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. In an announcement carried by the Associated Press, The New York Times, and other national media last Friday, Eckstein said, "I have no choice but to suspend cooperation with the SBC until it clearly and unequivocally repudiates the targeted proselytizing of Jews."
Among factors Eckstein cited for his decision were an SBC-wide evangelistic focus on the city of Chicago for the year 2000; a Jewish prayer guide issued in September by the SBC's International Mission Board focusing on the Jewish High Holy Days; and a Jewish evangelism resolution adopted during the SBC's 1996 annual meeting.
Breaking relations with Southern Baptists, Patterson wrote to Eckstein, "does not change our loyalty and love for Jews. It does not change my personal love and appreciation for you, and it does not change the fact that if misunderstood and misrepresented to the whole world, we are going to continue to share the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ with every human being on the globe and that includes our Jewish friends."
Concerning Eckstein's contention that Southern Baptists are "targeting" Jews, Patterson wrote that such a notion is "manifestly absurd."
Patterson expounded: "A relatively small percent of the world's total population is Jewish. Southern Baptists today have nearly 5,000 career missionaries spread out across the earth, and we are concerned with getting the saving gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to all people. We do not discriminate ethnically, religiously, or otherwise. We share Christ with those with whom we have an opportunity to share Christ. Given the fact of the relatively small Jewish population in comparison to the population of the whole, my guess is it would probably be the case that out of every 5,000 times some Southern Baptist shares the gospel with somebody that one of those receiving the witness might be Jewish."
Eckstein, in his news release, said Jews "don't like being targeted ... and for good reason. Our history is rife with well-intentioned, supposedly 'loving' efforts at targeted proselytizing by Christians who later turned to savage persecution and even pogroms when it became apparent that we would not willingly abandon the faith of our fathers. We've often been loved to death by the presentation of the gospel to us. The SBC may choose to forget this past, but Jews will not. We cannot afford to. To ignore this history?worse, to expect Jews to ignore it?is just plain wrong. What's more, historically these attempts at conversion have never worked, and they won't work today."
Patterson, in his letter to Eckstein, made note of "the incredible antagonism that I sense on the part of the Jewish people toward other Jews who have embraced the Messiah."
But, Patterson noted, "Simply using Jewish symbols would mean that even our churches are deceptive since we, too, utilize many of the symbols of Judaism, not to mention the ultimate symbol, the Torah."
Patterson also wrote: "It makes no sense to me whatsoever that philosophy professors and others in the universities across this country can solicit Jewish people to atheism (apparently with some success), and when the Jewish people become atheists, they are still considered Jews.
"Yet when a person who is a Jew becomes a believer in the Messiah, he no longer has standing as a Jew . ...
"It also makes no sense to me that the Jewish community is more concerned about Jews who embrace the Messiah and still believe in the one true God of Israel than they are Jews who reject the most fundamental tenet of Judaism it seems to me?namely, the one true and living God," Patterson wrote.
Horowitz, in his December 3 letter, also reiterated his charge that "the 'Messianic' movement, with the SBC's imprimatur," is attempting "to blur the distinction between Christianity and Judaism." Horowitz also wrote that "the entire Jewish community views as offensive and deceptive the SBC's endorsement of the use in Christian worship and conversion of symbols and rituals sacred only to Judaism." Horowitz also cited several examples of the deception he is alleging.
Patterson responded, "I repeat that which I have before said to you that we intend to be involved only with those Christians (whether Jewish or otherwise) who are up front about who they are and what they are doing.
"I also wish to make clear to you once again that I am still a thoroughgoing proponent of religious liberty. I do not approve, for example, of what seems to me to be the deceptive method of Mormon missions, but I do still uphold their absolute religious liberty to believe whatever they want to believe and to press the discussion of it in the open market. I would do that same thing for any organization of Christian Jews."
Patterson reiterated his belief that "it is reprehensible whenever efforts are put forth of any kind to limit religious liberty."
Copyright © 1999 Baptist Press. Used with permission.
See our recent coverage of the tensions between Jews and the Southern Baptist Convention:
"Witnessing vs. Proselytizing | A rabbi's perspective on evangelism targeting Jews, and his alternative." (Dec. 3)
"CT Classic: Christmas and the Modern Jew | Christians often seem to lack both good missionary strategies toward Jews and sensitivity to their situation in life." (Dec. 3)
"CT Classic: Billy Graham: 'I have never felt called to single out the Jews' | The evangelist discusses targeted evangelism in one of his most quoted statements." (Dec. 3)
"CT Classic: Graham Feted By American Jewish Committee | In 1977, Graham walked a fine line between in his work 'to proclaim the Gospel to Jew and Gentile.' " (Dec. 3)
"Southern Baptist President Vows to Continue Chicago Evangelism Plans | Paige Patterson accuses Chicago religious leaders of creating 'the stuff from which hate crimes emerge.' " (Dec. 3)
"Southern Baptists Counter Warning that Evangelism Effort Will Breed Hate Crimes | Chicago evangelistic outreach 'not targeting groups,' leaders assure." (Nov. 30)
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