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Ha'aretz, September 13, 1999

Baptists call on followers to pray for Jews to convert

B'nai B'rith: 'Effrontery and arrogance'

By Nitzan Horowitz, Ha'aretz Correspondent

 

WASHINGTON - The Southern Baptist Church, the largest Protestant movement in the United States, has called on its followers to pray for the conversion of Jews to Christianity during the Jewish high holidays. This call has elicited angry responses from American Jewish groups.

B'nai B'rith issued a statement saying that the call for the conversion of Jews "is not merely insensitive, but hostile." Richard Heideman, the organization's president, said that "the arrogance in such a call is plain to any Jewish person ... It contradicts the legitimacy of Judaism and its continuity."

In a letter to Dr. Jerry Rankin, director of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptists, Heideman wrote that "you have the right to your religious beliefs - but with that comes the obligation to respect the right of others to their religious beliefs. That includes Jews and Muslims, whom you also reportedly have targeted, and Hindus and Buddhists, with whom you plan to 'intercede.' But 'intercession' with believers in other faiths is really interference."

Heideman also noted in his letter that "in recent decades the Roman Catholic Church has acknowledged Judaism as a living religion of continuing scriptural authenticity. We urge the Southern Baptist Convention to do likewise."

B'nai B'rith mounted a protest two years ago against the Southern Baptists' renewed emphasis on proselytizing Jews, including its support for the Jews for Jesus missionary campaign. Heideman is confident that the latest effort by the Southern Baptists to "complete" Jews by leading them to Jesus will fail, as have previous ones.

He explained in his letter to Rankin that "Jews believe the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, is complete in and of itself. Those who believe in the Torah, in God's words to the people of Israel, are Jews. Complete Jews. As Jews, we await the coming of the messiah, a human messenger of God, not the second coming of a messiah with divine attributes."

His letter goes on to argue that those who believe that the Hebrew Bible needs to be completed by the New Testament are not "completed Jews" but are simply Christians.

"Jews are not some lesser category of Christians in need of 'completion' or conversion any more than the followers of Jesus are incomplete Muslims, in need of the 'final revelation' of the Koran."

Heideman concluded his letter by saying that "while you misguidely pray for our conversion, we will be praying on Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, for forgiveness and for the opportunity to better follow God's word, the Torah, next year. As we do so, we will not have the effrontery to beseech God to convert the believers of other religions."

The Southern Baptist movement has considerable political influence in the United States. President Bill Clinton is a Southern Baptist.

 

(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved


Source: http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?id=55852&mador=1


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