Background music: Hava Nagillah

Jewish leaders bristle at evangelism

…New York radio talk show Joan Rivers vented an angry on-air tirade when an evangelistic ad ran during her show recently. The ad featured two men with heavy Yiddish accents arguing over whether Jesus is the Messiah, while the Jewish song Hava Nagillah played in the background.

..."Do not proselytize on my show, you [expletive]," Rivers, who is Jewish, said after coming back from a commercial break during which the ad was played, the New York Post said. "How dare you advertise on my show. And every time you advertise on my show, I will come out and say I find this disgusting. I find this offensive and I find this ridiculous."

..."We're sorry that Joan Rivers doesn't have as much of a sense of humor as we thought she did," Susan Perlman, a spokeswoman for Jews for Jesus (see link #1 below), the ministry that sponsored the ad, said.

...Relations between some Jews and evangelical Christians have turned icy as evangelistic efforts have become more aggressive. Jewish leaders have denounced as arrogant the idea that Jews need salvation, but evangelicals say they consider the effort to reach Jews as basic to the biblical mandate to preach the Gospel.

...The relationship between Jewish organizations and the 15.9 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, took a turn downward in 1996 when the SBC issued a resolution urging Baptists to "direct our energies and resources" to evangelize Jews.

...Another occurrence this fall irked Jewish leaders. A directive issued by the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board urged Baptists to pray for the conversion of their Jewish friends and neighbors to Christianity during the Jewish High Holy Days, the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. A prayer guide, one of a series related to non-Christian religions and their observances, warned that Baptists should reject "any attitudes of spiritual pride or arrogance with respect to the Jewish people."

...The Southern Baptist call for prayer was "an arrogant way of denigrating the Jewish religion and the sacredness of our High Holy Days," Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a letter to Paige Patterson, president of the SBC.

...Foxman said the Baptist initiative invited "theological hatred" like that which prepared the way for the Nazi Holocaust. Patterson responded that he "had no alternative" but to "follow the advice of the Jew who died for me on the cross," saying that Baptists have a right to profess their beliefs as long as no one is coerced. Patterson's reply further incensed Foxman, who replied that the "theological arrogance" shown by the Baptists had been followed by an "arrogant response" from Patterson.

...Patterson spoke at, and co-sponsored, a conference on Jewish evangelism last month at Calvary Baptist Church in New York City. The independent Baptist congregation is pastored by David Epstein, an ordained Southern Baptist minister whose grandfather was Jewish. Patterson delivered the keynote address, saying the church age will end when Christians are taken out of the world by Christ, and a period of tribulation begins. During that time, the Book of Revelation teaches that 144,000 Jews will preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, Patterson said.

..."I know that our Jewish friends do not appreciate the effort at evangelization any more than I appreciate the two Mormon missionaries who knock on the Baptist door," Patterson said at the meeting, Baptist Press said. "But if we have freedom of religion then it presupposes a free marketplace of ideas."

...Speakers criticized the so-called "two covenant" theology practiced by some groups that say Christians do not need to seek the conversion of Jews.

...The conference, "To The Jew First in the New Millennium," also was sponsored by Chosen People Ministries (see link #2 below) of Charlotte, N.C. It is part of the "Hebrew Christian" movement that teaches that Jesus is the Messiah and tries to convert Jews and other non-Christians.

...Jews for Jesus also was active during the Jewish high holy days. Evangelistic ads sponsored by the 27-year-old San Francisco-based group appeared in Time, U.S. News & World Report, Parade, and major newspapers, as well as commercials on radio stations in Los Angeles and New York.

..."OK, you're in downtown Philadelphia when suddenly, BAM! It's Judgment Day," an ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer said. "Let's face it, this would be a really bad time to finally realize Jesus is the Messiah." The ad depicts dozens of people floating heavenward toward Independence Hall as they hold babies, skateboard, or talk on the phone.

...The Holy Days are times of "high religious awareness" among Jews, David Brickner, 40, executive director of Jews for Jesus, told the Inquirer. Jews for Jesus tried harder than ever this year to get its message across, running two to three times as many ads as in previous years, because recent signs such as earthquakes floods signal the imminence of the second coming of Christ, Brickner said.

...The "intense language" of Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League is "uncharacteristic of the rest of the Jewish community," Brickner told Religion Today.

...There is "a greater openness [to the Gospel among Jews] than at any time in recent history," Brickner said. He encouraged Christians not be put off by harsh comments from Jewish religious leaders, but to realize that Jewish people tend to be more direct in their communications. When accused of intolerance, Christians can "put it back in their laps," helping Jews realize it is intolerant of them to deny Christians the right to practice their religion.






(Religion Today, October 5, 1999.)

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