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Jay Sekulow recounts pilgrimage from Brooklyn to Supreme Court

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Twenty-five years ago, a Jewish kid from Brooklyn, N.Y., never dreamed he would one day stand before the Southern Baptist Convention to share his story. Even more incredible is the image of standing before the Supreme Court on not one, but nine separate times defending the right of Christians to proclaim the gospel.

Jay Sekulow, now chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, told messengers June 14 at the SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., he believes it is because of God’s grace and sovereignty that he came to faith in Christ.

On the campus of Mercer University in Atlanta in the 1970s, Sekulow said he was a young 17-year-old student who set out to prove his Old Testament teacher wrong. Instead, he was challenged by kids wearing big huge wooden crosses. He ultimately listened to a presentation by Jews for Jesus, a ministry whose purpose is to reach Jews while remaining sensitive to their culture.

“In my head, I took a course to prove, in nice way, that my gentile friends were wrong,” Sekulow recounted. “There was no way Jesus could be the promised of Israel. No way.”

It didn’t take long for Sekulow to change his mind and walk the aisle of a Georgia church.

Twelve years later he stood in front of Supreme Court justices arguing for Jews for Jesus who had been denied the right to distribute literature at an airport.

Sekulow won. And even his Jewish family sat in the court proudly. But wearing a cross was still not palatable to his mother, said Sekulow, noting that she wore a very big pin of the Statue of Liberty instead, reflecting her heritage as the daughter of a Jewish fruit peddler from New York.

“I never thought or dreamed I would be used by God” in the nation’s highest court, Sekulow said. “The gospel is the ultimate message of hope, and we should never for a moment be ashamed to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ.”

Sekulow paused to thank Paige Patterson, who just finished his term as SBC president, for defending the rights of Southern Baptists to communicate the gospel with others.

“Dr. Patterson, you took a bold stand,” Sekulow said. “Thank you on behalf of the Jewish Christians in this country. It would be the worst form of ant-Semitism if you didn’t.”

A lot has changed in 15 years when it comes to what people can say about the gospel, said Sekulow, who believes much of what is now argued in court previously would not have been considered. He said Americans are in situations similar to those of Russians in Moscow who go to the Center for Law and Justice there.

Students who want to pray during a football game, Boy Scout troops selecting their leaders and individuals jailed for leaving literature at a health-care clinic, all share a common problem in enjoying what was previously understood to be protected under the U.S. Constitution.

Noting that 200 of his relatives died in the Nazi Holocaust, Sekulow lamented that yet America permits partial-birth abortion, or infanticide.

Sekulow challenged Southern Baptists to remember they “stand on a threshold of hope,” despite the world’s problems. The message of hope will go out over airwaves and on the Internet.

Recounting a story about traveling with his mother to New York to seek medical treatment for ovarian cancer a few years ago, Sekulow said he was supposed to debate a Jewish rabbi on church-state issues but instead answered questions about being a Christian. That same morning, The New York Times published a story about Sekulow. On the front cover was picture of him and his bulldog. He said nearly everyone who attended the debate spent the whole time asking him questions about his life in Christ, to the chagrin of the rabbi.

Later that night, Sekulow spoke to his mother at the hotel. She told him she believed, after all those years, that he was “absolutely correct” and that Jesus is the Son of God.

“There were people around the world praying for my mother,” Sekulow said. “It ended in the ultimate victory; the salvation of another soul.”

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  • Joni B. Hannigan