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Messianics voice concerns, finalize restructure

DALLAS (BP) — The Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship has expressed concern that a group some SBMF members claim opposes Jewish evangelism was among exhibitors at this year’s June 12-13 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas.

During its June 10 annual meeting, the SBMF — which comprises largely Messianic Jews (Jews who follow Jesus as Messiah) — also finalized an organizational restructuring plan, heard ministry reports and discussed apparent spiritual warfare surrounding efforts to win Jewish people to faith in Christ.

Nearly 30 Messianic believers and friends attended the meeting, held at a TGI Fridays restaurant in Dallas.

A resolution adopted by the SBMF without opposition stated, “We express our concern that any group which repudiates evangelism to the Jewish people has a booth at the SBC.”

At issue was the group Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which had a booth in the SBC exhibit hall and focuses, according to a brochure given to SBC messengers at registration, on “making Israel strong and her people safer by educating and activating Christians to stand with Israel in churches, classrooms and communities across the United States.”

The original resolution proposed by SBMF member Amy Downey of Texas expressed concern specifically about CUFI, and discussion of the proposal centered on CUFI. Downey’s motion was amended, however, to express concern more broadly about any group that rejects Jewish evangelism.

SBMF critics of CUFI noted that televangelist John Hagee — who revived the organization in 2006 and serves as its national chairman — has been accused of teaching that Jews need not embrace the Gospel to be saved.

Hagee has denied that charge repeatedly, but his critics within and outside the SBMF cite statements by Hagee they interpret as undermining Jewish evangelism — including passages in his 2007 book “In Defense of Israel” and a 1988 comment to the Houston Chronicle that “everyone else, whether Buddhist or Baha’i, needs to believe in Jesus, but not Jews.”

In 2008, Hagee told a group of Christian leaders Jesus is the only way of salvation for Jews and Gentiles and that believers have a responsibility to share the Gospel with both groups, Michael Brown, a Christian author and radio host who was present at the 2008 gathering, told Baptist Press via email.

CUFI told BP in a statement, “CUFI is a single issue organization dedicated to educating Christians about Israel, strengthening the US-Israel relationship and stamping out anti-Semitism in all its forms; it does not engage in evangelism.”

The SBC’s convention manager Bill Townes told BP via email, “We gladly receive concerns any member of our Southern Baptist family may raise about vendors who have gone through our application process to exhibit at the SBC annual meeting in compliance with our exhibitor policy detailed at www.sbcannualmeeting.net. If, in fact, a question is raised that a vendor does not meet the criteria we have established, a call to our office will alert us to examine the vendor request more deeply. This is something we will do in response to the concern raised by the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship.”

SBMF President Bruce Stokes told BP “the SBC is primarily about two agenda items: evangelism and missions. CUFI is at the least about neither of these.” Additionally, “there are members of the SBMF and other messianic organizations that have real concerns and I think that warrants a closer look before allowing them to have a booth at the convention.”

In other business, the SBMF took the second of two required votes to establish the office of executive director and shift former president Ric Worshill to the newly established role. The executive director will serve as a liaison to the SBC and work to maintain and strengthen relationships within the fellowship.

Stokes, an anthropology and behavioral sciences professor at California Baptist University, was elected president after Worshill was installed as executive director. The new slate of officers also included Mike Saffle of Alaska as vice president.

Among ministry reports delivered to the fellowship were updates on efforts to reach Jews for Christ in Japan, Alaska, Canada, Dallas and New York. The SBMF also received word some of its members are becoming more active in the SBC and state Baptist conventions and promoting messianic ministry in the process.

Worshill told the group about various instances of apparent spiritual warfare surrounding messianic ministry. Examples included attacks against the SBMF website and his SBMF email account by Jewish groups that oppose efforts to share the Gospel with Jews. Anti-missionary Jewish groups, Worshill said, “are terrified of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship.”

The attack against Worshill’s email is under investigation by the federal government, he said.

“The more effective we have gotten in the ministry of Gospel to the Jewish people,” Worshill told BP, “the more the spiritual warfare has happened.”

Following the SBMF annual meeting, fellowship members helped staff the Many Faces of the SBC booth in the SBC exhibit hall, highlighting the various ethnic fellowships within the convention.