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Rise in antisemitism should prompt evangelism, Messianic Fellowship director says

An elder at First Arabic Baptist Church in Phoenix, Ariz., addresses those at the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship annual meeting in 2017.

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP) – Ric Worshill remembers the beatings he endured his eighth grade year. They always happened in the same place as he walked to Hebrew school.

He remembers the humiliation. He remembers the perpetrators as attendees of the “religious school” (he won’t give the name). He remembers being confused because, as he puts it, “They were supposed to be Christians.”

Worshill identifies as a Jew who recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. And as a North American Mission Board-endorsed chaplain and executive director of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, his views on “religious” people and Jews have drastically changed as well.

“I’m affiliated with Southern Baptists because I saw the love Southern Baptists have for Jewish people,” Worshill said. “Southern Baptists started a Messianic fellowship near my home in 2000, and all the pastors in the local associations just welcomed us in and adopted us. It was amazing.”

A worldwide rise in reports of antisemitism should concern Southern Baptists, he said. In its most recent annual report, the Anti-Defamation League recorded 2,717 antisemitic incidents, a 34 percent increase from 2020 and the most since the group began keeping track in 1979.

That’s an average of seven incidents of harassment, vandalism and/or assaults a day.

It’s not just a problem in the United States, but around the world. The issue is also a topic that has risen in pop culture. Recently, allegations of antisemitism came out against NBA star Kyrie Irving and rapper/producer/fashion designer Kanye West.

Irving was suspended from the Brooklyn Nets without pay in early November after tweeting the trailer of a movie accused of having antisemitic tropes. He was reinstated weeks later after issuing an apology, but the incident didn’t prevent him from losing his affiliation with Nike.

West’s praise of Adolf Hitler in an interview with Infowars’ Alex Jones followed a string of social media posts and statements viewed as antisemitic, costing him several business partnerships including those with Adidas and Gap.

“I find it strange that a man of color would find Hitler special in any way, because Hitler hated people of color as much as he hated Jewish people,” Worshill told Baptist Press.

The rise in antisemitism points back to a simple source, he said.

“Satan. He hates the Jewish people and wants to do everything he can to destroy them,” he said. “We as Christians need to understand that our faith comes from that faith. There are something like 327 references to Jesus that I’ve found in the Hebrew translation of the Old Testament.”

Worshill isn’t as familiar with celebrity instances of antisemitism as he is of more violent acts due to his 31 years as a police patrolman.

The Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburg in October 2018 killed 11. Another shooting in 2019 at a California synagogue claimed one life and injured three others. In January of this year a man took hostages at a Texas synagogue and later died in a shootout with police after the hostages escaped.

Other incidents of vandalism and attacks are more common. As recently as Dec. 5, the ADL reported a father and son wearing yarmulkes in Staten Island, NY being shot at with a BB gun.

“I go to synagogues and teach them about security,” said Worshill, who retired in 2015 and is a NAMB chaplain to law enforcement. “I’m a Jewish person who is a Christian, but they respect me and contact me.”

A desire to reflect Christ should be important to those wanting to push back on violence, he said. A Messianic Fellowship meeting at First Arabic Baptist Church in Phoenix, Ariz., included praise songs delivered in both Hebrew and Arabic, with some Spanish congregants mixed in.

The scene impacted a reporter who identified as atheist, Worshill told BP. Needing a car ride afterwards, she heard the Gospel from Michael Saffle, Messianic Fellowship vice president and pastor of Sabbath Peace Fellowship in Wasilla, Alaska, and his wife, Connie. The discussion led to the reporter’s praying to receive Christ.

“Southern Baptists should be against all forms of prejudice, bigotry and hatred,” said Worshill, adding that there are Jewish people all over the world being mistreated by people of other religions, including those professing Christ.

“We should be like Christ and love on them,” he said.

Worshill pointed out that evangelism doesn’t mean just sharing the Gospel with others such as Jews, but those who would persecute them.

“The Bible tells us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. I think we need to be doing that,” he said. “Jesus said He will return quickly. We need to be ready today for when He collects His believers.

“There needs to be an urgency in us to share the Gospel with every single person we meet.”