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SBC’s Patterson invites dialogue with 6 Jewish leaders charging ‘deception’


WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Eight Jewish leaders have been invited by Southern Baptist Convention President Paige Patterson to meet with eight Southern Baptist leaders in response to a letter Patterson received from six Jewish leaders charging the SBC with “deception” in evangelistic outreach to Jews.
In a Nov. 9 response to the letter, Patterson said Southern Baptists have been open about efforts to share the gospel with Jews and anyone else needing the gospel, and thus deception “is not even a possibility.”
In a Nov. 10 follow-up letter to the six Jewish leaders, Patterson said he had given “more extensive reflection” to their Nov. 8 letter and was proposing “a conference.”
The conference, Patterson wrote, would involve “eight Jewish leaders, the six of you and two others of your choice. Southern Baptists will also bring eight leaders to the table in an attempt of Jews and Baptists to enhance understanding and encourage absolute integrity of religious expression as we relate each to the other.”
“A neutral place of meeting will be arranged by Gedale Horowitz [one of the Jewish leaders signing the letter to Patterson] and me. The meeting would begin at 9:00 a.m. and conclude at 5:00 p.m. with a friendship luncheon at noon. A general agenda would also be agreed upon by the two of us.”
Horowitz is president of the Jewish Community Relations Council, whose 60-plus member organizations include B’nai B’rith, the American Jewish Committee and the American Jewish Congress.
Patterson added in his Nov. 10 letter, “The two provisos would be first that our Jewish friends would have to understand that Baptists cannot abandon the proclamation of our faith, and second, that two of our eight representatives would be, in the interest of maximum understanding, ‘Messianic Jews.’ I will hopefully and prayerfully await your reply.”
Messianic Jews were a particular point of contention in the Jewish leaders’ letter.
The New York Times reported on the letter the same day it was dated, Nov. 8, noting that its signers reflected “an unusual display of unity between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish leaders.”
In addition to Horowitz, its signers were Rabbi Norman Lamm, president of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University, an Orthodox institution; Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, a Conservative institution; Rabbi David Teutsch, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College; and Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which trains men and women for the Reform rabbinate. The letter’s sixth signer was Michael S. Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
A Jewish prayer guide issued by the SBC’s International Mission Board focusing on the Jewish High Holy Days — Rosh Hashanah on Sept. 11 and Yom Kippur on Sept. 20 — sparked a new round of anti-evangelism fervor from Jewish leaders.
The Jewish leaders’ Nov. 8 letter stated in part, “Our quarrel with the Southern Baptist Convention is not over its right to proselytize. Rather, the Jewish community is deeply offended that the S.B.C. has formally embraced a strategy that attempts to deceive Jews into believing that one can be both a Jew and a Christian.”
A key specific cited by the Jewish leaders: “The SBC supports ‘Messianic’ conversion methods, indeed, the Convention’s actions and words all point to a wholehearted endorsement of these deceptive tactics.”
The Jewish letters noted, “All the movements within Judaism have jointly averred that conversion to Christianity removes one from participation in Jewish communal life and that the Christian belief in, and worship of, Jesus is incompatible with any authentic form of Jewish practice. …
“Jewish converts to Christianity may pray in so-called synagogues, they may go through the motions of observing Jewish holidays, they may even use Hebrew words and Jewish rituals, but their religion is Christianity, not Judaism. To claim otherwise is wrong.” Further, the Jewish leaders wrote, it is “not merely offensive, it is deceptive.”
The Jewish leaders, however, also wrote early in the letter: “We acknowledge and appreciate the Southern Baptist Convention’s stand on religious freedom which is on par with the Jewish communal position. We support and defend the right of all Christians to proclaim the tenets of their faith.” The leaders also acknowledged that the “deceptive forms of proselytizing endorsed by the SBC are constitutionally protected behavior.”
Patterson, in his Nov. 9 letter, responded, “… show me any case of ‘deception’ and Southern Baptists will quickly distance themselves from that deception and even call it evil.”
“I must also say that the instances of ‘deception’ that you have cited are not impressive to me,” Patterson continued, “and your logic seems to my mind flawed.
“First, there is the problem of the word ‘Jew’ itself. If the accepted definition of ‘Jew’ is someone who practices contemporary Judaism in one of its modern forms, then I would have to agree that anyone else should not call himself a Jew.
“But the conundrum is hardly so simple now, is it?
“For example, what of the ‘Jew’ who is an atheist?” Patterson asked “Is he still a Jew while rejecting Deut. 6:4, which seems to me to be foundational to the religion of Judaism?
“Or what of the ultra-orthodox in Israel, at least some of whom would consider Conservative and Reformed Judaism, not ‘Jewish’?
“Who makes the rules? Do you, or do they?” Patterson asked.
There is no deception, Patterson said, whenever an ethnic Jew “accepts Jesus as Messiah and claims, therefore, to be a Christian, hiding this fact from no one” and if he finds “additional significance in ‘Jewish’ practices and symbols that are meaningful to his faith … . Deception is not even a possibility where the confession is clear.”
Patterson then wrote, “Gentlemen, I have the highest regard for you, but if you want progress and dialogue, why send correspondence like this to the media even before the ‘supposed recipient’ of the letter receives it? Is it ‘deception’ to seek the public relations superiority of a ‘first strike’ in the name of attempted dialogue and understanding?
“Further, you should know that the accumulation of ever how many signatories on a letter will not deter Southern Baptists from:
“1. Defending absolute religious liberty for all including ‘Messianic Jews.’
“2. Sharing the wonderful story of Jehovah God’s vast love for Jews and Gentiles alike which moved Him to send His eternal Son, the long-awaited Messiah, to become incarnate as Jesus the Christ who in turn died for our sins on the cross making possible for anyone, Jew or Gentile, who repents of sin and places faith in Jesus to be forgiven of his sins and brought into an eternal right relationship with God.
“3. Seeking in every way possible to live our lives as though in a fishbowl of the world’s purview, void of deceit and committed to the pursuit of holiness.
“As kindly as I know how to say this, let me say again that your attempts to repress the religious liberties of ‘Messianic Jews’ are hardly becoming for a people who due to centuries of victimization at the hand of suppressive religious authorities should always be at the head of the line as champions of unfettered freedom of religion,” Patterson wrote. “For example, your statement about Messianic Judaism being ‘constitutionally protected behavior’ makes me wonder what you would do if it were not thus protected? Would you act repressively?
“Surely Gamaliel the Rabbi was correct when he said of the early Christian faith, ‘And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it — lest you even be found to fight against God’ (Acts 5:38-39).
“Gentlemen, being ‘offended’ and attempting to score public relations victories in the media will get you nowhere with us,” Patterson wrote. “If Judaism, as you conceive it, is correct, and Jesus is not the Messiah, present the merits of your case in the marketplace and to Jewish people. Unless God is no longer Sovereign or else has no concern any longer for the cause of truth, then you need not fear the future — unless you are wrong. The vehemence of your polemical reaction in the place of a rational, cogent apologetic for your own faith raises a serious question about the confidence of your own hearts.
“Finally, friends, more than I can tell you we desire to be friends and colleagues in open, honest dialogue, but we cannot do that at the cost of failing to do what our Jewish Savior has commanded us to do,” Patterson wrote. “Our first loyalty is to Him who saved us … .”
In his Nov. 10 follow-up letter inviting the Jewish leaders to conference with Southern Baptist leaders, Patterson wrote, “I doubt that any substantial progress is achieved by such literary exchanges, especially when the general purpose seems to be the exploitation of the media.
“Furthermore, we as Southern Baptists really do not wish to be deceptive nor would we, if we could have our preference, even wish to be perceived as being deceptive,” Patterson wrote. “Furthermore, we recognize the unique milieu of Judaism together with the often tragic history and frequent misrepresentation sustained. Accordingly, we do not consider ourselves to comprehend all the nuances of the Jewish ethos and are confident that both groups could profit from great understanding.”