SBC Life Articles

Outrage and Gratitude

Controversy over a Southern Baptist prayer guide opened a national – and even international – forum for Baptist leaders to declare that Jesus is the promised Messiah and the only way to be reconciled to God.

News articles, editorial columns, radio talk shows, and network television newscasts from Los Angeles to New York – and even to London and Jerusalem – registered the outrage of Jewish activists over the "Days of Awe" prayer guide, which was designed to help Southern Baptists intercede for Jews during their high holy days Sept. 11-20.

Those same articles and broadcasts allowed Southern Baptist spokesmen to tell the truth about who Jesus is and explain why Christian concern compels evangelicals to tell everyone that Jesus offers the only way to have peace with God.

The most significant opportunity came the morning of Sept. 10, when the CBS television network broadcast an interview with Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Don Kammerdiener, executive vice president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

A CBS producer estimated the total national audience for that broadcast at about 1 million.

Foxman echoed other Jewish activists in criticizing Southern Baptists and claiming to be offended by the prayer guide.

"It's offensive. It's arrogant. It assumes that the Baptists and the Christians possess the absolute truth," Foxman told CBS This Morning interviewer Thalia Assuras. "It's this attitude that Jews on their own, without Christianity, have no future that led to inquisitions and expulsions and is the basis of Western anti-Semitism.

"To say you are against anti-Semitism and at the same time work toward the non-existence of the Jewish people is very, very ironic."

Kammerdiener countered that Baptists in America, far from being persecutors of the Jews, have been the staunchest advocates of the religious freedom that has benefited Jewish Americans.

"Baptists would find it ironic to be accused of anti-Semitism or persecution across the centuries," he said. "We've been the greatest defenders of religious liberty.

"The fact is, we do not claim Southern Baptists have a monopoly on truth. We claim that Jesus Christ is the truth, and we worship Him. … Our goal is to offer to Jewish people the opportunity to understand that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah."

Secular media repeatedly characterized the prayer emphasis as a public campaign targeting Jews for conversion to Christianity. A Sept. 9 article in the Washington Post called it "an aggressive campaign aimed at converting Jews to Christianity." The following day, a reporter for The Guardian in London called it "an instruction manual on how to convert Jews to Christianity."

A Jewish columnist for the Boston Globe, however, seemed to understand the heart behind the prayer emphasis.

"If any Baptists are praying for me this week, I should like to express my heartfelt thanks," wrote Jeff Jacoby in the paper's Sept. 13 city edition. "… As a Jew I cannot share the Baptists' belief in Jesus. But I can certainly acknowledge that by their lights they are offering to the Jewish people something incalculably precious: eternal salvation.

"There is not a harsh or bigoted word anywhere in the booklet," he wrote. "It contains reflections on Jewish customs during the Days of Awe and suggests specific points on which Baptists can focus while praying. … And it calls attention to the condition of Jews around the world."

Jacoby also took Jewish activists to task for accusing Southern Baptists of anti-Semitism.

"To listen to some prominent Jews, … you'd think the Baptists were calling for a pogrom," he wrote. "… Rubbish. Worse than rubbish. The 250 years that Jews have lived amid American Christians have been an era of peace and prosperity virtually without parallel in Jewish history. To link the Southern Baptists to European anti-Semitism – never mind to Hitler – is utterly indecent."

Messianic Jews – those who have accepted Jesus as the long-promised Messiah – turn to Christ because they know very little about their own faith, Jacoby contended.

"That is scandalous. No, not the conversion, but the ignorance that made the conversion possible." He quoted a Jewish columnist on the Internet: "Would that Jewish leaders worried as much about the souls of confused young Jews as … the evangelicals do."

Jews urgently need to recognize that the greatest threat to Judaism is not that some Jews might be converted to Christianity, but that large numbers of them already have been converted to secularism, said R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

"The real enemy of Judaism is not Christianity, but the corrosive secularism that has so poisoned American culture," Mohler noted. "… Jewish protests against this prayer guide ring hollow when a majority of American Jews no longer express belief in a personal God."

Mohler added: "Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz has warned that Judaism could effectively disappear in the next century – not because of conversion to Christianity, but due to Jewish assimilation into the secular culture."

In fact, one evangelical researcher, David Bogosian of the U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, Calif., estimates that perhaps 75 percent of the world's 15 million Jews no longer practice Rabbinic Judaism, and most are secularists or atheists.

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League reflected that concern, perhaps inadvertently, during the CBS interview.

"We don't need your campaign, your effort, your prayers at a time of lack of spirituality today," he said. "… Leave us alone. Let us decide and determine how and what we want to believe in."

One Jew responded to the Southern Baptist prayer initiative with a good-natured challenge to a Baptist leader being interviewed on a Houston radio program.

David Benzion, producer of the Mike Richards Show, a radio call-in program on KPRC in Houston, challenged Louis Moore, IMB associate vice president for communications, to ask Christian believers to pray for him, "not because I want to have a faith in Jesus Christ" but that if Jesus is truly God's Son "that I come to a desire to have that relationship."

Benzion, who is a practicing Jew, said he understood God does not always work on human timetables but that he would like Christians to pray for him and "see what happens."

The IMB's Kammerdiener hopes Jews will understand the heartfelt good will that motivates the prayer emphasis.

"When all the smoke of the controversy has cleared, Baptists do not desire to win debating points or to demolish an enemy," he said. "Jews are not our enemies, and we are not at war with them. Rather we long for them to know the One Who is the promised Messiah and Who offers eternal life to all."

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  • Mark Kelly