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:: November 17, 2002 ::
Southern California targeted by "Jews for Jesus"

Southern California residents can look forward to more than Santa this December. The so-called "Jews for Jesus" will be rolling out yet another round of their brand of proselytizing aimed at Jews called "Operation Behold your God," reports the Christian Times.

This will be a "multi-pronged effort." The California blitz is "part of a four-year campaign…launched in October 2000" to target Jews "in every city worldwide with a Jewish population of 25,000 or more." "Jews for Jesus" have put 66 such cities on a list, with 33 in the U.S. This effort may include unsolicited and targeted mailings, phone calls and "street evangelism."

"Jews for Jesus" is the brainchild of former Jew Martin Rosen, an ordained Baptist pastor who once worked for the American Board of Missions to the Jews. Rosen apparently wanted to run his own shop, so in the 70s he started up a new ministry and came up with a name that got him attention.

Pastor Martin is now retired and presumably living on a pension provided by "Jews for Jesus." But the ministry he founded now has multi-million dollar annual budgets. "Jews for Jesus" is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a Christian organization that includes many para-church groups.

However, though Rosen proved to be a highly innovative and successful fund-raiser "Jews for Jesus" never really has been that successful at persuading Jews to accept its blended brand of fundamentalist Christianity.

When Jews leave Judaism they are more likely to embrace Buddhism, or in a mixed marriage with a non-Jewish spouse enter the Unitarian Church or some more liberal "mainline" church.

Ironically, the conversion rate to Judaism by Christians seems to exceed anything "Jews for Jesus" have ever specifically accomplished. And that has been achieved without spending millions of dollars annually on glitzy campaigns.

What Rosen did accomplish was to effectively create a kind of organizational kingdom. And he identified an inventive way to subsidize the salaries within that enterprise by raising millions of dollars annually from evangelical Christians.

The problem posed by organizations like Rosen's isn't really their missionary work. "Jews for Jesus" certainly have the right to preach to their heart's content. The United States is a free country that constitutionally and culturally insures such free speech and religious pluralism.

Neither is the issue that "Jews for Jesus" is somehow a "cult," though some former members have said they can be authoritarian and abusive.

The troubling issue about "Jews for Jesus" is their insistence that they are "Jews" without qualification and that they can somehow be both Jews and fundamentalist Christians simultaneously.

However, this is really rather self-referentially incoherent. Can a Baptist accept Buddhism and then become a "Baptist for Buddha," or can a Mormon embrace Islam and be a "Mormon for Mohammed"?

No one would take such claims seriously.

But many people seem to assume that Jews are a race or a nationality and not simply a religious group bound by a common faith. And "Jews for Jesus" does nothing to dissuade such misconceptions. In fact, they openly encourage what can be seen as a kind of cryptic anti-Semitism that relies upon such stereotyping and misinformation.

Historically, they have nothing to base such claims upon and rely on a kind of selective biblical exegesis and historical view instead.

Obviously, those who chose to follow Jesus amongst First Century Jewry went their own way and founded a new world religion now known as Christianity. Each faith has its own distinct beliefs, creeds and doctrines and perhaps more importantly the right to determine the parameters of its identity.

Jews that leave Judaism by accepting another religious belief system have always been historically referred to as "apostate Jews." Apostasy is likewise recognized as a term to describe Christians who convert to another faith.

Jews, like Christians, come from many races and national origins. What ultimately makes a Jew is faith, not background. And whatever ambiguity there may be about Jewish heredity is a question that can only be resolved within the organized Jewish community itself.

There is no ambiguity about what Jews are not. Jews are not apostates who have rejected Judaism. All branches of Judaism not only recognize this, but also by the State of Israel through its courts regarding the "right of return" has established this through law. Apostate Jews cannot return to the Jewish homeland exercising their right to return as "Jews."

It seems "Jews for Jesus" wish to disregard these facts and history itself. They appear to believe that they have the right to redefine Jewish identity.

Perhaps "Jews for Jesus" wish to form a kind of ghetto niche for themselves within Christianity. But this does not appear to be a popular idea amongst most evangelicals. Billy Graham has specifically rejected the concept of missionaries targeting a specific religious group.

Jewish-Christian relations have improved substantially in recent years. Roman Catholics in particular have recognized the ethnocentric beliefs and theology of triumphalism that led to tragedies like the Crusades and Inquisitions.

Catholics have made amends and improved interreligious dialog with Jews. Likewise, many Protestant churches within the National and World Council of Churches have largely rejected organized efforts to convert Jews.

Perhaps it is theologically impossible for fundamentalist and evangelical Christians to mirror their more moderate and ecumenical brethren. But Billy Graham's opposition to missionary targeting seems like a meaningful first step at better relations between "born-again" Christians and Jews.

More importantly, recognizing implicit and exclusive right of the organized Jewish community to determine the parameters of its own identity would seem to be the next step in improving relations between the two religious camps.

Christmas is a holiday often associated with good will and kindness.

Hanukkah, which also falls in December, is about something important too. The willingness of Jews to die for the integrity and preservation of Judaism.

Why can't both faiths "behold…God" by internalizing the precepts that have made them both great during the coming holiday season?

[Posted by Rick Ross at 10:08 AM][Link]
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