About this time every year the so-called “Jews for Jesus” (JFJ), an evangelical Christian missionary organization that targets Jews for conversion, sends out its traveling road show called “Christ in the Passover,” as reported by the Kentucky News Enterprise.
Such programs are typically staged within evangelical and fundamentalist churches and they seek to superimpose Christian beliefs over the historic understanding of the Jewish Passover observance.
According to the Kentucky newspaper this year’s JFJ program will be presented within “5,000 churches.”
Christian missionaries posing as “Jews” generally have received a “bad reception” from the Jewish community as reported by the Washington D.C. Jewish Times.
The fact that Passover has an established meaning that predates both Jesus and Christianity doesn’t seem to bother JFJ and/or its supporters.
The missionary group’s version of “Passover” is at best misleading, but it also can be seen as an expression of ethnocentric religious arrogance, which largely disregards both the history and the intrinsic significance of the Jewish holiday.
As anyone acquainted with the Book of Exodus or the movie classic the “Ten Commandments” knows Passover is not about Jesus or Christianity, it is a holiday specifically observed to commemorate the deliverance of Jews from bondage in ancient Egypt as recorded within what Christians call the “Old Testament.”
But the purpose of Passover to JFJ appears to be more of a fund raising gimmick. And the organization, which has had its share of money problems, seems anxious to continue its annual program that apparently has become something like a sacred cash cow.
At the end of its “Passover” shows comes JFJ’s pitch, or as it is most often described the call for an “offering.”
This also affords an opportunity for the controversial group to collect names and thus expand its mailing list.
JFJ is the creation of Pastor Martin Rosen, an ordained Baptist minister who retired some time ago from his long-running position as head of the missionary organization.
However, a while back the peripatetic pastor hit the road once again in an effort to rally the faithful to his somewhat fading ministry, which was first launched in the 1970s.
Martin likes to be called “Moishe,” which makes him seem Jewish.
Jewish surnames also suffuse the list of front line JFJ staff, again giving the group a seeming patina of supposed “Jewishness.”
However, JFJ’s funding comes essentially from Christian fundamentalists.
Isn’t it just a bit presumptuous for a missionary organization founded by a Baptist minister to define the meaning of a Jewish holiday and its symbols?
JFF and its supporters don’t seem to think so.
Financial support of such groups from evangelicals along with their overwhelming enthusiasm for last year’s Mel Gibson film “Passion of the Christ” despite its disturbing anti-Semitic content, continues to raise eyebrows within the Jewish community regarding the actual sentiments of so-called “born-again” Christians.
Positive ecumenical dialog has existed for some time between more moderate or “Mainline” Protestants and Jewish denominations. And there have been historic breakthroughs in recent years between Jews and the Roman Catholic Church.
But what meaningful interreligious dialog actually exists between evangelical Christians and the organized Jewish community?
These are the same Christians who frequently say they “love” both Jews and Israel.
But if evangelicals truly “love” Jews why would they continue to support insulting and confrontational groups such as JFJ year after year, while essentially ignoring the bad reception they receive from the Jewish community?
Doesn’t such continued support demonstrate a disregard and/or insensitivity to the concerns of Jews?
In fairness it should be noted that some evangelical leaders have spoken out critically against groups like JFJ, such as Billy Graham.
Jesus once offered the analogy that you would know a tree by its fruit.
It appears that there may be quite a few rotten apples hanging from fundamentalist Christian trees.
One rabbi displayed this troubling truth in a recent article titled “An Exchange With a Missionary” published by Israel’s Arutz Sheva.
In this rather poignant piece the rabbi reviews the ethnocentric aspects of fundamentalist Christian dogma through an imagined conversation with a JFJ operative.
He ultimately concludes, “Hell doesn’t sound so bad after all, if I’ll be with…Jewish martyrs. And I’m not so sure I’d want to be in Heaven with guys who think like you!”
Note: Rick Ross is a former member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) National Committee on Interreligious Affairs.