A controversial fundamentalist Christian missionary organization called “Jews for Jesus“ (JFJ) apparently has compiled a list of likely ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish homes in New York and New Jersey and targeted them for unwanted mailings and possible future home visits.

Hasidic Jews have been targetedA Yiddish language DVD titled “Days of Moshiach” was received at about 80,000 homes on Saturday in primarily Hassidic and Hareidi neighborhoods. And it seems that the labeling and presentation was done deliberately to mislead its recipients.

Based upon the packaging a first impression might easily be that Jews rather than evangelical Christians sent the DVD.

The mailing targeted Jewish households in Kiryas Joel; the Monsey area of Rockland County; the Borough Park and Williamsburg sections of Brooklyn; and Lakewood, N.J. reports Arutz Sheva.

Reportedly missionaries are expected to follow-up the DVD delivered by making personal visits, dressed up to look like members of the ultra-Orthodox communities.

A spokesman for JFJ admitted that his organization was behind the campaign, but claimed its purpose was to address “distortions” and “misinformation” about ”Jesus.”

However, the New York regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said that JFJ is “deceptive because they are not Jewish and they are trying to create the impression that they are” reported the Times Herald-Record.  

JFJ seems to use such confrontation to garner attention and generate press, which the organization probably hopes will lead to more contributions from its evangelical supporters. JFJ is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (EFCA).

JFJ DVDIn Israel one Jew outraged about JFJ and its continued harassment of the Jewish community explained why he considers the organization “evil.”

Bradley Burston urged the group to “leave the Jews alone” and said that such “proselytizing is persecution.” His comments were published by Haaretz.

“Believe whatever you want. Practice whatever you preach. Just stay the hell away from us,” he concluded.

This appears to summarize the sentiments that most Jews have about groups like JFJ.

Of course many evangelicals seem to think they have marching orders from God to “share their faith” with Jews repeatedly over and over again. Apparently a general sense of religious triumphalism and hubris often prompts their proselytizing. 

Now JFJ may be going door-to-door much like Jehovah’s Witnesses, but unlike the Witnesses they intend to knock only on Jewish doors.

Not all born-again Christians endorse such repeated harassment of the Jewish community. Billy Graham has spoken out against targeting any group through a missionary effort.

Interestingly, many of the same fundamentalist Christians that support targeting Jews for conversion don’t appreciate Mormons or Witnesses attempting to convert them.

Perhaps JFJ and its supporters might consider that if such unwanted attention bothers them, it might just bother those that they push their religion on as well.

After all wasn’t it Jesus who said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Or is this somehow one of the “distortions” that the JFJ spokesman wants corrected under the heading of “misinformation”?

It’s Passover time and that means it’s the season for the annual traveling road show produced by the so-called “Jews for Jesus” (JFJ), an evangelical Christian missionary organization that targets Jews for conversion. The group sends out its faithful in touring buses every year to present “Christ in the Passover,” as reported by the Dakota Voice.

JFJ couple practicing for PassoverThese programs are typically staged within evangelical and fundamentalist churches where JFJ puts on the program and then profits from contributions.

Passover is a proven fundraiser for JFJ, which has a multi-million-dollar budget and payroll to meet.

But the organized Jewish community has repeatedly expressed concern about such programs, which superimpose fundamentalist Christian beliefs over the historic understanding of the Jewish Passover observance.

JFJ presents its own rather ethnocentric, idiosyncratic version of Passover to evangelical Christian churches across the United States such as Grace Church of Toledo Ohio, Fremont Berean Bible Church in Nebraska and occasionally at mainline Protestant churches like Trinity United Methodist Church of Seymour, Indiana.

JFJ Seder displayNeedless to say Christian missionaries parading about, as “Jews” for Passover doesn’t exactly inspire enthusiasm amongst Jews, who most often observe its traditional Seder dinner in the privacy of home.

After all Passover and its Seder symbols have a long-established historic meaning that predates both Jesus and Christianity.

For those that have read Book of Exodus or watched the movie ”Ten Commandments” Passover is not about Jesus or Christianity, it is a holiday specifically observed to commemorate the deliverance of Jews from bondage in ancient Egypt more than a millenium before the birth of Jesus.

But for JFJ this sacred Jewish holiday has been reduced essentially to a fund raising hook.

JFJ’s founder is Martin Rosen, a retired Baptist minister, who hit the road again not long ago when his brainchild had some budget problems.

Pastor Martin prefers to be called “Moishe,” which he seems to think makes him seem Jewish.

Jewish surnames also suffuse the list of front line JFJ staff, again giving the group a seemingly “Jewish” patina.

David BricknerHowever, Rosen’s successor as the top “Jew” at JFJ, David Brickner, was recently exposed by author David Klinghoffer in the Jewish Journal as a “non-Jew.”

His bio on the JFJ Web site refers to him as ”a fifth-generation Jewish believer in Jesus,” which means his family actually has been Christian for some time.  

And Brickner’s mother was not Jewish, which means he isn’t either according to any Orthodox understanding.

By Orthodox definition if a mother isn’t Jewish her baby isn’t either. And Brickner’s maternal grandmother was not Jewish.

Oops.

This means that by no Jewish definition would the JFJ leader even qualify as an apostate Jew, let alone simply as “Jewish.”

Not surprisingly JFJ’s funding comes essentially from sympathetic fellow believers within the Christian fundamentalist community.

But are these the same Christians who frequently say they “love” both Jews and Israel?

If these evangelicals truly “love” Jews why do they continue to so stubbornly support groups that offend Jews by falsely reinterpreting Jewish holidays?

It would seem that this continued support by many Christian fundamentalists demonstrates a disregard and/or insensitivity to the concerns of Jews, which has been repeatedly and publicly expressed?

In fairness it should be noted that some evangelical leaders have spoken out critically against groups like JFJ, such as Billy Graham.

According to a recent press release from a missionary organization that calls itself “Jews for Jesus” (JFJ) it has just completed another blitz of South Florida, targeting Jews for conversion to fundamentalist Christianity.

'Stan the missionary man'Stan Meyer of the Fort Lauderdale JFJ office claims that he coordinated more than sixty volunteers to target Jewish neighborhoods, often going “door-to-door,” from February 11th to March 5th.

It seems that about 375,000 Jews, many retired, live in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, and for JFJ it was hunting season once again.

These missionaries actually put together a list of 16,000 Jewish households in Florida to target.

No doubt the devoted volunteers thought they might ”save souls” from “eternal damnation in hell,” so they “knocked on 2,018 doors, placed 6,114 phone calls, and spoke with 1,473 persons.”

However, after all that knocking, calling and mailing, according to Meyer, only 251 Jews responded and probably most of those people had less than nice things to say.  

The final net result the Florida missionary reports is that only “11 Jewish persons” converted to fundamentalist Christianity through this comprehensive effort.

Three area churches this year supported the JFJ drive to target and convert Jews, Calvary Chapel in Miami Beach, Wayside Baptist in Kendall and Parkridge Baptist Church in Coral Springs.

It seems that if other evangelical churches were involved in some way they apparently didn’t want their names used within Meyer’s press release.

Given all this activity and expense it must have entailed, converting only 11 Jews can easily be seen as virtually a complete failure.

In 2004 apparently at least one alleged conversion reported by JFJ in its newsletter was completely fabricated. The supposed convert sued the organization and said the account of her change of faith was “completely fictitious.” The case was eventually dismissed, but a point was proven, you can’t always believe a JFJ report no matter how low the numbers are.

But of course Stan the missionary man doesn’t think so. And he looks forward to doing it all over again, and again, and again.

Stan Meyer in action“I know we will be conducting more outreaches in South Florida and look forward to partnering with more churches and messianic congregations,” the paid professional proselytizer said.

Of course JFJ has a multi-million dollar annual budget and it takes such redundant crusades to justify its existence.

So JFJ and other groups like it, target the same Jewish communities repeatedly for what critics consider a self-serving purpose, which is to sustain a missionary machine that perpetuates a payroll.

But isn’t the targeting of one specific faith group for special missionary consideration something like religious persecution?

Billy Graham seems to be uncomfortable with this type of evangelism.

Nevertheless it’s money from American evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians that keeps the JFJ missionary machine running.

You would think that if these Christians really “love the Jews” and Israel as they so often insist, they would respect the repeated requests made by those same Jews to be left alone.

It’s understood that evangelical and fundamentalist Christians feel they have a “calling” to “witness their faith” and that is certainly one of their prerogatives and a religious right guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

But how many times do missionaries have to witness to the same group of people before it becomes harassment? 

“No” does mean no doesn’t it? And at some point perhaps the evangelical community in America that supports groups like JFJ should know that.

Supporting repeated missionary efforts to target the same Jewish populations in cities across the country over, and over, and over again may mean a regular paycheck for Stan and other JFJ staffers, but it is offensive to Jews and some might say “anti-Semitic.”

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.

After reading so many articles about the alleged “anti-Semitic” content within Mel Gibson’s “Passion” I decided to go see the film and judge it for myself.

My interest to date regarding the controversial movie has been the cultural phenomenon it has created and the fringe schismatic so-called “Traditional Catholic” group Gibson comes from.

After Easter the theater was almost empty.

Sitting through “Passion” isn’t easy; it’s a bit slow and the action is somewhat redundant. Unlike previous religious movies such as The Ten Commandments or The Robe this is “a film so narrowly focused as to be inaccessible for all but the devout,” as a LA Times critic wrote.

And “the devout” seems to be essentially evangelical Christians largely from Baptist, Pentecostal and non-denominational fundamentalist churches, who have defended Gibson’s movie.

But back to the issue of anti-Semitism.

There is no getting around the way Jews are portrayed in this movie, and it’s not pretty. Negative stereotypes abound and as the old adage says, “if it quacks like a duck and it walks like a duck, it just might be a duck.”

Gibson’s movie looks and sounds anti-Semitic based on key scenes and dialog, but somehow the director and his boosters want everyone to believe it’s not.

However, as many have observed outside the religious fervor the film has generated, you cannot escape the artistic license Gibson took regarding both his screenplay and direction. The dialog and scenes portray Jewish leaders in an evil conspiracy out to get Jesus and the Jewish mob thirsty for his blood.

Meanwhile Pontius Pilate and his spouse are given more than enough wiggle room to get off the hook.

Mrs. Pilate even tearfully brings Mary towels as an apparent act of contrition, even though according to Mel’s script she tried to save Jesus’ life.

Of course none of this dialog exists in the New Testament, which removes the basis for the frequently offered apology that somehow Mel’s just following scripture.

And given Gibson’s background of being raised by an anti-Semitic father amidst Jewish conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial, it seems reasonable to suspect that environment influenced him.

Mel Gibson has never directly and explicitly repudiated his father’s teachings, no matter how repugnant.

The director’s supporters want us to think he is just a loyal son, but watching the movie you can’t help but think that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

“Passion” certainly earns every bit of its R rating through its constant and brutal bloodshed. Mary even has a scene mopping up her son’s blood. James Caviezel who plays Jesus spends most of his time being beaten, bleeding, falling down and writhing in agony.

All the while the Jews are overwhelmingly either happily watching Jesus suffer, pelting him with rocks or egging the Romans on. There is an occasional benevolent Hebrew, but this device only serves to punctuate the ongoing polemic.

The constant focus on Mary is interesting. That emphasis in Catholicism has often upset Protestants, especially evangelicals. But this time they seem willing to suffer through Gibson’s fascination with the mother of Jesus as long as it serves their agenda.

According to a recent poll one third of the Americans who have seen “Passion” believe the Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus reported Religion News Service.

“Generally, there is a correlation between seeing the movie, and expressing an intention to see it, with holding the view that Jews were responsible for Christ’s death,” pollsters said. And that “people who are drawn to this movie may be predisposed to this opinion more than others.”

This comes as no surprise to many Jews who have often been troubled by evangelical Christian sentiments. It is this religious community that spends millions of dollars annually funding groups like “Jews for Jesus” that target Jews for conversion.

Not surprisingly “Jews for Jesus,” which was founded by a Baptist minister, strongly endorsed “Passion” reported Agape Press.

More moderate “mainline” Protestants and Roman Catholics don’t agree with such missionary efforts and instead prefer building bridges to the Jewish community through mutual acceptance and ecumenical dialog.

This is probably why Mel Gibson sought out evangelicals in his marketing strategy, sensing correctly that they would not object to his portrayal of Jews.

“Passion” seems to resonate with those who harbor certain sentiments about Jews and thus it’s not a shock that the film has done well in Muslim countries reported Salon.

Mel’s message about Jews has made angry Arabs happy that believe in Jewish conspiracies.

Note: Rick Ross is a former member of the National Committee for Interreligious Affairs of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, a large denomination of Judaism.

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 Clovis News Journal.

These programs that are typically staged within evangelical and fundamentalist churches, seek to superimpose Christian beliefs over the historic understanding of the Jewish Passover observance, as reported by the Pittsburgh Daily Courier.

The fact that this holiday, its symbols and their established meaning predate Jesus and Christianity doesn’t seem to concern JFJ or its supporters.

The missionary group’s version of “Passover” is at best misleading, but also can be seen as an expression of ethnocentric religious arrogance and it wilfully 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.

But the purpose of Passover to JFJ appears to be a fund raising gimmick. And the organization, which has had its share of money problems lately, is all the more anxious to pump up this annual program that has become a proven moneymaker.

JFJ sends out its traveling teams to put on these shows and at the end of each performance comes the 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 for its mailing list.

JFJ is the brainchild of Pastor Martin Rosen, an ordained Baptist minister who not so long ago retired from his long-running position as head of the missionary organization.

But Pastor Martin has recently hit the road again, in an apparent effort to rally the faithful to the somewhat fading ministry.

Pastor Martin likes to be called “Moishe,” which makes him seem Jewish. And Jewish surnames suffuse the list of front line JFJ staff, which again gives the group an appearance of “Jewishness.”

However, all of JFJ’s funding comes from fundamentalist and evangelical Christians.

It is presumptuous and a demonstration of hubris to say the least, for a missionary organization founded by a Baptist minister to define the meaning of a Jewish holiday and its symbols.

JFJ has also ardently aligned itself with other evangelical Christians by strongly supporting Mel Gibson’s much-criticized movie “The Passion” reported Agape Press.

Financial support of groups like JFJ and overwhelming enthusiasm for the Gibson film, despite allegations of “anti-Semitic” content, raises the question of whether meaningful ecumenical dialog is possible between the organized Jewish community and fundamentalist or evangelical Christians.

Certainly such dialog exists between more moderate or “Mainline” Protestants and Jewish denominations. And there have been historic ecumenical breakthroughs in recent years between Jews and the Roman Catholic Church.

But what meaningful interreligious communication exists between evangelical Christians and the organized Jewish community?

These Christians frequently say they “love” Jews and Israel.

But judged by their behavior rather than words, evangelical and fundamentalist Christian support for Jews and Israel seems specious.

If these Christians truly “love” Jews why would they continue to support insulting and confrontational groups such as JFJ?

Doesn’t this generally demonstrate disregard and/or insensitivity to the concerns of the Jewish community?

In fairness it should be noted that some evanelical leaders have spoken out critically against groups like JFJ, notably evangelist Billy Graham.

Jesus once offered the analogy that you could know a tree by its fruit.

And apparently the rather telling “fruit” growing on quite a few fundamentalist and evangelical Christian trees is their support for groups like “Jews for Jesus.”

In a bizarre twist a missionary organization that targets Jews for conversion is bashing fellow Christians in a “cult” controlled newspaper.

The so-called “Jews for Jesus” (JFJ), founded by an ordained Baptist minister, took on Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie, American Values President Gary Bauer, singer Pat Boone, Rev. Jerry Falwell, broadcaster Pat Robertson and even Billy Graham in an attack launched within the Washington Times.

A JFJ spokesperson told the Times a subtle plot to “demonize” the organization has apparently taken hold amongst prominent evangelical leaders and many churches.

The alleged conspiracy supposedly can be seen through fading support for JFJ. Evidently, church invitations for their programs have dropped by 25% and donations slipped $371,130 in 2003.

The leadership of the controversial proselytizing organization chose to air its grievances within the Washington Times rather than a more traditional evangelical media outlet such as Christianity Today.

Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed “messiah” whose followers are often called “Moonies,” controls the Washington Times.

Moon is the founder of the Unification Church, which has been called a “cult.”

The Unification Church teaches that Jesus essentially failed in his role to redeem the world, which Rev. Moon must now complete. Jesus was also stuck in spirit world until Moon married him so he could enter heaven.

Apparently, JFJ isn’t concerned about such theology when it comes to finding an outlet to discuss its budget worries. Concerns about cash flow seem to trump doctrinal differences with the paper’s primary funding source.

Jerry Falwell appeared to play both ends against the middle. “I highly regard the work of Jews for Jesus,” he told the Times while also endorsing the work of Yechiel Eckstein of the International Fellowship of Christians, which opposes JFJ.

Falwell is also friendly with Rev. Moon, who has generously given his ministry millions of dollars.

Once again, budget worries seem to be more important than religious conviction.

JFJ has historically been accused of exercising “cult-like” control over its members. Maybe its more than money that makes the group feel comfortable with “Moonies,” who allegedly have been “brainwashing” recruits in the US since the 1970s.

The Evangelical Christian missionary organization called “Jews for Jesus” is stirring up quite a ruckus in South Florida reports the Sun Sentinel.

The hit and run antics of these peripatetic proselytizers has been reported by the media since the 1970s, when an ordained Baptist minister named Martin Rosen founded the controversial group.

Pastor Martin was previously associated with an organization known as the American Board of Mission to the Jews, but he had bigger plans. So about thirty years ago he set up his own shop.

Business was good because Martin was clever in the way he marketed his missionary enterprise. Instead of just another Christian ministry he picked and trademarked the name “Jews for Jesus” (JFJ).

This garnered immediate attention, which then led to increasing fund-raising opportunities amongst his fellow Evangelicals.

Baptist, Nazarene, Evangelical Free and other churches included within the so-called “born-again” movement of Christians, essentially supports JFJ.

The Assemblies of God, the largest denomination of Pentecostal Christians, seems to prefer its own network of “Messianic Jews,” such as the so-called “Jewish Voice.”

Pastor Martin is retired now, but the ministry he created is something like a little kingdom. The annual budget for the group is $24 million and it has 240 full-time paid staff located in numerous offices.

However, if anyone were to judge the group strictly by its results (i.e. the number of conversions actually achieved) their success rate is modest. Very few Jews convert to fundamentalist Christianity, and even fewer through this group’s efforts.

Nevertheless, like many well-funded enterprises this one keeps chugging along anyway.

JFJ typically stages “campaigns” targeting large Jewish populations. Subsequently, they then inundate a community with unsolicited tracts, handouts etc. Some communities have found that they can cause a serious litter problem, as their tracts are quickly tossed aside by pedestrians.

But JFJ thrives on confrontation. “It’s a slick marketing technique. They perfected it over 30 years,” one Jewish leader told the Sentinel.

Recently in Palm Beach this was clearly evident as their confrontational strategy garnered controversy and press attention.

“It provided more publicity than we could have afforded on our budget. The publicity has been a great help for us,” the Florida JFJ coordinator told the Palm Beach Post.

The point apparently is to stir up a reaction through incendiary events and tracts and then exploit this eventually for fund-raising.

However, not all Evangelicals support such efforts.

Billy Graham has denounced the idea of targeting specific religious groups in missionary drives. And some Evangelical leaders in Florida announced that they too oppose this type of proselytizing reported the Palm Beach Post.

JFJ has repeatedly been accused of using “deception” to convert Jews. And one Jew has taken them to court.

A Jewish woman who claims that it was falsely reported within JFJ’s newsletter that she converted is currently suing the organization.

She is the stepmother of a JFJ staffer and her stepson wrote for the group’s newsletter in 2002 that she tearfully converted at her husband’s bedside.

But the Jewish mother said the account was “completely fictitious” reported Associated Press.

JFJ likes to cast its conflict with the Jewish community as an old one. Claiming it’s a “2,000 year old argument” between Jews about the identity of Jesus.

However, that’s not the principle issue that raises concern. Instead, it’s the issue of Jewish identity.

Simply put, the Jewish community has historically always established the parameters of its own identity.

“There’s no rabbi…who’s going to be the arbiter of what the Jewish religion teaches,” one JFJ leader retorted.

This is a new argument.

Since when are the rabbis not the arbiters of what the Jewish religion teaches? Who is then “Jews for Jesus”?

Would JFJ and its supporters concede that someone outside of Christianity has the right to determine the parameters of their faith’s identity?

Specifically, what Christian denomination has officially acknowledged that Mormons are Christians?

None.

But Mormons say they are “Christians.”

Would Evangelicals that claim “Jews for Jesus” are somehow “completed Jews,” also accept Mormons as “completed Christians”?

After all Mormons say their Book of Mormon essentially completes the New Testament.

No, you won’t find any Evangelicals or JFJ staffers making that argument.

Who should determine the parameters and/or identity for a religious denomination?

Most people would answer that the historically established leadership of a religion and/or denomination has this exclusive and traditional right and role.

But some disgruntled former members and/or splinter groups seem to think otherwise.

Movie star Mel Gibson belongs to just such a group composed largely of former Roman Catholics. The actor was raised from childhood within such a religious environment.

Gibson and his fellow religionists consider themselves “traditional Catholics.”

But ironically such so-called “Catholics” have abandoned perhaps the most established tradition of Roman Catholicism, which is the teaching of one church under the direction and ecclesiastical authority of the Pope.

“We just want to be good Catholics,” says one “priest” from a schismatic group quoted by Knight Ridder Newspapers.

However, a “priest” like this has no standing in the Roman Catholic Church and is very often an excommunicate.

But some media reports persist in calling such groups “traditionalist Catholics,” whatever that means.

There is an old axiom, “If you want to be a member of the club you must abide by its rules.” But somehow this doesn’t seem to apply to “traditional Catholics.”

Instead they apparently want to have it both ways. That is, to have the status of being in the club generally, but make up their own rules.

Isn’t that non-traditional?

Catholic authorities seem to regard such splinter groups largely as a nuisance and there are only about 20,000 members in the US. An insignificant number, given the size of Roman Catholicism worldwide.

The present Pope excommunicated a renegade French priest, Cardinal Marcel Lefebvre, once a key figure in the so-called “traditionalist” movement.

Lefebvre has since died, but his faithful followers soldier on. The largest single group is the Society of St. Pius X; perhaps named after the last Pope they really liked.

The Roman Catholic Church has endured an assortment of schismatic “kooks,” “crazies” and “cult leaders,” who claim to speak for Mary, God and/or the Holy Spirit.

This burgeoning list of former Catholics includes Caritas of Birmingham, William Kamm known as the “Little Pebble,” the Army of Mary, His Community/Christ Covenant Ministries, Four Winds Commune, Friends of the Eucharist and the Magnificat Meal Movement.

The most destructive and tragic group of former Catholics was the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments, responsible for the mass murder/suicide of hundreds in Uganda.

Not unlike the problems posed by pseudo-Catholics the Mormon Church also has its share of troublesome splinter groups.

Polygamist groups that are often called “fundamentalist Mormons” practice their faith largely in Arizona, Utah and parts of Canada. They are an embarrassment to the Mormon Church, which abandoned the practice of polygamy more than a century ago.

Yet some media reports confuse the public with the label “fundamentalist Mormons” to describe these disparate sects, frequently run by absolute leaders much like “cults.”

Recently, an author apparently striving for better book sales said, “Mormon authorities treat the fundamentalists as they would a crazy uncle — they try to keep the ‘polygs’ hidden in the attic.”

His book titled Under the Banner of Heaven, places grizzly murders within the context of so-called “Mormon Fundamentalism” reported Associated Press.

An official church spokesman made it clear that such groups have nothing whatsoever to do with the Mormon Church and that those Mormons. And when Mormons do become involved with them they are excommunicated, much like former Catholics in schismatic groups.

Recently since the 1960s Jews have also endured apostates setting up their own so-called “Jewish” groups.

Interestingly, these groups, which are composed of converts to fundamentalist Christianity such as “Jews for Jesus” and so-called “Messianic Jews,” are closely aligned and supported by Protestant denominations within the “born-again” movement.

These “Jews” like the polygamists and former Catholics have no standing in the organized Jewish community.

Israel’s “Law of Return” does not recognize them as Jews and recently a Canadian court rejected one such group’s attempt to use historical Jewish symbols for self-promotion reported Canadian Jewish News.

But some media reports continue to confuse readers with a mixed bag of historically incoherent labels and/or oxymorons, such as “traditionalist Catholics,” “fundamentalist Mormons” and “Jews for Jesus,” that are self-referentially incoherent.

Even if such a group has a celebrity sponsor like Mel Gibson, it’s unlikely to be a meaningful substitute for the Pope’s blessings.

And there is a historic right of denominational leaders to determine the parameters of their own faith’s identity, which should be recognized by responsible and objective journalists, rather than misleading the public.

The controversy surrounding an Easter article run within the Chicago Tribune has spilled over into Christianity Today.

It was reported that more than 250 Chicago churches held Passover dinners called seders this year.

However, some of these “seders” were apparently based upon rather questionable and self-serving interpretations, concocted by groups such as the controversial fundamentalist Christian missionary organization called “Jews for Jesus” (JFJ).

An ordained Baptist minister who once worked for the American Board of Missions to the Jews founded JFJ, which is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

Missionaries from JFJ have a traveling road show titled “Christ in the Passover,” which passed through Chicago. This program often serves as a rather viable vehicle for fund-raising.

Basically, the theme of this JFJ program is to present the Passover ritual observance superimposed with alleged prophetic references to Jesus. The actual meaning and historical significance of the traditional seder is thus distorted and/or negated.

After the Tribune ran the report about these pseudo-seders Jews in Chicago protested that their holiday was being misrepresented in the paper. The staff writer responsible for the report admitted to some religious bias.

“Misinformation and outright falsehoods, said one Jewish reader. And added that the piece did “great harm to the cause of interfaith understanding,”

Rabbi Ira Youdovin, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis said, “Fundamentalists [who] seek to co-opt an ancient Jewish ritual…appreciate Jews not for what they are…but for this caricatured identity as proto-Christians. This is highly offensive to Jews.”

Another rabbi noted, “We have problems with Christians transforming our symbols and stories into a Christological message that robs us of our holy experience and thoughts.”

Of course JFJ doesn’t seem to care about such things. In fact they probably enjoyed the controversy. Why do you think they chose their name in the first place?

After all, the more controversy, the more attention and that attention just might translate into contributions.

JFJ had a serious shortfall in its budget last year and staff layoffs followed.

It seems many within the evangelical Christian community have grown tired and perhaps a bit bored with the organization. They have actually not produced many “Jews for Jesus,” despite their multi-million dollar annual expenditures.

Perhaps the group hopes its annual “hit and run” Passover programs will rejuvenate some interest and help their sagging revenues?