Should Evangelicals Follow Catholic Lead on Jews and Evangelism?

Many evangelicals say their faith hinges on sharing the gospel with people. Others urge a more creative, and less offensive way, of reaching out. (Creative Commons photo by Chris Yarzab)
Many evangelicals say their faith hinges on sharing the gospel with people. Others urge a more creative, and less offensive way, of reaching out. (Creative Commons photo by Chris Yarzab)

Some evangelical leaders say Christians should avoid the Catholic lead in not proselytizing Jews, but a rabbi and Baptist minister say sincere relationship building is essential.

Catholic and Jewish leaders recently exchanged documents affirming the authenticity of each other’s faiths.

It happened on the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Vatican’s formal condemnation of anti-Semitism, Christianity Today reported in December.

A group of Orthodox rabbis led off with a statement that “Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations.”

The Vatican followed suit with a declaration that Jews should not be evangelized by Catholics.

Should evangelicals follow the Catholic lead and cease efforts to convert Jews to Christianity? Several evangelical leaders said no in a CT story published this month. The New Testament, they explained, is clear that they have an obligation to share the gospel, period.

But in interviews with Baptist News Global, Christians and Jews engaged in interfaith dialogue said such attitudes make it increasingly difficult not only to build bridges between faiths, but between neighbors, co-workers and even families.

‘If feels intrusive’

For starters, Christian efforts to evangelize Jews can be insulting and emotionally painful to those being evangelized, said Rabbi Joshua Stanton, assistant rabbi at B’Nai Jeshurun, a Reform congregation in Short Hills, N.J.

“It can feel disrespectful — as if our religious tradition is not enough,” Stanton, who has also served as director for the Center for Global Judaism, told BNG.

Being proselytized can also be unnerving or frightening if a co-worker or boss is leading the effort, Stanton said.

And it can feel uncomfortable when it’s a neighbor doing the proselytizing. That can leave the Jew or Muslim worried about disharmony in the neighborhood if the overture is spurned.

“It feels intrusive if one frames a relationship with an agenda in mind to change who we are as people,” he said.

Ultimately, it may also be disconcerting just knowing how ugly anti-Semitism can be, said Stanton, who also writes for the Huffington Post.

“Because of anti-Jewish sentiments in history and prevalent today, there is fear of what might happen if an advance is rebuffed,” he said.

But when people of different faiths approach each other with respect and seeking mutual understanding, true relationships can result.

“And from the standpoint of evangelicals, that can be more effective,” Stanton said.

At its healthiest, religion is experienced by individuals as a web of relationships in which no one is trying to change the other.

“When we reduce relationships to transactions, we reduce the potential to build sacred community,” he said.

Click here to read more.

SOURCE: Baptist News Global
Jeff Brumley

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