|Baptist Press falsely labeled a Baptist Center for Ethics' DVD screening at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's annual meeting last week in Memphis with an inaccurate subheading and lead in a news story, leading one to wonder if the editor actually read the story. Perhaps the editor wanted to say what the actual text as reported in the body of the story did not say.
The actual text of the 10-paragraph report, which is part of a larger wrap-up news story, never used the subtitle words of "Rejection of Jewish Evangelism." Those words were never uttered during the screening. That argument was never advanced. In fact, the subheading missed the point of the DVD and the panel discussion
BP's reporter, Erin Roach, did attend our screening and took copious notes. She accurately noted in her first paragraph that the DVD title was "Good Will for the Common Good: Nurturing Baptists' Relationships with Jews." She correctly reported that the DVD said that Southern Baptists had often used "harsh rhetoric" about and engaged in "damaging actions" toward the Jews, a fact that she did not qualify. She listed some of the examples of when Southern Baptists have shown a lack of wisdom when addressing the Jewish religion, although she did misstate the way the DVD interpreted SBC actions, which was as targeting Jews for conversion.
Nonetheless, what went unreported was as important as what was reported in BP.
Roach quoted only partially John Finley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Savannah, Ga., and a panelist, when he said that his neighboring rabbi "understands that a part of being a Christian is to want to talk about your faith. He expects Christians to want to talk about Jesus."
"But we don't have that conversation with a desire on my part to do a number on him," Finley said. "It more freely comes out of our relationship and our conversations. But I think he really does understand there is a missionary component to being a Christian. He would object, as I think most of his congregation would object, if that's done in great violence."
Does that sound like a rejection of one's commitment to sharing the Christian faith, which is communicated in the subtitle?
Or listen to our other panelist, Mike Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., who said that his rabbi friend, Rami Shapiro, "would also be up front to say that 'I will never become a Christian,' which I would expect from Rami."
"His agenda is not to make me into a Reform Jew. My agenda really is not to turn him into a Christian, though I may witness to what I believe in the process of our conversation, or there's no honest conversation," said Smith.
Noting that few Baptists understand the deep scars left by the Holocaust, Smith said, "You cannot imagine what you are uncovering the moment you start acting like a stereotypical American Baptist Christian out to convert someone."
He added, "On the other hand our friendship, I have no idea where it will lead, and I don't try to control."
Does that sound like a pastor who blanches at sharing his deepest Christian convictions? Of course not--it sounds like a pastor who loves his neighbor and shows a mature respect out of an understanding of the Holocaust, Christian pogroms, deceptive evangelism and hateful actions.
The reason that the SBC's relationships with the Jewish community have hit rock bottom over the past 25 years is that fundamentalists have no respect, wanting only to use the Jewish community for their own evangelistic and apocalyptic ends.
Jesus never taught "love your neighbor" or "practice the Golden Rule" as an ends toward conversion. Jesus taught love for neighbor because it is the morally right thing to do to another made in God's image.
No wonder the SBC is in a numerical freefall, as one of its former presidents and agency heads said a few weeks ago. Too many fundamentalists detest everybody—everybody who is different.
Folk know that—that's why SBC baptisms are down, membership is down and churches are stagnant. At least a few honest SBC leaders are admitting the sad truth about a state of the largest Protestant denomination in America. Recognizing the truth is the first step for the SBC to rethink its approach to evangelism as conquest when authentic evangelism ought to be about community.
BCE's DVD seeks to find a new way to advance the common good with those of another faith. Our way is to give witness to faith through the virtues of wisdom, balance, courage and justice, hinge Christian virtues which equip believers to follow the way Jesus engaged others.
I wish every Baptists would use our DVD and online study guide to advance the common good with their Jewish neighbors. Maybe then Christian would be Christians, and Baptists would be real Christians.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Baptists Discuss Ways to Build Bridges to Jews
Mike Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church of Murfreesboro, Tenn., issued the following statement:
The brief statement cited by Baptist Press fails to represent my position and practice. As I made clear during the presentation, Rami Shapiro and I enjoy our friendship. In the context of our friendship, we practice honesty. Rami expects me to talk about Jesus, to bear witness to my relationship with Jesus, to unpack my understanding of the work and significance of Jesus—in short to be a witness for Jesus. He understands that's part of what it means to be a Christian. He feels free to share his perspectives and commitments with me as well. We engage in genuine conversation.
So…I bear witness. I leave conversion and final judgment to God. Both are His work, not mine. The moment I forget this is so, I am tempted to use the tools of salesmanship to "close the deal." Historically, Christians have even used violence to try to force conversions. I reject all forms of coercion in favor of genuine relationship and conversation, whether dealing with a Jewish friend or any other person.
John Finley, pastor of First Baptist Church of Savannah, Ga., issued the following statement:
The Baptist Press story leaves the inaccurate impression that the mission trip to Cuba, which our church sponsored in cooperation with Congregation Mickve Israel, had little or no evangelistic content to it. Nothing could be further from the truth. When asked by an audience member what we had done on the trip with our Jewish friends, I described visits we made to Jewish and Baptist sites, community ministry, shared meals and other activities. I also made clear that each congregation engaged in its own separate activities, which, in the case of First Baptist Church, Savannah, included preaching, teaching, prayerwalking, as well as the distribution of Scripture portions, evangelistic tracts, medicines and personal care items. This has been true of all 19 mission trips to Cuba which our church has sponsored since 1995.
The story also gives the mistaken impression that I think it is unethical to speak to Jews concerning my faith in Jesus Christ. My friend Rabbi Arnold Belzer understands that Christianity is a missionary faith. He expects me to talk about who Jesus is, what he means to me, and I do. However, I don't think it is my business to do the work of God or to have the mind of God about who is going to heaven or hell.
Our Jewish friends may not profess faith in Jesus Christ, but they do take seriously the Ten Commandments. That includes the Ninth Commandment concerning bearing false witness against one's neighbor.