Some observers predicted controversy over Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” would set back dialogue between Christians and Jews two decades.
For Southern Baptists, however, that wouldn’t be much of a setback. Many have observed that Baptist-Jewish relations are as bad—if not worse—than when then-Southern Baptist Convention president Bailey Smith uttered his infamous “God Almighty does not hear the prayers of a Jew” quote in 1980.
Last summer an SBC leader compared the need to evangelize Jews with a doctor who fails to inform a patient of a deadly tumor. Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League called the analogy “outrageous and offensive.”
That followed earlier charges of insensitivity when the SBC in 1996 passed a resolution targeting Jews for evangelism. Jewish leaders in 1999 complained that timing release of a pamphlet urging Baptists to pray that Jews would accept Christ with Judaism’s High Holy Days was disrespectful. Chicago’s interfaith community asked Southern Baptists to back off from announced plans to enlist 100,000 volunteers to blitz the city with a Christian witness in the summer of 2000, saying it would undermine efforts to ease tensions between religious groups.
Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics compares the way Baptists and Jews view each other today with the biblical story of Jacob and Esau approaching each other after years of estrangement over their father’s blessing.
“We are somewhat fearful, perhaps suspicious,” Parham said. “We cannot ignore one another. We are not sure what to do next, about what steps to take.”
Yet like the estranged brothers in the Genesis story, “We need to meet and bless one another,” Parham said.
The Nashville-based BCE is sponsoring an event this summer that Parham hopes will point moderate Baptists toward “a more constructive future” in building relationships with their Jewish neighbors.
A June 25 luncheon in Birmingham, Ala., features both Baptist and Jewish speakers outlining ways to improve relationships between the two faiths in general and highlighting successful models for fostering friendship between Baptist and Jewish congregations.
Baptist churches, organizations and educational institutions have been invited to sponsor tables at the event and to invite individuals from their local Jewish community to attend. So far, 22 churches in seven states, along with other groups, have signed up to sponsor tables.
Jonathan Levine, national director for community services for the American Jewish Community, is a featured speaker. He will identify things that are both harmful and helpful to Baptist-Jewish relations.
Arnold Belzer, rabbi at Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah, Ga., will describe the 150-year-old relationship between Georgia’s oldest Jewish congregation and Savannah’s First Baptist Church.
Steve Jones, pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Birmingham, and Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss of Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El, will describe experiences linking their houses of worship including sharing of building space, studying sacred texts together and joint prayer services.
While many Baptists don’t agree with anti-Jewish polemic espoused by SBC leaders in official statements and on television talk shows, Parham said, moderate Baptists as a whole haven’t done much in the way of providing a counter-voice.
“The absence of moderate Baptists from the public square is simply unacceptable in the era of rising religious conflict and incivility,” Parham said.
The luncheon is scheduled between Friday morning and afternoon general sessions of this year’s Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, which is being held June 24-26 at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex.
Seating is limited. Click here to register online.
As of Thursday, March 25, the list of organizations sponsoring tables includes Samford University, the Christian Women’s Leadership Center, and Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary and Center for American and Jewish Studies.
The Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina and Kentucky Baptist Fellowship are also sponsoring tables.
Church sponsors in Birmingham include Baptist Church of the Covenant, Brookwood Baptist Church, Mountain Brook Baptist Church, Riverchase Baptist Church, Shades Crest Baptist Church and Southside Baptist Church.
Other Alabama churches are First Baptist Church, Auburn; First Baptist Church of Williams; Pintlala Baptist Church, Hope Hull; and University Baptist Church, Montevallo.
Georgia churches include First Baptist Columbus, Rome and Savannah, as well as Druid Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Tennessee churches are First Baptist Chattanooga and Murfreesboro; Second Baptist Church, Memphis; and Immanuel Baptist Church, Nashville.
Other churches include Second Baptist Church, Little Rock; Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City; First Baptist Church, Greenville, S.C.; Wilshire Baptist Church, Dallas; and Trinity Baptist Church, San Antonio.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.