A leading Jewish organization condemned a proposed Southern Baptist Convention study on formally recognizing a “messianic” fellowship as an “evangelistic mission entity” to Jews.

The SBC Executive Committee on Tuesday recommended that the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board “jointly study the possibility” of recognizing the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship as “an evangelistic mission to Jewish people in the United States and throughout the world.”

The Anti-Defamation League, the world’s leading organization fighting anti-Semitism, called the idea “insulting, disgraceful and dangerous.”

The Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship, one of dozens of ethnic/language groups that cooperate with the SBC’s North American Mission Board, includes about 120 pastors, church members, missionaries and parachurch leaders in 40 churches in the U.S., Canada, Latin America and Israel.

The group’s purpose, according to a Web site, is to encourage evangelism of Jewish people and proclaim to “Jewish believers that their ethnic and historical heritage need not be lost upon their commitment to Yeshua (Jesus).”

“The idea of the Southern Baptist Convention using a so-called Jewish messianic group–which misrepresents two faiths–to target Jews for conversion is disgraceful, insulting and dangerous,” ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said in a statement.

“We are outraged over the continuing efforts by the Southern Baptist Convention to target Jews for conversion, especially by considering ‘deputizing’ a Jewish Messianic group, part of a deceptive movement that falsely claims they are interested in Jewish practices when the real goal is to convert Jews to Christianity,” Foxman said. “These efforts should be stopped once and for all.”

Foxman viewed the latest decision as part of a continuing pattern by Southern Baptist leaders to “show its disrespect and disregard for the validity of the Judaism and the Jewish people.”

In 1980, SBC president Bailey Smith uttered his famous quote, “God Almighty does not hear the prayers of a Jew.”

In 1996 the SBC passed a resolution calling on the denomination to “direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel to the Jewish people,” and hired a full-time home missionary to Jewish people in the U.S.

A 1999 prayer guide by the International Board sought conversion of Jews to Christianity during their High Holy Days, an initiative labeled “offensive and disrespectful” by Jewish leaders.

As recently as 2003, Jewish leaders criticized a Southern Baptist seminary president for using an analogy comparing the mandate to evangelize Jews to a surgeon’s responsibility to inform a patient about the presence of a “deadly tumor.”

Last year, Southern Baptist leaders heaped praise on Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” while many Jewish leaders viewed the film as anti-Semitic.

Responding to deterioration in Baptist/Jewish relations, the Baptist Center for Ethics in June 2004 sponsored a luncheon aimed at fostering good will between Baptists and Jews.

“We would do well to reclaim the centrality of Jesus, who taught us to love our neighbors, not as means toward conversion but because it is the right thing to do,” BCE Executive Director Robert Parham told about 500 guests from both faith traditions.

Another speaker at the luncheon, Jonathan Levine of the American Jewish Committee, said he also viewed “messianic” Jews as deceptive.

“I’m not going to say don’t do mission work if mission work is one of the roots of your faith,” he said, “but I will say this: Do it honestly and above board. We are not very fond of Jews for Jesus or Messianic Jews, because we believe it is dishonest.”

“Frankly, if you don’t do any mission work in the Jewish community, that’s fine with us,” Levine said. “Do what you must do, but do it honestly.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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