A Southern Baptist seminary professor is criticizing the Baptist Center for Ethics and a church in Alabama for efforts to improve relations between Baptists and Jews, saying Christians should be more concerned with converting Jews than meeting them for dialogue.
Baptist Press carried a column Wednesday by Russell Moore, theology dean and vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, taking the BCE to task over a press release announcing a June 25 luncheon in Birmingham aimed at contributing to a “constructive future of respect and mutuality” between moderate Baptists and the Jewish community.
Among models to be featured at the BCE luncheon is Southside Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., which opened its facilities as a temporary home to a Reform Jewish congregation during a 14-month renovation of Temple Emanu-El in south Birmingham.
Moore criticized Southside Baptist Church for covering Christian symbols and not mentioning Jesus in prayers and hymns in joint services in order to help Jewish worshippers feel more comfortable. He said failure to preach to Jews that they need Christ violates the Great Commission.
Moore accused Southside and other churches that are sponsoring tables at the BCE luncheon of deciding that “dialogue is more important than evangelism—and polite ceremonies are more important than the redemption of their Jewish neighbors.”
Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, responded that Moore “is evading Jesus, who taught us to love our neighbors and be not anxious.”
Moore’s rejection of interfaith dialogue “discloses a closed mind and a closed heart,” Parham said, while his “anxiety about our luncheon represents a fear about the positive consequences that may come from people of good will working together for the common good.”
“Fundamentalists always attack what they fear and do not control,” Parham said.
Pastors of two churches cited in Moore’s column because they are sponsoring tables at the BCE luncheon also disputed his views.
George Mason of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas said efforts to foster friendship and dialogue with Jewish people affirm the gospel rather than deny it.
“Evangelism cannot be done from a safe distance,” Mason said. “We do not pronounce the gospel to others; we live it graciously before others, and we seek to learn from them at the same time.”
“We talk with people about Jesus,” he said. “We do not talk at them or down to them.”
Charles Foster Johnson, senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, said: “Having a robust and respectful Jewish/Christian conversation has nothing to do with deleting Jesus from the discussion. In fact, my Jewish friends expect me to affirm Jesus as my Christ.”
David Elcott of the American Jewish Committee said no Jewish person should be offended by a Christian who speaks of Jesus as his or her hope of salvation, but when Christians and Jews come together to seek ways to share religious experience and meaning, sensitivity about language and images that are used becomes important as “an act of respect.”
“There are settings in which we can speak in our particularity and uniqueness, and there are settings in which we can try to share a language,” Elcott said.
Moore said the New Testament portrays Jesus, Peter and Paul as being direct and confrontational in asserting that Jews need to accept Jesus as the Messiah.
If Christians really believe that God can be approached only through a mediator, Jesus Christ, as the New Testament teaches, Moore said, “then to hide it from our Jewish neighbors is a virulent form of anti-Semitism.”
Mason responded by pointing out that the first Christians were “Jews speaking to Jews” while most Christians today are non-Jewish. “The tone and temper of family arguments are often louder and greater than conflicts between strangers,” he said.
Division and mistrust that exist between Judaism and Christianity today “is not our vision of the coming Kingdom of God,” Mason said.
“Whether Jews come to see Jesus as Messiah is ultimately up to God and those Jews who come to enough knowledge to make the decision to believe or not,” Mason said.
Christians “have been made one people through Jesus Christ,” Mason said, “but we have been grafted into Israel, not the other way around.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.