Southern Baptists urge prayer to convert Jews to Christianity

Jewish leaders offended by Holy Days attempt

September 10, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Southern Baptists have produced a "Jewish prayer guide" urging members to pray for the conversion of Jews to Christianity during the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur beginning today.

Some Jewish leaders called the action arrogant and offensive.

"Baptists have a right to believe what they believe," said Mark Briskman, Southwest regional director for the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. "But we find this offensive. It shows an element of arrogance because they are specifically targeting Jews during this holy season."

The prayer effort was announced in a news release by the Southern Baptist International Mission Board in Richmond, Va. The board has published a similar guide on praying for Muslims during Ramadan; guides are planned focusing on Hindus and Buddhists, the announcement states.

"On Rosh Hashana, when observant Jews around the world begin 10 days of seeking God, Southern Baptists will be praying they find his Son," the release begins. The 10 days are called "Days of Awe."

The Baptist prayer strategy will begin at sundown today, the beginning of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and will continue through Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Sept. 20.

The Baptist "Days of Awe" prayer guide explains the way Jews celebrate High Holy Days, gives sketches of Jewish people in different parts of the world and offers suggestions on how to pray for Jewish people.

The guide urges Baptists "to pray for Jewish individuals you know by name" throughout the High Holy Days.

"As Jewish people attempt to purge themselves of spiritually crippling attitudes, pray that they will find the spiritual wholeness available through the Messiah [Jesus]," the guide states.

"Pray for a realization among the Jewish people that their sins can be transferred through belief to the One [Jesus] sent to bear them."

Southern Baptists anticipated criticism of their prayer effort.

"Many Jewish leaders reject such efforts as being wrongheaded, arrogant or even contributing to the spiritual and cultural equivalent of the Holocaust," Don Kammerdiener, executive vice president of the International Mission Board, said in a statement. "But the Bible is clear regarding the necessity of sharing the Gospel with Jews."

But Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger, leader of Congregation Beth-El, a Reform synagogue in Fort Worth, said he does not see the prayer effort as so benign.

"When they come to my holiest day of the year and suggest God is not listening, I think that is offensive and very un-Christian," Mecklenburger said.

Briskman said he appreciates that many devout evangelicals believe that it is their religious duty to share their belief in Christ. "But when they target Jews as we begin our 10 most serious religious holidays, I think that is the height of arrogance," he said.

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