America’s largest Christian evangelical group has launched a national prayer campaign to get Jews to accept Jesus during the High Holy Days. The Southern Baptist International Mission Board, which coordinates proselytization activities, issued a prayer pamphlet last week to guide its members on how to pray to God so that Jews will convert during the 10 days of reflection between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur.
Randy Sprinkle, director of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board’s prayer strategy office, denied the campaign was hostile to Jews.
"Intercessory prayer is an act of love," Sprinkle said.
Jewish leaders quickly denounced the effort.Reform movement president Rabbi Eric Yoffie said, "We are deeply offended. We do not welcome a campaign that singles out the Jewish people for conversionary activities, and which suggests that Jews must relinquish their faith for Baptists to strengthen their own.
"We are particularly saddened that this campaign comes during the holiest time of the Jewish year, shortly after a number of violent, anti-Semitic acts have been committed in cities throughout America."
But Don Kammerdiener, executive vice president of the International Mission Board, said "obedient Christians have no choice except to invite Jews and all other peoples to come to faith in Christ.
"Many Jewish leaders reject such efforts as being wrongheaded, arrogant or even contributing to the spiritual and cultural equivalent of the Holocaust," Kammerdiener said. "But the Bible [New Testament] is clear regarding the necessity of sharing the gospel with Jews. The Bible is explicit in saying, in Romans 1:16, that Jews are not only included in the gospel invitation, but that the gospel is to go to the Jew first and also to the Gentile."
The new prayer booklet contains suggestions about how the 16 million Southern Baptists should pray for Jewish people as they seek God. The publication also features 10 vignettes of Jewish life during the High Holy Days, with brief sketches of Jewish populations around the world.
In 1996, the Southern Baptists adopted a controversial resolution to increase efforts to proselytize Jews, an act denounced by national Jewish leaders.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the campaign "comes out of an arrogance that you possess the absolute truth and nobody else has that truth."
While saying that the effort is totally contrary to the spirit of dialogue, Foxman noted that some progress appears to have been made from 1996 when the Southern Baptists called for converting Jews. "Now they are only praying for us."