The head of the Southern Baptist Convention has rejected conditions from a New York Jewish group on convening a summit meeting to discuss mounting Jewish concerns over "deceptive" missionary tactics being used against Jews.
In a Nov. 22 letter to the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of New York, Rev. Paige Patterson, president of the nation’s largest Protestant group, delivered his "final offer" for a proposed summit. Patterson insists on terms he originally proposed on Nov. 9, which include a daylong conference attended by 16 Jewish and Christian leaders at a neutral site.
JCRC last week counter-proposed a one-on-one luncheon meeting between its lay president, Gedale Horowitz, and Patterson, to be held at Horowitz’s New York Wall Street business office.
"My final offer is the same as before," Patterson writes in the latest correspondence between JCRC and his office.
Patterson’s offer seeks the attendance of the heads of four American Jewish seminaries, Reform, Orthodox, Conservative and Reconstructionist, the two JCRC officials, and two others. He also wants in attendance two representatives of "Messianic Jewish" groups. It is the proselytizing efforts by so-called "Messianic Jewish" or "Hebrew Christian" groups (recently publicly endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention) that prompted this series of strained letters since September between JCRC and Patterson.
Patterson said eight Southern Baptist leaders would also attend the proposed meeting "in an attempt of Jews and Baptists to enhance understanding and encourage absolute integrity of religious expression as we relate each to the other.
Patterson listed two provisos: "First that our Jewish friends would have to understand that Baptists cannot abandon the proclamation of our faith, and second that two of the eight representatives would be in the interest of maximum understanding, ‘Messianic Jews.’ "In a new wrinkle, Patterson’s "final offer" on Monday includes the suggestion of a Jewish moderator.
"For your comfort," writes Patterson, he suggested Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of Toward Tradition, a politically conservative Jewish public policy group.
Rabbi Lapin could not be reached for comment.
Horowitz, JCRC’s lay leader who is managing director of Salomon Smith Barney, contended that a two-person luncheon meeting would "be more conducive to discussing our respective concerns. Horowitz proposed that Patterson, based in North Carolina, come to his business office New York "at a mutually agreed upon time and date."
One Jewish leader called Horowitz’s proposal unseemly, criticizing the invitation of a national religious leader to a Wall Street office. The source, who requested anonymity, also questioned Horowitz’s credentials to debate complicated religious points. "He’s a bond trader," the source said.
Philip Abramowitz, director of JCRC’s Task Force on Missionaries and Cults, said Horowitz is prepared for a face-to-face encounter with Patterson.
Patterson, meanwhile, chided JCRC for faxing its counterproposal to the media before he received it.
"May I remind you that your are the one who sent a letter signed by six and sent it to the media before it came to the supposed recipient," Patterson stated. "Now you want a private meeting in your office."
JCRC’s executive vice president Michael Miller said the group would not immediately respond to Patterson’s letter. "We are consulting with our organizational leadership before responding."
JCRC’s complaints against the Southern Baptists were launched last September after the SBC publicly endorsed Messianic Jews, who believe in Jesus as the Messiah, and employ traditional Jewish ritual objects such as tallises and yarmulkes to, according to JCRC, deceptively lure unaffiliated or vulnerable Jews into their fold.Patterson rejects the charge that he is endorsing deceptive tactics.
"I have made a good-faith offer for open discussion, including all groups involved to talk for our mutual understanding," Patterson stated this week in his letter. "If it is understanding and progress in relationships that you seek, then I know you will eagerly accept my offer."