Nashville, Tenn. -- A leading Jewish organization is condemning the Southern Baptist Convention for using a group of "messianic" Jews _ people who have already converted to Christianity _ in its evangelism.
Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman said the effort is offensive because the Southern Baptists are using Jews who have converted to Christianity "to go after other Jews."
"If people convert, that's their individual business," Foxman said. "But don't use them as a tool to convert other people."
At the heart of the ADL's complaint is a decision by the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee to ask its missionary boards to study the idea of recognizing the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship as "an evangelistic mission to Jewish people."
The fellowship is made up of about a dozen congregations in the United States. Its Web site says its mission is "to encourage Jewish believers that their ethnic and historical heritage need NOT be lost upon their commitment to Yeshua (Jesus)."
The idea to use the fellowship was first proposed at the national convention in Nashville in June. The SBC executive committee recommended last week that its International Mission Board and North American Mission Board study the possibility.
Jim Sibley, coordinator of Jewish Ministries for the SBC's North American Mission Board, said the ADL was overreacting. The committee was simply forwarding the proposal, he said.
"Personally, I don't really see this (recommendation) going anywhere," Sibley said Thursday.
There's a history of conflict between Jews and Southern Baptists over this issue.
The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in 1996 calling on its members to "direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel to the Jewish people."
A 1999 prayer guide by the International Mission Board recommended conversion of Jews to Christianity during their High Holy Days, an effort labeled "offensive and disrespectful" by Jewish leaders.
As recently as 2003, Jewish leaders criticized a Southern Baptist seminary president for saying Christians have a mandate to evangelize Jews just as a surgeon has a responsibility to tell a patient about the presence of a "deadly tumor."
Now, Foxman said, "they're trying another approach."
"Maybe they think Jews will talk to Jews because they feel more comfortable," he said.
Said Sibley: "We believe we have a life-changing message that we are commanded to tell everyone. We don't use force, and we don't want to be rude or offensive in any way."