Graham Feted By American Jewish Committee
This article originally appeared in the November 1, 1999 issue of Christianity Today.
Last week, the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago issued a statement to the Southern Baptist Convention regarding the denomination's plans to bring 100,000 missionaries to the Windy City next summer. "While we are confident that your volunteers would come with entirely peaceful intentions, a campaign of the nature and scope you envision could contribute to a climate conducive to hate crimes," the letter said. According to the Chicago Tribune, the statement was "prompted by the concerns of local Jewish leaders" who are already upset about the Southern Baptists' September campaign to pray specifically for the conversion of Jews during the Jewish High Holy Days. And, though Southern Baptist leaders have been careful to promise the missionaries will not target specific religious groups, many of the negative comments about the plan focus on targeted evangelism.
Targeted evangelism, particularly targeting Jews, has always been controversial. The archives of Christianity Today are filled with discussions of the topic. Today we are publishing several important articles on the subject both old and new. In this news article, from our November 18, 1977, issue, evangelist Billy Graham is quoted as reaffirming his 1973 statement that his mission is to call all men to Christ without singling out any specific religious or ethnic group. However, Graham's statement at this award meeting is more often quoted than his original 1973 statement, though the two are essentially similar.
"You know that I stand before you as an evangelical Christian who is committed to the beliefs of the New Testament. You do not expect me to be anything other than what I am."
With this introduction evangelist Billy Graham last month made his first public address to a national Jewish group. He considered the opportunity important enough to fly to Atlanta on the eighth day of his ten-day crusade in Cincinnati (see preceding story). It was the annual meeting of the American Jewish Committee's national executive council. A long-time friend, Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum of the AJC staff, presented to Graham the agency's first national interreligious award.
"Let us not hide our differences under a basket," the world's best-known evangelical told his audience of some 200 Jewish leaders. Quoting Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, he counseled understanding and respect. Then the evangelist launched into a brief review of his own testimony, ending with: "I am here today because of that commitment made forty-three years ago."
That 1934 decision for Christ in a North Carolina revival pushed him into a study of the Bible that had profound effects, he recalled. Graham said the result was not only an intolerance of "social and personal evils" of his generation—such as racial discrimination—but also a realization of "the debt I owed to Israel to Judaism, and to the Jewish people."
In introducing the speaker, Tanenbaum left little question that Graham had done as much as any Christian to pay off that debt. He heaped lavish praise on the evangelist, declaring that most of the progress in Protestant-Jewish relations in the past quarter century is attributable to Graham's leadership. Tanenbaum, who has been working at improving Jewish-Christian relations for twenty-five years, said that Israel's political leaders—from Golda Meir to Menahem Begin—could "recite chapter and verse" of times when Graham provided assistance. In addition to aiding the cause of Israelis, said Tanenbaum, Graham has also "been present" to Jews elsewhere in their times of crisis. The evangelist was cited for his repudiation of "deceptive techniques" of proselytism by some Christian groups.