It was not all unexpected that Reinhold Niebuhr’s essay on “The Relations of Christians and Jews in Western Civilization” (Pious and Secular America, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1958) should have been published first in a Rabbinic magazine (CCAR journal, the organ of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Reform, April, 1958) and applauded so vigorously by Jewish leaders. For even if they did not follow or agree entirely with his line of reasoning, it was enough that one of America’s distinguished Christian theologians had finally told his brethren in effect: stop trying to evangelize the Jew. Acknowledging “the stubborn will of the Jews as a peculiar people, both religiously and ethnically,” Dr. Niebuhr suggests that the Christian and Gentile majority “accept this fact and cease to practice tolerance provisionally in the hope that it will encourage assimilation ethnically and conversion religiously.”
“Such religious tolerance always produces violent reactions when ultimately disappointed …” says Dr. Niebuhr and so he advises his Christian readers, “the Christian majority can achieve a more genuine tolerance only if it assumes the continued refusal of the Jew to be assimilated.… That recognition involves an appreciation of the resources of Jewish life, morally and religiously, which make Judaism something other than an inferior form of religion such as must ultimately recognize the superiority of the Christian faith; and end its long resistance by capitulation and conversion.”
So Dr. Niebuhr cautions the Christian evangelist: the Jew is not at all easy to convert and not many of them will; and if the major factor in your relationship to him is in terms of your evangelical aspirations you are sure to provoke his ...1
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