A wave of protest by many Jewish organizations forced the cancellation of a television program in several cities on the eve of Passover (see April 23 issue, pages 28 and 33). Opponents of the program said that the idea of using the contemporary celebration of Passover as a means to preach the Christian Gospel to Jews was offensive. The producer of the program was the American Board of Missions to the Jews, which is among the largest of more than a hundred such organizations in the country. It is noteworthy that most of these groups have a high percentage of Jewish Christians on their staffs.
This episode is one more illustration of how the whole principle and practice of trying to convert persons from one religious belief to another is denigrated today. Zeal for winning people to one’s views in politics or economics or military policy is generally commended, but zeal in evangelism, or “proselytism,” as its opponents brand it, is held to be a medieval hangup, unworthy of the modern spirit.
Two related issues are at stake. One is the teaching of “universalism,” which holds that whatever salvation there is will be shared by all men regardless of their religion. To try to win adherents of Judaism (or Islam or Buddhism or some other or even no religion) to Christianity is needless because they are saved anyway and can be harmful because it disrupts their normal community relationships. The other issue is the legitimacy, indeed the necessity, of evangelism, or “proselytism.” If someone believes that he has found the truth about the ultimate questions of the universe with which all the great religions are concerned, it would seem quite selfish if he wanted to keep that truth to himself or for the private enlightenment of ...1
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