Messianic Jewish believers are questioning the judgment of Fuller Theological Seminary in sponsoring a conference on religious pluralism with the American Jewish Committee (AJC), an implacable opponent of evangelistic outreach to Jews.
The January conference took place on the Pasadena, California, campus of Fuller, headquarters of evangelicalism's only formal program in Judaic studies.
Some members of Fuller's School of World Mission still bridle over how Rabbi A. James Rudin, coconvener of the conference and national director of interreligious affairs for the AJC, had opposed the founding of the school's program of Judaic studies by denouncing Jews who affirm Jesus as Messiah.
Just before the conference opened, Fuller President Richard Mouw reaffirmed his commitment "to calling Jews to faith in Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah."
Jews for Jesus Executive Director David Brickner called Mouw's evangelistic stance "clear and forthright."
Tuvya Zaretsky, leader of Jews for Jesus in Los Angeles, said that "the American Jewish Committee is working pointedly to undermine evangelism of Jews."
Zaretsky warned that Rudin has worked to marginalize Jewish Christians. Arthur Glasser, head of the Judaic Studies Program at Fuller's School of World Mission, himself questioned the conference's use of the bipolar term Christians and Jews as if Jewish-Christian is a contradiction in terms.
Zaretsky said that the AJC uses the competing terms Jewish and Christian as a denigration of Jewish Christians' Jewish identity.
Rudin, however, said he does not argue against religious diversity or the right of individuals to believe what they wish. Instead, he warned that whenever he hears the claim that "there is only one way to God," he hears an echo of totalitarianism.
"Sadly, we have through the centuries tried many terrible ways to eliminate that God-ordained diversity," Rudin said. "For some groups it meant simply praying for the conversion of the other."
SPURNED DIALOGUE: Stuart Dauerman, who is both a Fuller student and rabbi at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue in Beverly Hills, notes that Rudin at the conference appeared at times upset and peevish when confronted with Fuller students in the audience who are Jewish believers in Jesus as Dauerman is.
"Afterwards, I waited around to try to shake his hand, too," Dauerman said, "but he saw me, turned, and walked away." Jewish believers "are his embarrassing relatives," Dauerman said.
The AJC also has led criticism of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) evangelization of Jews. Last summer, the sbc passed a resolution reaffirming evangelism to Jews, a move ajc head Phil Baum called "offensive doctrinal arrogance" (CT, July 15, 1996, p. 66).
Phil Roberts, director for interfaith witness of the SBC Home Mission Board, said that Rudin intimated that Jewish Christians are traitors and refused to shake his hand at an October Jewish-Christian relations national workshop.
Yet, Fuller's Mouw pointed out that Rudin originally proposed the conference at the seminary, indicating that both sides were prepared to take the risks of alienating their own supporters.
Mouw said Dauerman's presence at the conference sparked a tense moment when the Jewish convert issue arose.
"But the main accomplishment is that we were in the same room," Mouw said. "We were able to experience the pain of deep differences and also the forming of friendships."
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