U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: Don't evangelize Jews
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement Monday saying that Catholics should evangelize non-Christians—but not Jews. "The command of the Resurrected Jesus in Matthew 28:19 to make disciples 'of all nations' means that the Church must bear witness in the world to the Good News of Christ so as to prepare the world for the fullness of the kingdom of God," says Reflections on Covenant and Mission.
However, this evangelizing task no longer includes the wish to absorb the Jewish faith into Christianity and so end the distinctive witness of Jews to God in human history. Thus, while the Catholic Church regards the saving act of Christ as central to the process of human salvation for all, it also acknowledges that Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God. The Catholic Church must always evangelize and will always witness to its faith in the presence of God's kingdom in Jesus Christ to Jews and to all other people.
Rabbis from the National Council of Synagogues (representing Reform and Conservative groups) also joined in the statement. "It should be obvious that any mission of Christians to the Jews is in direct conflict with the Jewish notion that the covenant itself is that mission," the document says. "The pious of all the nations of the world have a place in the world to come." (These comments come under "Jewish reflections," so it appears that the Catholic bishops didn't necessarily agree to this specific sentence. Nevertheless, it is part of the larger Reflections on Covenant and Mission statement.)
The document is just starting to receive media attention, and most analysis isn't very deep. The Associated Press ran a four-sentence summary, stating in the second sentence that "the bishops have made similar declarations in the past and the Catholic church has largely dropped the practice of evangelizing Jews."
The Baltimore Sun focuses on the local angle, and drops the ball on at least one sentence: "Many evangelical Christians see evangelizing non-Christians, particularly Jews, as a religious obligation."
First, evangelicals don't see particular need for evangelizing Jews over and above other non-Christians—though there is some confusion about Paul's admonition to take the gospel "to the Jew first."
Second, there is wide debate in the evangelical community over evangelization of Jews. Such was recognized by the 1989 Willowbank Declaration, one of the most widely accepted evangelical documents on Christians and Jews (signatories included Vernon Grounds, Kenneth Kantzer, David Wells, and J. I. Packer, as well as evangelical leaders from Kenya, France, Norway, the Philippines, England, Taiwan, and India). As the Willowbank Declaration points out, evangelicals agree that Jews don't need to give up their identity as Jews—but we also believe they need Jesus.
The Boston Globe's article on Reflections on Covenant and Mission emphasizes its disparity with evangelical theology, but also notes that "Catholic efforts to convert Jews 'dried up' after the Second Vatican Council."
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, meanwhile, suggests that Reflections on Covenant and Mission isn't just at odds with evangelical Protestant theology—it's at odds with a lot of Catholic teaching. Scott Hahn, theology professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, says the U.S. bishops' statement goes far beyond what the Vatican has said, even in its recent statement that "The Jewish Messianic wait is not in vain." Yes, Hahn says, God's covenant with the Jews "is still binding. Yes, it is not revoked, and yes, the Jewish people are witnesses of the kingdom. But that does not lead us to conclude that their faithful witness to the kingdom calls for them not to recognize Jesus as the messiah and to respond in faith to the grace of conversion."
Hahn tells Post-Gazette that he'd rather see the bishops call targeting Jews for conversion pastorally unacceptable—not theologically unacceptable. Others quoted in the story disagree with Hahn's wish, but agree that Reflections on Covenant and Mission goes way beyond the Vatican's teaching on evangelizing Jews.
We'll have more on this later, but those interested in evangelical beliefs about Jews should check out Richard Mouw's 2001 Christianity Today article, "The Chosen People Puzzle." Be sure also to check out the "Related Elsewhere" items at the bottom of that page, which include links to Christianity Todayeditorials, statements by Billy Graham, and other articles on the topic.
More on Catholicism:
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- Church boot losing its kick | Excommunication isn't extinct, as the Vatican made clear again this week, but the ancient punishment is used rarely enough to make it seem not only unstylish, but obsolete (New York Daily News)
- The Rev. John McCloskey: The Catholic Church's K Street lobbyist (Chris Suellentrop, Slate.com)
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- Sinner vs. sinner: Whose is bigger? | Without Sunday Mass, there is definitely something missing. But there is also something gained (Joan Vennochi, The Boston Globe)
- New church post for wedded priest | Emmanuel Milingo will return to faith-healing in Italy when he finishes a one-year retreat (Reuters)
- Earlier: Why Are Pastors Flying to Moon? | Recent black clergy firings are only the latest chapter in Unification Church's efforts to court Christian leaders (Christianity Today, Aug. 8, 2001)
Persecution in Indonesia:
- Five dead in attack on Christian villages in Indonesia (AFP)
- Violence rocks Sulawesi truce | Gunmen have shot dead at least five people in raids on two Christian villages on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (BBC)
- One dead, three missing in Indonesia's tense Poso | Tensions flared anew between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia's troubled region of Central Sulawesi (Reuters)
- Jakarta rejects Muslim law and alters presidential voting | The rejection of a proposal to introduce Islamic Shariah law came even before it was put to a vote by the 700-member People's Consultative Assembly (The New York Times)
- Pakistani police arrest militant | Suspect had hand grenades, is charged with planning attacks (Associated Press)
- Pakistan's president promises increased security | Calls attacks on Christians 'despicable' (Associated Press)
- Also: Musharraf condemns Islamic militants (BBC)
- Pak Christians stage peace march | Waving placards and banners and holding bunches of white tulips, they paraded on major roads in Islamabad for almost 90 minutes before converging outside United Nations offices (AFP)
- Also: Muslims, Christians hold solidarity march (Dawn, Karachi, Pakistan)
- Killings pose challenge for Pakistan | Anti-Christian attacks seen as response to pro-U.S. policies (MSNBC)
- Potential resolution to Episcopal feud | A highly publicized battle between a Philadelphia area priest and the Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania may come to some sort of resolution next week if the priest is named as bishop to Forward in Faith, a traditional Episcopal group (The Washington Times)
- Gays accuse incoming archbishop of betrayal | In his first letter to Anglican primates, Dr Williams tried to allay fears that he will undermine the traditional ban on the ordination of practising homosexuals by acknowledging that the policy reflected the "mind" of the Church (The Daily Telegraph, London)
Churches vs. their communities
- Town cites need for revenue, fights church for land | Officials in the town of Cypress are trying to seize land purchased by a tax-exempt Christian group for a new church, arguing in court that they have a "compelling interest" for the property to be occupied by a taxable business (The Washington Times)
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- Judge: State must put funds in escrow | Florida's controversial tuition voucher system can continue as planned this fall if the state puts $2.5 million in escrow while a state appeals court reviews the constitutionality of the program, a Tallahassee judge ruled Friday in a victory for Gov. Jeb Bush (The Miami Herald)
- Also: Judge approves voucher use this year (UPI)
- Vouchers? Idea really will help poor children | The idea that this is all some Machiavellian plot to destroy public schools is absurd and is not backed by the facts (Miek Thomas, The Orlando Sentinel)
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Chaplains suing the Navy:
- Chaplains feel stand justified | Fifty chaplains have joined in a religious discrimination lawsuit against the Navy and are waiting for a judge in the 5th District Court in Washington to decide if their case may be viewed as a class action suit, permitting others with complaints to join the group (The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C.)
- Earlier: Chaplains allege unfair treatment in race, religion (The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C.)
- Also: Navy chaplains take stand on prayers, wage lawsuit (Associated Press)
Pledge of Allegiance:
- 'Under God' opponent claims personal affront | "I filed [suit] mostly on my own behalf, that I have the right as a parent to send my child to public school without indoctrination of religious dogma," says Michael Newdow (CNN)
- U.S. wants Pledge ban overturned | Trying to rescue the words "under God" from court assault, the Justice Department is maintaining that a three-judge federal appeals panel failed to heed Supreme Court rulings when it held that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional (Associated Press)
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