Letter: When Christians preach to Jews

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Bishop of Oxford wrote to you, on behalf of the Council of Christians and Jews, to criticise the Jews for Jesus advertisement you carried (24 March) as 'misconceived and harmful' (letter, 1 April). I have no association with Jews for Jesus, but I wonder if this is the most appropriate response.

It may be true that it has become tasteless and insulting for Gentile Christians to attempt to preach the Gospel to Jews because the Holocaust was largely carried out by Christians and because it followed many centuries of sometimes vicious Christian anti-Semitism. The only people with the right to speak to Jews about Jesus are those who, as fellow Jews, were also targets of the genocide. And yet it appears that the advertisements cause more, not less, offence because they are placed by Jews.

Naturally, whenever the Gospel is preached, particularly in sensitive situations, this should be done with the greatest tact and discretion, as an invitation and with no element of aggression. I have seen all the advertisements of Jews for Jesus that have been the focus of public controversy over the past few years, and they seem to me to meet those criteria. It seems sad if the people in a position to speak to Jews about Jesus should be disowned by their fellow Christians when they make the gentlest of attempts to do so.

There is no doubt that the organisation Jews for Jesus causes real offence, and the root of this hurt needs to be attended to. But I do not see how I can defend the activity of the early Jewish Christians, who caused even greater offence when they preached the Gospel, without also defending the right of Jews for Jesus to offer a similar witness today. This implies no lack of respect for the integrity of Judaism as a living religion - quite the contrary, since Jesus was a believing and a practising Jew. But it must entail a defence of those Jews who have come to believe in Jesus against the charge that they have betrayed their religious heritage.

I am concerned about whether it is the official line of the Council of Christians and Jews that a Jew cannot be a Christian. This view, when held by Jews, deserves to be treated with the greatest respect. But I do not see that a Christian can hold it.

Yours sincerely,

MARGARET HEBBLETHWAITE

Oxford

2 April

(Photograph omitted)

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