There is a bit more to the story than was reported in Thursday’s Hatchet regarding the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s decision to bring a representative from Jews for Jesus to campus (“Groups host Jews for Jesus,” April 8, p. 6).
A member of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship left me a voicemail on the Friday prior to the event to inform me that they were bringing in Jews for Jesus as part of Jesus Awareness Week. In his message, he said he wanted to “assuage any fears” that I may have about Jews for Jesus and why the Fellowship was bringing Mr. Katz to campus. Clearly, this student understood that this was a decision that would not sit well with a large number of students, both Jewish and not, on this campus.
I called him back and clearly explained to him that there are no “fears,” but rather just facts. I detailed the fact that Jews for Jesus uses misinformation and deception to attract Jews, especially vulnerable Jews like the recently emigrated Russian-Jewish communities in Brooklyn. The fact is that they misquote, mistranslate and misrepresent Jewish texts in order to give credence to their claims. They claim that Jews can remain Jewish even after converting – which is only true in that Jews still consider a Jew who has converted “legally” Jewish. They claim that as a Jew, one can reconcile one’s Judaism while accepting Jesus as one’s savior as well as the only pathway to salvation. That clearly leaves Judaism out of the picture.
Most disturbing was his response to my concerns. He said “the only individuals who he has heard criticize Jews for Jesus have been Jews.” And those Jews, he continued, have a clear agenda. I continued that non-Jewish members of the GW Board of Chaplains, which includes religious leadership from the major religions on campus – as well as clergy from the Western Presbyterian Church – also oppose groups like Jews for Jesus. His response was “I don’t go to those people and places for guidance and answers.” This was after he had told me that he welcomes anyone to bring opposing opinions to him to consider. Anyone, apparently, except for Jews and Presbyterians.
According to the Jews for Judaism Web site (www. Jewsforjudaism.org), there are numerous Christian groups who find the “Hebrew Christian” movements untenable. They include the Episcopal Bishops of Maryland; the Archdiocese of Harrisburg, Pa.; the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C.; the Campus Ministry Board at American University in Washington, D.C.; the National Conference of Christians and Jews (Southern California Region); and the Interfaith Conference of Washington, D.C. (a group that includes the Roman Catholic Archdiocese as well as Baptist and mainline Protestant groups).
Due to the Passover holiday, the Jewish community was not able to mobilize and actively oppose the decision to bring Jews for Jesus to campus. We can only respond after the fact. And our response is that Jesus Awareness Week is a wonderful idea – for Christians to learn more about accepting Jesus and for students of other religions to see why Jesus is so central to Christianity. But to bring in a group that uses deception and underhanded strategies to target students of other faiths – as well as targeting students of others faiths, period – is not acceptable here at GW or anywhere else.
–The writer is the executive director of Hillel at The George Washington University.