When it comes to salesmanship – which is essentially what evangelism is all about – the “soft-sell” is still a sales pitch. It seeks to disarm us by short-circuiting our natural defensive instincts, and deliberately takes advantage of our popularly held stereotypes about how missionaries work and what they look like. We assume that if someone isn’t carrying a large Bible and preaching endlessly about Jesus and the need to be saved, then that person really isn’t interested in converting us. Taking a page out of today’s sophisticated advertising and sales techniques, today’s low-impact missionaries avoid direct hyping of their product and prefer to simply create warm ’n fuzzy impressions and positive branding.
Occasionally, these “soft-sell” missionaries experience “loose-tongue syndrome” and clearly articulate their strategy. Joe Dean, founder of an American Christian-Zionist organization, explained that, “By standing with the Jewish people in love and support, we can provoke them to jealousy, as the apostle Paul said, so as to win them to Christ.
Not by cramming the gospel down their throats, but by showing that our faith produces faithful works. I have told the Jewish agencies that we are not an evangelical group as such, and this is true. We are not actively trying to win Jews to Christ – but by taking this stand, the Jewish people don’t run away from us, and we are able to witness to them indirectly.”
Frank Eiklor, head of Shalom International, works tirelessly fighting Anti-Semitism and drumming up support for Israel. He bristles at any suggestion that he has a hidden agenda. But, fundraising letters to his supporters tell another story: “I want to see Christians wake up and stand for the Jewish people. Only then will Jews be impressed and one day want Jesus as their Messiah!”
Chosen People Ministries is one of the largest Christian missionary organizations in the world that specifically targets the Jewish community. In a recent letter sent to their supporters, they explained how their staff was using an “undercover” approach to make meaningful contact with Jewish people. One missionary “found ways to touch Jewish hearts with the Gospel by taking Hebrew classes and befriending her classmates and teachers.” Another missionary spent a year in Israel where “she worked in an Israeli hospital and had some extraordinary opportunities to share with her co-workers.”
“Israel’s Hope” is another missionary organization reaching out to Jews. One newsletter outlined how they were pursuing a more “indirect” approach to sharing their faith with the Jewish community, citing several examples of this type of evangelism including participation in inter-faith humanitarian meetings as well as Christian-Jewish discussion groups focusing on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Their obvious agenda is to actively seek ways to subtly inject the gospel message into inter-faith meetings and discussion groups with a large Jewish attendance.
For years, the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ) has been respected by the worldwide Jewish community as a steadfast friend and supporter of Israel. Every year, they organize a “Feast of Tabernacles” program that attracts thousands of Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem. While the Embassy has always portrayed itself as an organization with no connection to Jewish evangelism, JEWS FOR JUDAISM has documented the Embassy’s ongoing involvement in efforts to convert Jews.
We recently acquired tapes of meetings from a Feast of Tabernacles program. One of the sessions was entitled, “Fulfilling the Great Commission.” In the Christian Bible, the “Great Commission” was the mandate given to the church to spread its religion throughout the world. At the end of the program, a participant identified herself as a missionary to the Jewish people in Israel who focused her outreach on members of the Israel Defense Force. She referred to the passage in Isaiah Chapter 40 which says, Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. “This is the way that we are going to win the Jews to Christ,” she said. “It’s through comfort. Not through telling them what the Bible says and does not say. They are only interested in love.” Following her remarks, the entire room burst out in applause. Her approach to evangelism is not Biblical preaching, but through an indirect emotional connection that is less likely to raise suspicions.
The 2004 Feast of Tabernacles celebration attracted over 4,000 pilgrims from 70 nations. Pat Robertson, the famed American televangelist recognized as a great supporter of Israel, was a featured speaker. It was precisely because of his strong, outspoken pro-Israel reputation that his remarks sent shockwaves throughout Jewish communities around the world.
“Jews need to begin to cry out for their Messiah,” Robertson preached. “I’ve met wonderful Jews in Siberia, Brazil, the United States, here in Jerusalem who are all saying ‘Yes, Jesus you are our messiah.’” What makes Robertson’s statement even more troublesome is that he was merely articulating a sentiment the Christians in attendance heartily endorsed, but are reluctant to actively and publicly proclaim for fear of exposing their true agenda.
Not all Christians who seek to work and dialogue with the Jewish community have a hidden evangelical agenda. But, there are many who do. We must be vigilant and avoid any interaction with individuals or organizations that conduct their missionary activities under the cover of interfaith cooperation. While we can be thankful for the genuine efforts that some of these groups make on behalf of Israel, it is nevertheless shortsighted to run joint programs with individuals or organizations that put Jewish people at spiritual risk. JEWS FOR JUDAISM regularly and carefully monitors numerous missionary and evangelical organizations and individuals. If you have any questions concerning a particular group, event or individual, please consult with us.
Rabbi Skobac is Education Director of the Toronto
Rabbi Michael Skobac Branch of JEWS FOR JUDAISM.