Jews for Jesus ignite campus controversy
The presence of Jews for Jesus on campus has provoked tenuous debate among the Washington University community over religious boundaries, policies concerning proselytizing, and the sponsorship of visiting organizations.
Jews for Jesus is an international group that, according to their website, “exists to make the messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to [their] Jewish people worldwide.”
During the past two weeks, Jews for Jesus has been on the streets of St. Louis, Clayton, and on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus making an effort to spread their beliefs in the hope to convert “traditional Jews,” meaning Jews who do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, into Jews for Jesus.
On WU’s campus, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship sponsored Jews for Jesus.
A full-page advertisement in the Sept. 10 issue of Student Life and two attempts to paint a section of the underpass, both of which were vandalized, first sparked the debate over Jews for Jesus. These initial events, along with Jews for Jesus’s table in Mallinckrodt, have since evoked discussion concerning the group and their purpose as visitors to the university.
One tenet of Jews for Jesus that has upset much of the community is the assertion that one can be both Jewish and a believer in Jesus.
A leaflet distributed by Hillel titled “Things you Need to Know About Jews for Jesus,” says, “Jews for Jesus try to assure prospective converts that they are not renouncing Judaism by accepting the beliefs of Jews for Jesus. According to Jewish law and tradition, such an acceptance is indeed a renunciation of Judaism.”
The leaflet goes on to criticize Jews for Jesus’s “tactics,” including its “deceptive High Holiday notices,” and “misleading literature.” Rabbi Hayim Shaffner further described Jews for Jesus’s tactics as “sly.”
Katie Alexander, treasurer of Jewish Student Union (JSU), further expressed unease with the insensitivity in Jews for Jesus’s selection of when it would come to campus.
“The idea that they are here during the High Holidays makes me nervous as well because Jews for Jesus are using this time of reflection and uncertainty about one’s faith to pull Jews towards a Christian organization,” said Alexander.
Jews for Jesus is unapologetic about the fact that it has taken a particular interest in converting WU’s large Jewish community or the tactics that the group uses.
Graduated senior Jonathon Buchanan, who teamed up with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to bring Jews for Jesus to campus, said, “Our goal is to proclaim the message of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.”
Bum Young Kim, team leader for IVCF, further stated that the goal of the group’s presence on campus is to create a dialogue and “hopefully lift the level of spirituality on campus.”
Debate over Jews for Jesus bridges religious lines
Despite Jews for Jesus’s desire to lead potential converts to Christianity, a goal of many Christian organizations, according to Sister Linda Straub of the Catholic Student Center, many of the campus’s Christian organizations decided not to support Jews for Jesus. Straub expressed concerns that “Jews for Jesus will unduly influence the beliefs of the Jews and or Muslims on campus.”
Straub also expressed questions over whether InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was following the WU Interfaith Campus Ministry Association’s (ICMA) Code of Ethics, which, among other things states, “We shall not seek to mislead a student for our cause,” and “we shall not target other faith traditions or campus ministries to undermine their relationships with the students affiliated with their ministries.”
The Code of Ethics, however, was not in place at the time Jews for Jesus first came to campus. The document was under review, and was approved by the ICMA last night and then signed by its members.
The issue of whether InterVarsity, who did sign the Code of Ethics, is in violation of the agreement was a topic of discussion at last nights ICMA meeting.
Straub was not clear about whether she thought that InterVaristy was in violation of the code by sponsoring Jews for Jesus. She did say that she felt that Jews for Jesus received some good guidance as to how best carry out their mission with least offense, though she did not say that might not have been done to “everyone’s satisfaction.”
Shafner was much clearer in his disapproval of the group framed in terms of the Code of Ethic’s boundaries.
“It is a clear violation of the Code of Ethics,” said Shaffner. “You’re not allowed to proselytize a particular group, and that is what they are doing.”
Shaffner did note, however, the Code of Ethics was not imposed at the time that Jews for Jesus came to campus, and since it plans on being here for a short period of time, the code will likely have little bearing on their presence on campus.
Jill Carnaghi, vice chancellor for students and director of campus life, who also participates in meetings of ICMA, praised the association for the civility, honesty and openness of the discussion concerning Jews for Jesus, but that in the absence of a decisive conclusion, students need to make their own decisions concerning Jews for Jesus and its mission.
“Students on this campus will resolve this and they will each form their own opinions on the issue, and if students feel strongly enough they will say that this is unacceptable,” she said.
Carnaghi concluded by saying that freedom of speech, press and religion, no matter what religion that may be, must always be up held to the up most standard by the entire WU community.
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