When Jews for Jesus announced plans recently to recruit members in Canada, it caused a firestorm of controversy that revealed a rift between the Jewish and Christian communities.
The group made a public announcement that it would recruit this summer in Toronto; in contrast to previous efforts, Jews for Jesus announced that they intended to utilize churches as a base for their proselytizing activities. The Canadian Jewish Congress responded with an aggressive campaign, sending letters to more than 300 Toronto-area churches condemning Jews for Jesus as misrepresenting the fundamental tenets of Judaism.
Only six churches issued replies — and only one of those agreed with the Congress’s assessment. The five others saw the group’s effort to stifle Jews for Jesus as an affront to Canadians’ freedom of religion.
In a letter to the Jewish congress, Reverend David Zub of the United Church of Canada declared that his organization is diametrically against “the missionary tactics and theological basis of the Jews for Jesus movement on the basis that it is a supercessionist movement of self-glorification not in keeping with the teachings of Jesus, and which not only misrepresents Judaic faith, but also the broad spectrum of Christian faith and doctrine.”
Yet Reverend Rick Hayden of the Parkway Bible Church in Ontario issued a sharp rebuke to the Jewish congress in a letter attacking efforts to stifle Jews for Jesus as “unfair and perhaps slanderous.” Kel Trudgian, the senior pastor of Grace Church, described the congress’s campaign against Jews for Jesus as an “attempt to suppress freedom of speech.”
According to Ed Morgan, Ontario chairman of the Jewish congress, Jews for Jesus wages an aggressive campaign of its own. The group, he said, specifically targets Jews who are aware of their heritage yet ignorant of the beliefs that underpin it. In Toronto, he pointed out, there are a large number of impoverished, uninformed Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. When such immigrants are presented with propaganda that prominently displays menorahs along with other Jewish symbols, he said, they are led to believe that Jews for Jesus is a Jewish organization — yet the group’s declaration that Jesus is the messiah is anathema to Jewish thought.
“This is not proper Jewish teaching,” Morgan said. “And I have never met a Jewish spokesperson or a Jewish person who condoned this kind of disguised proselytizing activity.”