01 August 2010

Mark 16:15-- "Proselytizing" or Evangelization

From the Gospel according to St. Mark:

16 15 And he said to them: Go ye into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature.

The Post-Dispatch has run an article that seems to want to stir up trouble between the Archdiocese and area Jews over the upcoming convention of the Association of Hebrew Catholics, headed by David Moss (brother of long time Catholic Answers apologist Rosalind Moss). This group of Catholics of Jewish descent was welcomed into the Archdiocese by Archbishop Burke in 2007, and its mission should be 'old news' by now.

This story follows, coincidentally, on the heels of the St. Louis Review article on some Catholic high school students participating in a tour and attending a wrap-up event at Central Reform Congregation under the auspices of a group whose honorary board includes Rabbi Susan Talve, who thumbed her nose at interreligious dialogue long enough to host a sacrilegious caricature of Catholic priestly ordination at the CRC, also in 2007.

The Post chooses this particular moment to highlight the activities of the AHC, garnering quotes from various local Jewish community members who find it "troubling" that some of their number might recognize Jesus Christ as the Messias, and perhaps also that some Catholics would try to share that knowledge with them.

Consider this excerpt, which is presented as a factual statement:

After centuries of an often contentious relationship, in the last 50 years Catholic and Jewish leaders have generally come to an understanding when it comes to Catholics proselytizing Jews: Don't do it.

The dictionary definition of proselytizing merely describes the act of recruiting someone to join one's group. Yet this term, most often used in Catholic-Jewish evangelization efforts, has a negative connotation. Christ commanded that Catholics preach the Gospel to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. This is part of our religion. No person has to respond to the invitation, Jew or Gentile.

The Archdiocese's office for ecumenical and interreligious affairs approached the proselytism question in the article in this way:

Lawrence Welch, executive director of the archdiocese's office of ecumenical and interreligious affairs, said "the Gospel is for everyone, but the Catholic Church doesn't specifically target Jews with proselytization." ...

Welch makes a distinction between evangelizing and proselytizing, which he described as "nonethical ways of seeking the conversion of others, or arm-twisting."

"My understanding of the group is that they do not target Jews for conversion," Welch said of the Association of Hebrew Catholics. "That's what they've told the leadership of the archdiocese. They're in good standing with the archdiocese. Bishop Hermann wouldn't be there if they weren't."

With due regard to Dr. Welch, I don't understand the need to nuance this. Of course Jews aren't "targeted" for conversion, because all people need to be converted to the Gospel. But Jews are part of the "all people" who need conversion. Why not "target" all non-Catholics for conversion, Jews and Gentiles alike? Isn't this what Christ asks of us?

From the other side, here is the reaction of one local Jewish leader quoted in the article:

Abramson-Goldstein said evangelization is just part of the problem with the archdiocese's support of the Association of Hebrew Catholics.

"This is not just about proselytization," she said. "It's about these groups, apparently with the support of the archdiocese, redefining how a Jew relates to his or her faith."

But, with all due respect, this is our faith, not theirs. If I were to read an article in the Post reporting that the AHC were holding guns to heads and making threats unless their audience convert, I would be the first to denounce it. But proposing the truth of the Gospel for the everlasting good of a person's soul doesn't strike me as "troubling". It is certainly true that more people in the world have refrained from becoming Catholic than have embraced the faith. It is harder to get rid of an Amway salesman than to avoid all Catholic apologists combined.

And I can't help but wonder whether the connection of the AHC group to Archbishop Burke (combined as it is with the recent story about Catholics at the Central Reform Congregation event), is the silent cause of this article that sheds more heat than light.


Anonymous said...

I read this article on Saturday morning and had similar reactions to you Timman. Here's my problem: Why is the Catholic Church always apologizing for converts? The Mormons don't apologize, Jehova's Witnesses don't apologize, Muslims don't apologize, so why do we?? If we truly believe the Church is the only (or even merely the best) means of salvation, then we should be rejoicing in these converts and striving for more. By apologizing for our "proselytizing", we are engaging in a form of moral relativism by equating one religion with another. If these converts from Judaism to Catholicism truly believe their new faith, then they should be encouraging other Jews to do likewise.

For me, this whole article is like the Good Friday prayers for the conversion of the Jews arguments. If you truly believe you are right and the other person is wrong, then you should be praying for me. If the Jews truly believe the Son of God is yet to come, then I hope they are praying for my conversion. If the Mormons truly believe they are the true path to heaven, I sure hope they are praying for my conversion and trying to convert me. Likewise, as long as I believe I'm in the one true religion (which I do), I will be praying and working for the conversion of all other peoples.

- YoungCatholicSTL

StGuyFawkes said...

Dear YoungCatholicSTL,

There are three towering facts which weigh heavily on the Jewish heart and which loom as shadows whenever these controversies erupt:

1.) Sociology -- the American Jewish population as a whole has been whittled down through inter-marriage which usually results in children growing up with no religion or becoming Christian. The Jewish population in America, I'm told, is becoming smaller and conversion seems like a threat. Conversion, even willful conversion, seems like a kind of guarantee of extinction.

2.)Law -- when a Jew converts, especially when a Jewish woman converts the status of her children as Jews becomes complicated. I've been reading the "Jewish Light" for years and every few months there is another article about how the Israeli courts have roiled the nation once again with another ruling over "who is a Jew -- who is entitled to citizenship in Israel?" This topic may seem far afield but the Israeli courts are looked at throughout the Diaspora as guides as to how new temple members should be treated if a new temple member is ethnically Jewish but someone who has never been given a Jewish education, due to conversion in their family's past. When this happens the question becomes: Does this person need to convert, or are they already Jewish? This confusion bothers Jews and the prospect of more converts to Christianity, some of whose children may want to revert to Judaism, is troubling. It creates a big mess in Jewish law.

3.) History: like it or not history is replete with stories of forced conversions or conversions done for reasons of state. The Spanish Inquisition was triggered largely over the problem of "marranos" or "new christians", that is, Jews converted to Catholicism who continued to partake of Jewish traditions. This created the fear of secret cabals of Jews working in the court of the King of Spain. Bloodshed followed.

Conversion, in the Jewish mind is associated death and murder.

However, having said all the above, I happen to think that it is a sign of great respect that one would wish to convert one's neighbor and I hope our Archdiocese will support the work of both Brother and Sister Moss especially since they are hardly prosylitzing, or targeting Jews for conversion.

I bring up all the above only to remind my fellow Catholics that our "older brothers in the Faith" look at the world much differently than we do.

I do think it's odd however that Susan Talve can run amok yet our Moss family is expected to put their lanterns under a bushel.

Nonetheless I can tell you there are many Jewish St. Louisans who did not appreciate Rabbi Talve's inroads into St. Cronan's.

A very highly placed official at one of the biggest Reform Temples offered me this opinion of Talve's role in the "sordid-ordination" of the wimmen-priests. He said, "Aye, ya, yai, we Jews have so much "mishugas" (craziness) and the Catholics have so much "mishugas" why the hell would Susan want to get our "mishugas" mixed up with their "mishugas" and make for even more "mishugas" we should just leave these people (R.C.s) alone with their "mishugas" and hope they'll leave us alone with ours.

My friend told me this and added that this was not an uncommon view among Jews when Talve hosted the fake ordination.

I agree with YoungSTlCath and Tim that the Post Dispatch is just trying to stir up trouble.