Messianic Jews will be wooed by the Road to Jerusalem ministry.
But a plan by the group – led by Bill McCartney, founder of Promise Keepers, a Christian men’s organization – to stage an event in Indian Wells in December is drawing a rift and stirring mixed feelings among members of the local Jewish community.
Some welcome the planned revival as a way to bridge the gap between Christians and Jews, but others say the event is no more than a thinly veiled attempt to convert Jews to Christianity.
The Road to Jerusalem, a new Christian ministry, will call on Christians to embrace the Messianic Jewish community – the sect that believes that Jesus is the Messiah – at an event at the 16,200-seat Indian Wells Tennis Garden on December 3, organizers say.
The efforts are already drawing controversy because Messianic Jews, who maintain they remain Jews even while accepting Jesus as Messiah, have strained relations with mainstream Jewish congregations. Believers of mainstream Judaism believe in a Messiah, but do not believe that Jesus was that Messiah.
The Indian Wells event is expected to kickoff a nation- and world-wide campaign by The Road to Jerusalem to improve relations between Christians and Messianic Jews, supporters say.
“I hope it brings the community and the churches together,” said Jeffrey Cranford, a La Quinta resident and event organizer who prayed with McCartney over where to hold the revival.
“I’m hoping it will unify the churches,” he said.
“We believe that God really sovereignly pointed us to the desert,” said Pastor Raleigh Washington, president and chief executive officer of The Road to Jerusalem.
“The thrust of our ministry is to see Gentile Christians link arms with Messianic Jews,” he said. “Both of us see Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus) as Messiah and we have that common bond.”
McCartney, who resigned from Promise Keepers last year, could not be reached for comment. In a statement, however, he said The Road to Jerusalem would help to encourage understanding between Christians and Messianic Jews.
“For many years, our Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters have paid a great price. On one hand other Jews have rejected them and then the Christian church would require they walk away from their traditions to fit into Gentile culture. We must face these past wrongs,” McCartney said.
News of the coming event has highlighted the rift between mainstream and Messianic Jewish congregations.
“This is not an agenda we want to be a part of,” said Rabbi Jordan Ofseyer, of Temple Isaiah in Palm Springs.
“If they really wanted to unite Jews and Gentiles, they shouldn’t do it through Messianic Jews,” he said, adding that dialogue between Christians and leaders of mainstream Jewish groups could better improve relationships between Christians and Jews.
“Messianic Judaism is a contradiction in terms,” he said. “Messianic Jews are Christians.”
Rabbi Shimon Posner, of Chabad of Rancho Mirage – Torah Oasis, said the event would sow confusion among people.
“If the event is there to strengthen Christian brotherhood or community, that could be a good thing,” he said. “But if you now have an event and say that it’s for Jews, then you are confusing the lines … they’re trying to blur the lines between Christianity and Judaism.”
Rabbi Alon Barak, of Temple Baruch HaShem in Desert Hot Springs, a Messianic congregation, says the revival is a right step in building relations between Christians and Jews.
“I’m delighted,” he said. “Now is the time for the Christian community to say they’re going to stand with the Jewish community and Israel.”
He scoffed at doubts over the congregation’s legitimacy, saying Messianic Jews have been around for millennia.
“We’re the group of Jews that wrote the New Testament,” he said. “The Messianic community is 2,000 years old and the reform community is a late bloomer.”
“It’s always been God’s heart for the Jew and the Gentile to gather as one together in him,” said Rabbi Stephen Babkow, of Ohav Shalom Temple, a Messianic congregation in Cathedral City.
He said his congregation is excited about the revival.
“The fulfillment of Judaism is Christianity,” he said.
He said he does not find any conflict in being a Jew and also believing in Jesus as the Messiah.
“I’ve had people tell me that I’m no longer Jewish but I’m now a Christian. How did that happen? Did I get a blood transfusion?,” he asked. “According to rabbi, if your mother is Jewish, then you’re Jewish.”
Jeff Zucker, co-president of Desert Synagogue in Palms Springs, said he hopes his congregation would ignore the revival.
“I’m entirely against any group that wishes to proselytize Jews to other belief systems,” he said. “We feel that it’s very easy to confuse people by saying, ‘I’m a Jew and I believe in Jesus.'”
Other groups have launched efforts to improve relationships between Christians and Jews, although many efforts have been viewed by suspicion by mainstream Jewish congregations as attempts to convert Jews.
The Anti-Defamation League, a group that fights anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish activities, has criticized activities of the San Francisco-based Jews for Jesus, as targeting Jews for conversion by using deceptive means.
“People have freedom of expression, but we do not support deceptive proselytizing,” said Alison Mayersohn, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles chapter of the Anti-Defamation League. “We don’t think Christians should be supporting groups that target other groups for conversion.”
Tuvya Zaretsky, chief of station of Jews for Jesus in Los Angeles, said the league is being inflammatory and perpetuating a stereotype.
“We’re presenting information in a way for Jews and Gentiles to hear about Jesus,” he said. “As Jews for Jesus, we are 100 percent Jewish and 100 percent Christian. Ethnically, we’re fully Jewish, and spiritually, we’re followers of Jesus, and therefore Christians.”
Supporters of The Road to Jerusalem say they wouldn’t mind if their ministry turns people to Jesus.
“The accusation is that what we want to is convert Jews,” Washington said. “As a Christian, I believe Christianity is the right way and I want everybody in the world to become Christians.”
But there is no plan to deceive Jews into conversion, he said.
“It is not our intent to be divisive. We are peacemakers and our goal is reconciliation,” he said.
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