In World Religions, we saw this 20/20 report that portrayed the Southern Baptist Convention in a very negative light - as intolerant (in this case against Jews) for its evanglizing. I wrote this for the class online discussion board...
First off, I am not a Universalist. I believe that Jesus is the only way to God. It's just what I believe. You can call me arrogant if you so desire, and I’m OK with that. But then you are not being as pluralistic as you claim to be, now are you?
I immediately thought of this during today’s discussion. The ABC 20/20 Report portrayed the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) in very negative terms. The clip of the youth pastor turning to the church pastor for an answer seemed to make evangelicals out to be almost stupidly following a their "literal interpretation of the Bible." Now, my background is Biblical scholarship – I do not blindly read the Bible literally. I am not a fundamentalist by anyone’s definition.
Having said all that, the 20/20 Report also, it seems, made the SBC out to be violators of other faiths, especially Jews, because of their proselytizing. While some may have think this position has some merit, I did not think that 20/20 did the SBC justice on the issue of Jewish-Christian relations.
Let me explain…
Dispensationalism to the likes of C.I. Scofield and John Darby, reflected in modernity by Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind Series, depicts two different plans from God for the world: one for Christians and one for Israel. (There are distinctions to be made between different types of dispensationalism, but for the sake of space and the sanity of us all, I shall refrain from making them here.) Suffice it to say: this theological orientation found a niche in the late nineteenth century in the modernist-fundamentalist controversies, and played a key role in the split of several denominations including the Northern Baptists and the Presbyterians. This resurfaced to a larger extent in the late 20th Century in the SBC. Dispensationalism portrayed itself as the only theological outlook that took the Bible literally, and therefore seriously, and appealed to fundamentalists defending the faith(s) against liberalism.
This theology has continued to dominate many evangelical communities since. Members of these communities are, for other reasons, also heavily involved in the American political scene. Because these Christians see Israel, both as a people and as a state, as being a major component in God’s plan for the world, they support Israel as almost any cost. Because many of these fundamentalist (evangelical, as the term applies) Christians see Israel as God’s chosen people, Christians have an obligation to support Israel because they are still God’s people. Dispensational theology within conservative fundamentalism is directly tied to Christians’ support (esp. political) of Israel and the Jewish people. This is true of the SBC.
In my opinion, this has had a positive effect with respect to Jewish-Christian relations. We have, basically, blanket support for the Jewish people because they are ‘the people of God.’ Whether this ‘blanket support’ is a good or bad thing is another debate. The fact remains that such support has been a very positive thing for the State of Israel. And as a result, the United States continues to provide a role of support for Israel that doesn’t often come from other countries.
This theological orientation does have its drawbacks, however. First, of course, is the ever-present necessity for conversion of the ‘lost.’ This has served to alienate some Jews from Christian support. Secondly, dispensationalists are often working for their own interests, which sometimes do not coincide with those of the Jewish people (in this case, Israel). Many are working to rebuild the Jewish Temple in anticipation for the return of Christ. This is not something that many Jews are happy about.
However, despite these friction makers, the overall result of the dispensational-fundamentalist impact (including the SBC) has been a positive one for relations between Evangelicals and Jews. The 20/20 Report did not address any of these positive relations between the SBC and Jews. If one is to fully examine the current state of relations between Evangelicals and Jews, one must address all aspects of the situation, not simply one aspect of friction between the two faiths.
Sorry so long… I didn’t mean to write a dissertation or anything.