Maybe, just maybe, George W. Bush is mystified by the uproar over his plan to speak tonight at a fundraiser for the Messianic Bible Institute in Irving, Texas.

They’re evangelical. He’s evangelical. Why not? After all, bringing people to Jesus is what evangelicals do, right?

Maybe he’s unaware of this action as offensive, thinking, “…But some of my best friends are (fill in the blank)…”

Former president George W. Bush, shown here at January 2004,  an evangelical Christian, has caused an uproar among Jews for his speech planned for Thursday to Messianic Jews. RNS file photo/John McCusker.

Former president George W. Bush, shown here at January 2004, an evangelical Christian, has caused an uproar among Jews for his speech planned for Thursday to Messianic Jews. RNS file photo/John McCusker.


This image is available for Web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

But today, those Jewish friends are gob smacked that the ex-president is raising money for people who want to see the end of Judaism.

They thought their objection was self-evident: Messianic Jews claim you can keep Jewish rituals and traditions and still accept Jesus.  They believe this conversion is essential to prompt the Second Coming.

But theologically, Jesus is the dividing line between Judaism and Christianity. Jews respect Jesus as a great teacher but they do not accept him as the messiah. Rabbi David Wolpe explains in his 100 page classic book, “Why Be Jewish?”

In the Christian tradition, Wolpe writes, “all human beings are born sinners and only unearned grace can save them. In the Jewish tradition, each of us writes his or her own personal moral slate. We do not begin life with an unpayable debt. Each moment we make a moral choice. Our lives are the sum of our actions, tempered by our intention, limited by our endowments, ennobled by our faith.”

Just because Bush himself was once was a self-proclaimed lost soul who found his faith in Christianity, does not invalidate Jews ties to God through Judaism.

After Sarah Posner broke the news of Bush’s speaking plans in “Mother Jones,” many thought the ensuing storm of criticism would prompt the ex-president to step aside.

Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, blogging for “The Jewish Journal,” makes the point  by playing speechwriter and offering Bush a suggested text. It begins by Bush telling the Messianic crowd that a conversion campaign is in error. Bush would say, in Salkin’s words:

The covenant that God made with the Jews at Sinai – that’s like Covenant 1.0.

The covenant that God made on Calvary through the blood of Jesus Christ is like Covenant 2.0.

Some of us think that the new covenant wiped out that older covenant.

I would like to invite you to believe something else. Imagine that Covenant 1.0 – the one at Sinai – and Covenant 2.0 – the one at Calvary – both sit on God’s desktop. God’s spiritual desktop is bigger than anyone can imagine. And both of those covenants are still valid for those who believe in them.

Is George Bush’s speech an act of Christian love or an offense to the Jewish faithful? How big is God’s spiritual desktop?

Please jump in with your views but remember that Faith & Reason welcomes all views, respectfully presented. Post early, post often, and share with your friends and followers.

30 Comments

  1. Prosletyzing is an inherently obnoxious and in most cases offensive act to those on the receiving end of it. Especially to those of a minority religion with a long bad history with the faith doing the prosletyzing. The act involves denigrating, insulting the religious beliefs of those being prosletyzed. It is an act of disrespect on the part of the prosletyzer.

    Prosletyzers, especially Christians are generally pretty tone deaf as to the offense they give in such acts. They tend to give self-serving excuses as if it is their God given right to show disrespect to the faith of another.

  2. Cathy Lynn Grossman perfectly describes the current situation:

    “Jesus is the theological dividing line between Judaism and Christianity. Jews respect Jesus as a great teacher but they do not accept him as the messiah.”

    However, one branch of Judaism, Messianic Judaism, DOES accept Jesus (or Yeshua) as the Messiah. (Side Question: Since Atheist-Judaism is accepted as a branch of Judaism, why the rigid rejection of Messianic-Judaism as another branch? Is Jesus as Messiah, worse than outright God-denying atheism? I think not.)

    At any rate, President Bush, an evangelical Christian, is specifically addressing Messianic Jews, NOT other branches of Judaism. So why should anybody get upset if he says things that the Messianics would agree with?

    • An American Jew

      Doc, Messianic Jews are not considered to be practicing Judaism by anyone but themselves. Most Messianic Jews are not even Jewish by birth or conversion but are Christians who’ve adapted Jewish ritual because Jesus was Jewish.

      And atheists who are ethnic Jews are not practicing the religion but identify with a culture, not Torah. So please get your facts straight.

      • Well, you said it yourself: Jesus was Jewish. So the refusal to accept Messianic Judaism as a branch of Judaism, and especially at a time when even Atheistic Judaism–which doesn’t accept the Torah as Jesus did–is accepted, raises legitimate questions.

        Brandeis professor Jonathan Sarna has said, “An individual who attends synagogue, participates in Jewish communal affairs, and contributes heavily to Jewish charities would undoubtedly be considered a very fine Jew, without asking questions about whether or not that person believed in God.”

        So the reality is that neither God nor Torah nor ethnicity is a real requirement to be a Jew. Indeed, in their book “American Grace,” Robert Putnam and David Campbell found that half of all American Jews doubt God’s existence. In contrast, the Messianic Jews at least strongly believe in God, value the Torah, follow the Passover and the Jewish Holidays, etc. So why leave them out of the line-up?

        Finally, the last question went totally unanswered. Why do non-Messianic Jews get upset when an evangelical Christian addresses a specifically Messianic Jewish audience and maybe says things that the Messianics will agree with? Since he’s not addressing Non-Messianics, what’s the problem?

        • You obviously don’t know much about Judaism. You are coming in with a bias that all religions are adopted in the same fashion as Christianity. The dirty little secret being the spread of the religion by demographics is far more prevalent rather than wholesale acceptance of belief. Your criticism of Judaism also stands for ALL large old mainstream Christian sects as well.

          Since you are ignorant of the religion, it would be more helpful if you knew the more observant (and at this point becoming more numerous) branches of the religion do not accept converts. It is very much a question of ethnicity. Inter-sect conversion being acceptable. Interfaith ones are not recognized.

          All sects recognize the most common definition of being Jewish is simply having a Jewish mother. The ethnic definition is taken seriously. Those who discriminate or commit anti-Semitic violence never make the distinction between who is Jewish by faith or by ethnicity.

          “Since he’s not addressing Non-Messianics, what’s the problem?”

          There is that tone-deafness concerning prosletyzing that I referred to earlier. To the Jewish community Messianics represent an attack. A group which is purposefully denigrating their religious beliefs and culture to adopt Christianity. Prosletyzing does that by its nature.

          • Are you saying that the very existence of Messianic Jews “represents an attack” on Judaism? Gosh, I hope that’s not your claim. There’s been too many tragedies in history based on that particular logic.

        • “Are you saying that the very existence of Messianic Jews “represents an attack” on Judaism?”

          Was I unclear there? Yes.

          It is considered that. To many it means the deliberate denigration of their history and religion in favor of Christianity. Given the bad history between both religions, hostility is natural.

          Your statement concerning past history of tragedy drips with unintended irony. To the overwhelming majority of Jews, the tragic events befalling them as a people are generally caused by the type of people who are engaging in prosletyzing. A long history of being forced to convert from Judiaism “by the sword” tends to bring up such ideas. If anything knowledge of history reinforces the hostility against prosletyzing.

          • An American Jew

            Doc, most Messianic Jews are not Jews. They are mostly evangelical Christians who for whatever reasons they have, choose to use Jewish rituals in their celebration of a non-Jewish deity. It is anathema to Jews to consider any other god – the first of the ten words received at Sinai is a commandment to recognize only that one god, and try as they might, Christians can’t convince us that Jesus is that god.

            Jews who choose to recognize Jesus as a god are apostates. Though they remain Jews by Halakah, they are excluded from the community. For instance, the founders of Jews for Jesus were apostates and left behind their Jewishness by most Jewish standards.

            But more disturbing is the number of evangelical Christians who don the mantle of Jewish ritual in an effort to disguise themselves in their efforts to convert Jews to Christianity. That in itself is offensive.
            Proselytes are accepted in Judaism but Judaism no longer proselytizes to gentiles.

  3. Cathy Lynn Grossman

    Anthony, can you choose not to follow the Gospel but not “oppose” it? Or are you calling all non-Christians — Jews, Buddhists, Hindu, Muslim, etc. — enemies of God? Do you think GW Bush shares this view?
    What about Billy Graham’s form of evangelization? He talks about how the Christian life brings him peace and joy and invites others to it.

    • Yes, Billy Graham is pretty cool. As a committed Christian, I invite anyone to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I don’t deliberately target a particular group of people or those of a particular religion. In Christianity, one’s genetic heritage, such as whether one has a Jewish mother or whether or not the foreskin of your penis has been cut off counts for nothing! These are not the primary basis for one’s relationship to God. The spiritual unity of being in the mystical Body of Christ breaks down the old manmade boundaries that have separated us. Ethnicity is not the basis for one’s faith. When a Jew converts to Christianity, I don’t care whether he or she considers himself a “Christian” or a “Jewish Christian or a “protestant” or a “catholic.” In the eyes of God, all that matters is that such a person is being a faithful disciple of Jesus. Christianity is the doorway of entry for the entire mass of humanity. Whether or not Jews want to enter in is their business. Some Jews do because they see so many “gentiles” on fire for the living God. I say let people go where they are being spiritually fed. In my opinion, Messianic Jews may be going too far in trying to “convert” their brethren, but I certainly don’t disparage them for wanting them to share about how Jesus has transformed their life. So if this is being “obnoxious” and “offensive,” well, too bad. This is what freedom of religion or freedom from religion is all about. Somewhere someone is going to get “offended.” Just deal with it and don’t spend all your time fretting about what George Bush said! For goodness sake, there are way too many other more important things to be worried about in life!

  4. “If you are holding a sapling in your hand and the worst President in the history of the United States tells you, ‘Come quickly, the messiah is here!’, first finish planting the tree and then go to greet the war criminal and his messiah.”

  5. One thing I do not understand is why some Jewish leaders find it offensive, or even anti-Semitic, for Christians to try to convert Jews. I think Christians should also be free to respectfully share their belief that Jesus is God, and that–in their opinion–Jews are wrong about Jesus. I think members of every religion (and atheists!) should be free to respectfully share their ideas with others and that this in no way expresses prejudice toward others. Muslims or Buddhists can try to persuade me to join their religion (I am Catholic), and I would not view that as anti-Catholic prejudice. When the moment is right, maybe I will politely try to persuade them to accept my religion. Maybe there is something disrespectful or offensive in the particular tactics or views of the group G W Bush is going to be addressing (I don’t know). But, I do not see why it is wrong in general for Christians (or members of any group) to try to persuade Jews to accept their views on religion. Any thoughts?

    • “But, I do not see why it is wrong in general for Christians (or members of any group) to try to persuade Jews to accept their views on religion”

      Because the act involves denigration of their existing religious views. It is inherently offensive to those who take such views seriously.

    • Cathy Lynn Grossman

      There’s nothing wrong with taking joy, peace and comfort in your own faith and offering to share it with others. That was Billy Graham’s crusade approach.
      I think the complaint from Jewish voices is that the Messianic folks — Christian by their faith — are claiming one can be both Jewish and Christian simultaneously. Jews argue it is not theologically possible for someone to sincerely hold two opposite views of salvation at the same time.

      • There is nothing wrong trying to set an example with one’s own faith. But to people with a long history of being converted by force, it will be viewed skeptically by nature.

        Many times prosletyzing efforts go beyond extolling one’s own faith and becomes denigration of the faith of the “convert to be”. Prosletyzers tend to be tone deaf to the level of offensiveness such efforts can viewed.

        It is one thing to say, “come feel the joy I have in being a Christian”. Its another to follow it up by saying, “your religion is worthless, follow mine instead.”

  6. It’s difficult to argue that people who have certain sincerely held views shouldn’t be allowed to express those views, but by the same token, those views can be challenged and different perspectives placed on them. I’ve been reliably informed that one cannot be a Christian Atheist, but I’ve come across far too many of them to give such a verbal categorical outlook too much credence. Jesus is only a messiah if people want him to be; it strikes me as extraordinarily unlikely that the gods really give this much consideration. Religion is a human construct, and participation therein a human activity. Enjoy, love one another, and try to act with fairness & decency towards all human beings. If it has to be any more complicated than that, then it has no more merit than Miley on her wrecking ball.

  7. I may have missed it, but I see no reference here to the End Times. Evangelical Christians, such as George W Bush, are doing all they can, including conversion of Jews to Christianity, to more precipitate the End Times. Annihilation of Judaism, conversion of Jews to Christianity, is thought to be an essential element to bring on the 1000 years of peace under the rule of Jesus, the eventual weighing of all souls, and final distribution of those souls to their just eternal rewards of either heaven or hell.

    The Iraq war and other U.S. activities in the Middle East have been part of this program. Evangelical Christians also are working with certain more orthodox Jewish elements in Jerusalem to return the temple mount to Jewish (and Christian ?) possession.

    Read about the efforts in Israel and the U.s. to breed a perfect red calf, necessary for an offering to God when the temple is restored.

  8. Cathy Lynn Grossman

    I’m interrupting the flow of comments to thank you all for joining in with so many thoughtful (mostly) and respectfully expressed (mostly) opinions. I hope you will add Faith & Reason to your favorites list. Even better — subscribe (the spot is in the box below my carefully staged photo and humorless bio) and get the newest topics coming straight to you.
    One of the goals of F&R, the blog I first started at USA TODAY, is to build a community of people who enjoy discussing ideas and can disagree without name calling or eyeball gouging. (Yeah, we’re online, no eyeballs but you know what I mean.) Now and then, I might step in, not to censor any point of view but to ask someone to watch their tone.
    Welcome! Now, keep on talking and bring your friends!

  9. jimmie c boswell

    so now you have at least two messianic groups, still waiting for their messiah. the ones who use the fake name jesus, and the ones who have no idea what Yeshooah Adam’s Name is again. when The-Written Torah Scroll, already told you Who They are both times.

    so no! TheG-D WHO has already again, returned adam and his mate again, is not the liar here in TheTorah again. contrary to the popular opinion, of the subtle talking beasts of the fields. G-D did not ever stop giving The Whole Torah Happening here in IT again. so they could again slip you all, of their new testament theology.

    HaShem G-D shall continue to be giving TheTorah, till the end of the sixth day again when THEY take of for the day of rest. and just like it says in Only TheTorah, place adam and his mate in charge of the giving of TheTorah.

  10. jimmie c boswell

    come on here people, TheG-D of Only TheTorah. is never going to change this story to all of you precisely again, who never accepted being here in it before. idolaters of other new testament g-ds, never have believed in here in always TheTorah. G-D already told you the prophecy of Adam to adam and his mate again. and you still reject being here in IT again. this is all of you and your grandmother of all’s third Torot Time. not even your fist time, here in always TheTorah. G-D gave you all another chance, to be with HIM here in TheTorah. and this is how you pay THEM BOTH HOO VHEE in you disbelief only.

  11. Almost every book of the Torah or the Law, Neb’im or the prophets, the Ketubim or the writings were written by Jews. So was the B’rit Chadashah or the New Covenant. So why is a book wriiten by mostly by Jews, considered non-Jewish. I am a Messianic Jew and both my parents were Jewish. Therefore, I am genetically, and I believe, Biblically, a Jew.
    I do not believe anyone with any intellience can deny that Yeshua or Jesus was Jewish, and an observant one at that. So if a book, the Bible, is written by Jews and much of it is about Israel and a Jewish Rabbi, who I believe to be the Messiah, why would that make me a non-Jew.
    In closing, if you believe you had the cure for cancer, would you withhold it from anyone? Or would you gladly share it with anyone. If someone believes that a Jewish Messiah will bring you eternal life, then how much greater is that than a cure for cancer? You can only spread good news and hope that the seed that you plant will bear fruit.

  12. Almost every book of the Torah or the Law, Neb’im or the prophets, the Ketubim or the writings were written by Jews. So was the B’rit Chadashah or the New Covenant. So why is a book writiten mostly by Jews, considered non-Jewish. I am a Messianic Jew and both my parents were Jewish. Therefore, I am genetically, and I believe, Biblically, a Jew.
    I do not believe anyone with any intelligence can deny that Yeshua or Jesus was Jewish, and an observant one at that. So if a book, the Bible, is written by Jews and much of it is about Israel and a Jewish Rabbi, who I believe to be the Messiah, why would that make me a non-Jew.
    In closing, if you believe you had the cure for cancer, would you withhold it from anyone? Or would you gladly share it with anyone. If someone believes that a Jewish Messiah will bring you eternal life, then how much greater is that than a cure for cancer? You can only spread good news and hope that the seed that you plant will bear fruit.

  13. Modern people of faith often find themselves in a proverbial catch-22. Can a religion that is a “universal Truth” (with a capital T!) be preached without offending those who accept a different “universal Truth” or no “universal Truth”? I supect not. We would not expect to walk into a mosque and hear the imam preach that the Christian faith is accurate and that Christians are living and believing rightly. We would not expect to walk into a synagogue and hear the rabbi preach that Christians or Muslims are believing and living rightly. And so, likewise, we shouldn’t expect to walk into a Christian church or event and hear the minister or speaker proclaim that another faith group is equally aligned with their own.

    This catch-22 is especially evident for politicians or former politicians who are supposed to represent the virtues of equality, freedom, and respect. How can they speak and practice their faith without also being somewhat divisive? Simply, they cannot.

    That said, this theological divisivenss need not be insulting or demeaning. Rather, it can be inspirational. What GW Bush should say is “I am a Christian. I am not ashamed of this and, theologically, I find it to be the universally applicable Truth. But here on Earth, we all have much to learn from each other. From other traditions we can learn to strengthen our own. We can learn from the Jewish community. From the Muslim committment to prayer. Let us, as Christians, be an inspiration to the world through our ability to grow in faith through love of others.”

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