Religious pluralism at risk

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The Southern Baptist Convention launched a campaign last week aimed at converting Jews to Christianity. The move, which Rabbi James Rudin termed "theological open-hunting season on Jews," is not only demeaning and disrespectful to Judaism but is likely to introduce tensions between Jews and Christians in this country.

For decades, Jewish-Christian relations in this country have been based on mutual tolerance and understanding. The Southern Baptists' move undermines that principle.

The principle of religious freedom that is so much a part of our country's ethos also protects the right to promote one's religion. Still, singling out Jews as a specific target of missionary efforts suggests a direct attack on Judaism. Some say it hearkens back to an era when Christian missionary efforts were spurred by anti-Semitism.

We hope that in the spirit of American pluralism and respect for others' beliefs, the Southern Baptist Convention will reconsider its call to convert Jews. As some Jewish leaders have suggested, individual Southern Baptist churches would do well to consider withholding funds from the new campaign to reach out to Jews. Instead, they should use the money to reach out to the millions of marginal and unaffiliated Christians in this country.

Meanwhile, in the midst of such outside threats, developments in the Jewish state are doing a good job of dividing us from within.

This week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Orthodox coalition partners reportedly signed an agreement that would close the door to non-Orthodox conversions in Israel. That door was opened by the Israeli Supreme Court last year.

The government also has reportedly made a deal to support legislation that would bar Reform and Conservative representatives from serving on religious councils. That move would undermine another Supreme Court ruling.

Not surprisingly, those moves have elicited deep concern among diaspora Jews who advocate religious pluralism in Israel. U.S. Reform and Conservative leaders have already raised their voices in protest of what could well be a return to religious hegemony in Israel.

Netanyahu needs to know that he is at risk of polarizing and alienating a good portion of the Jewish world. Those of us bothered by the situation need to make our voices heard — and when doling out our philanthropic funds, give money to those causes that promote religious pluralism in Israel.