The perennially sensitive question of Christian efforts to convert Jews has erupted again in a dispute between Jewish leaders and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod over a church manual on "Witnessing to Jewish People."
Officials of the American Jewish Committee particularly have assailed a section of the manual on a mythical Abe Goldstein, who was described as a composite description" of the Jews the author of that section of the booklet "meets in his day-to-day contacts in business and social life."
Illustrations show a man with kinky black hair, a long nose and glasses. Other illustrations in the manual portray what the authors purport to be the typical concerns of Jews - a man with a tennis racket, another playing golf, a third with a large pile of dollar bills.
The description of the mythical Goldstein portrays him as a man who "works hard at his job, spends a lot of time at work and tried hard to succeed." This purportedly typical Jew, who has no ties to any synagogue, lives by the philosophy that "if you are a nice guy, everything will be all right," according to the manual.
Jordan Harburger, an American Jewish Committee official in St. Louis, where the church has its national offices, charged that "the manual employs base stereotypes that do gross violence to the integrity of Jews and Judaism."
Following public protests by AJC leaders last week, the Rev. Dr. Erwin J. Kolb, who heads the church's board of evangelism and who edited the controversial manual, has asked pastors and church leaders to lay aside the manual until a new editions, deleting objectionable material, can be published.
But from the point of view of the Jewish leaders, the disputed manual is only one part of the larger issue of attempting to convert the Jews.
"By singling out Jews for intensive proselytizing, the LCMS has, in effect, branded Judaism as an inadequate and incomplete religion," complained Rabbi A. James Rudin, assistant national director for interreligious affairs of the AJC.
Last year at the church's biennial convention, the LCMS formally adopted a program to evangelize Jews, setting "a two-year goal of persuading 50 per cent of our congregations" to commit themselves to the task.
Following that formal action of the LCMS, the most conservative of the nation's three major Lutheran bodies, the AJC expressed its concerns and began working behind the scenes to get the program and the manual modified.
When those efforts proved "fruitless," said Rabbi Rudin, his agency called a press conference last week to denounce both the program and the manual.
The Rev. Jerrold Nichols, assistant secretary for evangelism for the LCMS, yesterday criticized the AJC for calling the press conference.
"We had an agreement that they would not make the process of evaluating the publication public," he said yesterday in a telephone interview.
Rabbi Rubin said his agency had gone public with their complaints because of "lack of movement" in the talks between the two groups.
The questions of Christian efforts to convert Jews is one of the most sensitive in the whole gamut of interfaith relations. In recent years, the Roman Catholic Church and most of the main-line Protestant denominations have denounced such efforts.
It is a particularly sensitive question in Jewish-Lutheran relations, because of the blatant anti-Semitism expressed centuries ago by Martin Luther.
In 1543 the Protestant reformer wrote a book called "On the Jews and Their Lies." In it, he advocated setting fire to synagogues and Jewish schools and to bury cover with earth whatever will not burn," the destruction of Jewish homes, confiscation of all Jewish religious objects, the outlawing of Jewish teaching, and the "abolition of safe-conduct on the highways" for Jews.
The LCMS manual categorically condemns Luther's anti-Semitism.
LCMS officials also asserted that "we are not singling out the Jewish people as a special target for our evangelistic endeavors." The church is "witnessing to Jews along with many other groups - Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, the cults, the blind, the deaf, Hispanics," one official declared.