Evangelist Bailey Smith, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention who attracted widespread criticism seven years ago for saying that God "doesn't hear the prayer of a Jew," has attracted new censure for a similar statement.

Smith, now an independent evangelist and a member of the reorganized board of directors of the bankrupt PTL ministry, told a conference of Southern Baptist evangelists, meeting in St. Louis nearly two weeks ago, that "unless {the Jewish people} repent and get born again, they don't have a prayer."

Smith made his earlier remark about Jewish prayer at a 1980 ultraconservative political gathering in Dallas. After the tapes of his remark were made public, he accepted the invitation of Jewish groups to meet to discuss the statement, for which he subsequently apologized. He also accepted the invitation of a Jewish organization for a free trip to Israel.

"What's so disturbing and disappointing about it is that he seems to be retrogressing," said Rabbi James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee regarding Smith's latest statement about Jews.

Smith alluded to the 1980 controversy in his recent remarks in St. Louis, saying, "Some men that I loved and trusted wouldn't stand with me on {the 1980 statement}, and they'd come to me and they would say, 'Bailey, it was true, but you shouldn't have said it.' "

Smith told the evangelists conference, "I'm not against the Jewish people. Unless they repent and get born again, they don't have a prayer. You say, 'Man, that's going to cause you more trouble.' I don't care what trouble it causes. I love the Jewish people, and the greatest love you can have for the Jews or anybody else is to tell them {that} without Jesus Christ you don't have a hope."

The tenet, common among fundamentalist Christians, that belief in Jesus Christ is the only means to salvation, is disputed by most mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics, who hold that God has a continuing covenantal relationship with the Jewish people.