TV evangelist Jerry Falwell said yesterday that he believes God does hear the prayers of Jews -- reversing his earlier position after conferring for more than an hour with a national Jewish leader this week.
In a statement released yesterday by the American Jewish Committee, Falwell, who heads the Moral Majority, a right-wing, political-religious group, said, "God is a respector of all persons. He loves everyone alike. He hears the heart cry of any sincere person who calls on Him."
Last week Falwell said in a press conference: "I believe God . . . does not hear the prayers of unredeemed Gentiles of Jews." The assertion endorsed the views of the Rev. Dr. Bailey Smith, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, that "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew" because only prayers offered in the name of Jesus receive God's attention.
When reporters questioned him last week, Falwell, whose church is not part of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he agreed with Smith. Within hours, the Virginia Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith issued a statement condemning Falwell and other religious groups and leaders quickly followed suit.
Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, interreligious affairs director for the American Jewish Committee, said Falwell asked for a meeting with him while the evangelist was in New York for a network television appearance Wednesday. The statement released yesterday came out of that meeting, which Tanenbaum said lasted for about an hour and 20 minutes.
"I gathered that this was the first time he'd had that kind of [theological] discussion with a rabbi," Tanenbaum said of the Virginia preacher. "He appeared to agree with almost everything we talked about."
"The Jewish people in America and Israel and all over the world have no dearer friend on earth than Jerry Falwell," the evangelist said in his statement. "It grieves me that I have been quoted as saying that God does not hear the prayer of a Jew."
Although Falwell's statement made no mention of it, Tanenbaum said the evangelist had given assurances that "he is deeply committed to the American constitution's prohibition of a religious test as the basis for the election of political candidates." Tanenbaum participated in a press conference Monday in which mainline religious leaders criticized the efforts of right-wing evangelicals this year to mobilize their followers to form a voting bloc and support only "born-again" Christians for public office.
In his statement, Falwell praised what he called "a very healthy relationship developing between Bible-believing Christians in America and the Jewish community" over the past 20 years, which he said he has "worked long and hard to enhance." He added that this "alignment between evangelical Christians and Jews will withstand the slurs and political exploitation of this day because of our common love of the Bible and our solidarity as fellow American citizens."