In Andrew Marvell’s 17th century poem “To His Coy Mistress,” the narrator addresses his reluctant lady saying, “And you should, if you please, refuse / Till the conversion of the Jews.”
It’s likely former Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is unfamiliar with the poem. When she visited Israel earlier this month, she urged Jews to convert to Christianity as soon as possible because the end times were near.
While Bachmann has little political influence these days, her views about conversion remain prevalent within some Christian groups.
In a radio interview with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, Bachmann said her Israeli visit “... was about biblical prophecy in many ways. Events are speeding up quickly right now ... literally day by day, we’re seeing the fulfillment of Scripture right in front of our eyes.”
“We recognize the shortness of the hour,” she said, “and that’s why we as a remnant want to... be faithful in the Kingdom and to help bring in as many as we can — even among the Jews — (to) share Jesus Christ with everyone that we possibly can because, again, he’s coming soon.”
In October, Bachmann said Hurricane Joaquin, which battered the Bahamas and Bermuda was divine punishment because the Obama administration continues to “turn its back on Israel.”
But Bachmann’s call to actively convert Jews has been rejected by many of her fellow Christians.
In recent years the Roman Catholic Church and a number of Protestant denominations have rejected or abandoned missionary activities aimed at Jews. Leading that effort was the late American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who condemned all attempts to convert Jews. He believed such activity was theologically unnecessary and incompatible with Christianity, as well as spiritually insulting to Jews.
In a historic 1986 address at the Great Synagogue in Rome, Pope John Paul II, now a saint, declared: “... the Jews are beloved of God, who has called them with an irrevocable calling.”
In a 2002 speech at Boston College, Cardinal Walter Kasper, a German theologian who directed Catholic-Jewish relations at the Vatican, said: “... there is no organized Catholic missionary activity towards Jews as there is for all other non-Christian religions.”
Billy Graham, the world’s most prominent evangelist, criticized such attempts aimed at Jews. Forty-two years ago, he proclaimed: “I believe God has always had a special relationship with the Jewish people... In my evangelistic efforts, I have never felt called to single out Jews as Jews... Just as Judaism frowns on proselytizing that is coercive, or that seeks to commit men against their will, so do I.”
At the same time Bachmann was calling for the immediate conversion of Jews, all 120 members of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, the top policy body representing Germany’s Lutheran, Reformed and United churches, repudiated the virulent anti-Semitism of its founder, Martin Luther.
In 1543, Luther was bitterly disappointed that Jews had not heeded his attempts to convert them. In anger, Luther wrote “On the Jews and their Lies” in which he labeled Jews a “base” people and urged faithful Protestants to burn down synagogues and drive Jews from their homes. Luther also supported laws barring Jews from working or living in his region of Germany.
With the approach of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017, the statement read: “We cannot ignore this history of guilt.”
The EKD publicly expressed “sorrow and shame” for the German churches’ well-documented failures, especially during the Nazi period, to respect Judaism and protect Jews. It said German Christians have a special responsibility to oppose all forms of anti-Semitism, and to confront their own tragic past.
“Luther’s view of Judaism and his invective against Jews contradict our understanding today of what it means to believe in one God who has revealed himself in Jesus, the Jew,” the EKD statement declared.
Irmgard Schwaetzer, the head of the EKD and a former cabinet member in the German government, also announced her church’s intention to clarify its view on the mission to convert Jews.
While it is true that some evangelicals are still eager to convert Jews, Protestants in Germany are following in the footsteps of Reinhold Niebuhr, Cardinal Walter Kasper, Pope John Paul II, Billy Graham and many other Christian leaders who have publicly rejected calls for the conversion of the Jewish people.
Are you listening, Michele Bachmann?
(Rabbi A. James Rudin is the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser. He can be reached at jamesrudin.com.)
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