Yesterday, Jewish Insider published an interview with newly elected congressman Madison Cawthorn, where he spoke about his Christian faith and how he has converted several Muslims to Christianity. He then was asked if he’s also attempted to convert Jews, to which he replied he has. The internet went wild from his answer, and numerous media outlets called Cawthorn out. According to the congressman:
“I have switched a lot of, uh, you know, I guess, culturally Jewish people.”
Now forcible conversion, as was practiced by the Catholic Church for centuries, including the Crusades and Inquisition was a serious problem and a horrific blemish on the Church. Any forcible conversion, by any religion, should be called out in the strongest of terms by all good people. But in modern times, when proselytizing in the Evangelical community is nothing more than an exchange of ideas, I fail to see what the surprise is (missionizing is a tenet of Christian faith!) as well as the horror. (If you don’t want to speak to a missionary, walk away or end the conversation.)
Jews are susceptible to all kinds of intellectual influences that contradict our faith, whether they be other religions, atheism, Biblical criticism, or certain progressive ideas. And while other religions, atheists, Biblical critics, and progressives may not have an official duty to spread their “gospel,” many people in these groups feel quite compelled and motivated to “convert” non-believers to their way of thinking because they believe they have the truth. And in a free country, with free speech, there is nothing to stop any of this. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Free speech also allows us Jews to have the liberty to profess our beliefs and reject ideas we don’t agree with without fear of retribution.
So what is the answer? How do we Jews protect ourselves from the onslaught of ideas that challenge our beliefs? The Talmud is quite clear what the answer is with its mandate that all Jews should “da ma l’hashiv” (know what to respond) [when our faith is challenged]. Congressman Cawthorn actually attests to the fact that this Talmudic mandate works, in the second half of his quote, when he says:
“But being a practicing Jew, like, people who are religious about it, they are very difficult. I’ve had a hard time connecting with them in that way.”
Why are the practicing, religious Jews hard to sway? Because they know why Jews don’t believe in Jesus, and they know of all the wisdom and riches that can be found within their own faith. They need not look elsewhere because most of them are fulfilled right where they are.
So instead of being outraged or feeling helpless that people with other beliefs want to spread their truth – a force we cannot and frankly should not control – we should empower ourselves by being prepared. We should make sure to equip our children and ourselves with deep and meaningful Jewish knowledge and experiences so that we can remain steadfast to our beliefs and way of life, no matter what anyone else says, argues, or attempts to convince us of.