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.
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I keep getting the message multiple times that the Right is better for the Jews. At then end of the day neither political side really has our best interests at heart.
Thanks for your comment. Jews, historically, have always had enemies on every side. I don’t personally consider a missionary an enemy, but there are surely other types of enemies on the right. We have to be vigilant. And be united as a people.
Are you that woefully uninformed by what is happening out there. You say “But in modern times, when proselytizing in the Evangelical community is nothing more than an exchange of ideas” is naivety to the extreme. Do you have any idea of the 10s of millions of dollars that are spent each year specifically with one goal, to convert Jews? Are you not familiar with how much strategizing, planning, conniving, and deceit is done with the sole goal of tricking Jews into practicing Christianity? As a Jew who is now frum and spent 6 years in “Messianic Judaism–Christianity with Yamakas” I can tell you this is no mere exchange of ideas, and I know this to be true because I was a part of it. I can’t believe you dismiss this with such a flippant hand. Please, for the sake of the people you love, rethink your position, and most importantly, your response to stories like this.
Thanks for your comment, Laiv. First off, I was speaking of Evangelicals who are upfront about who they are. Jews for Jesus goes about their missionizing in a deceptive way, which is a problem. But that’s not the issue that came up with this congressman. All that being said, I still don’t believe that even deceptive and well-funded efforts stand a serious chance against observant, knowledgeable and committed Jews. We can’t stop these efforts but we can strengthen ourselves.
We do still have an issue with vulnerable populations.
What about the Jews who don’t have the privilege of a Jewish education? Raised in a non religious home?
What about our youth who are simply looking to open their mind and explore new ideas?
Our elderly who are desperate for attention and feeling alone?
We can protect via education, but we are still obligated to protect those Jews who aren’t, are we not?
And then there’s the recent phenomenon of missionaries succeeding among the hereidi communities. This one hurt me personally. That was when I knew that this was a real cancer in Israel. I wish it weren’t true, but I’ve been dealing with it – seeing it face to face.
I hear you. Our organization is dedicated to Jewish education and outreach. But as I wrote, there are many influences Jews come across that can pull them away. No one is funding atheists to spread their message but many do anyway. For any Jew who is offended by missionaries, and I believe many are, they should focus those feelings towards educating themselves and others.