Jewish leaders have expressed dismay at a renewed assertion by a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention that Jews cannot find salvation without Jesus.
The Rev. Bailey Smith’s comments to 2,000 cheering Southern Baptist evangelists last week in St. Louis has renewed a controversy begun in 1980, when Smith stated that “God doesn’t hear the prayers of a Jew.”
The latest comments were reported in Friday editions of the Dallas Times Herald. The newspaper, which obtained a taped transcript of the speech, said the evangelist’s comments were made when the conference was not in session.
“I’m not against the Jewish people,” Smith said June 17 at a Southern Baptist conference. “But unless they repent and get born again, they don’t have a prayer.”
Smith was president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1980.
“I’m very upset; I’m furious,” the Rabbi James Rudin, national interreligious director of the American Jewish Committee, told the Times Herald.
“It is really unfortunate that we have another insensitive and theologically biased example of Christian anti-Semitism from a man we heard it from seven years ago.”
Urging ministers to tackle tough issues, Smith noted that few publicly supported him in 1980.
“When I was willing to put myself into a national controversy, because I just happened to say that if you don’t know Jesus Christ, you haven’t got a prayer, some men that I loved and trusted wouldn’t stand with me on that, and they’d come to me, and they’d say, ‘Bailey, that was true, but you shouldn’t have said it,’ ” Smith said.
“Folks, if the Bible is true, you ought to say it.”
Smith, formerly of First Baptist Church in Del City, Okla., did not answer phone calls by the Associated Press to the church and his home.
“I genuinely thought he understood what we were trying to say to him (in 1980), so our hurt is deeper today,” said Mark Briskman, Dallas regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
“The debate has never been what his theology is or what his beliefs are. He’s a Baptist, and I respect that.
“The issue is the use of these remarks in an inappropriate way in an inappropriate forum, (and) that this creates the potential for real bigots and real anti-Semites to use it as a sanctioning device.”
Conservative Christians believe that the only way to achieve God’s grace and heaven is through Jesus. Jews believe in prayer and observing God’s commandments.
Southern Baptist leaders said they hope Smith’s remarks will not hamper progress between Jews and evangelicals. Since Smith’s 1980 speech, Jews and conservative Christians have met frequently to discuss their differences.
“If people understand Bailey to be a friend of the Jewish people, one who is an ardent supporter of Israel, and at the same time understand him to be unequivocal in his conviction that nobody comes to God other than through Jesus, there’ll be no trouble,” said the Rev. Paige Patterson, president of Criswell Bible College in Dallas.