By Bob Allen
A former Southern Baptist Convention president is under fire for a recent sermon that Jewish leaders say could be used to fuel anti-Semitism.
The Anti-Defamation League in Houston said Nov. 14 that Jewish leaders are “in a dialogue” with Second Baptist Church Pastor Ed Young about a sermon he preached in September about what is required for a person to get into heaven.
In a televised sermon, Young, SBC president from 1992 until 1994, described a debate in Romans Chapter 3 as a courtroom setting where God is the judge, Paul is the prosecutor and the defense attorney is Satan.
“And Paul looks at the Jews, and it’s almost like he’s saying, ‘I know how you Jews operate,’” Young said. “How did Paul know how the Jews thought? My goodness! Saul, the Pharisee, Jew, became Paul the apostle, the Christian. He knew how they operated. He knew they did everything externally OK.
“The Jew would say, ‘Look, I’m not under the wrath of God. I’m a Jew, by heritage from Abraham. I’ve got a contract. I’m in the covenant: Genesis chapter number 12. Look at all the promises God made to me and all my descendants forever: property, land, people, blessing, protection. Man, I don’t need to be under this. I’m not under the wrath of God.’
“And Paul says, ‘You are, because externally, you look like a very, very, very, very religious, God-fearing person.’ But Paul says, ‘I know inside, you are dirty and corrupt and manipulative, and you are trying to work out your own salvation even in Judaism.’”
Young went on to explain Paul’s statement in verse 2, that Jews have an advantage over Gentiles because they “were entrusted with the oracles of God.”
“You see, the problem with the Jews, ladies and gentlemen — well let me put it this way: Let’s just say the whole world was dark…. No one can see, and every person on earth has been given a little penlight, just a little penlight, enough to see where you can take the next step and no more. Every person in the world has been given a little penlight. So they go through life with just a little penlight of light in a world that was absolutely dark.
“But the Jews have been given a floodlight, and that floodlight would illuminate the world. It would be so bright that the world would know how to move into the next world where there is total light.
“But the Jews took that floodlight — the oracles of God, the Torah, the Word of God — and they shined it down almost just for them. They became exclusive and better than others and holier than thou and had the insight upon God instead of turning out and sharing the light with all the world.”
Leaders of Houston’s Jewish community wrote Young Oct. 2 saying they had been receiving calls from concerned congregations about “several references to the Jews which, taken together, could easily be misunderstood to suggest that Jewish people are evil and dangerous.”
The leaders said they are confident that Young did not intend to defame Jewish people, but someone hearing the “Fearing God” sermon could easily come away with the view “that Jews are in league with Satan,” that they are “dirty, corrupt and manipulative” and are “exclusive, self-righteous and greedy.”
“These are precisely the images that have been at the root of much of the hatred of Jews throughout history, and that are increasingly being used to foment hatred and violence today, even here in the United States,” the Jewish leaders said in the letter. “We know, all too well, that rhetoric in a sermon, whether written 2,000 years ago, or today, can be misunderstood or misused, inadvertently or maliciously, to fuel the flames of prejudice and hatred.”
The Jewish Herald-Voice published the letter Oct. 23 and contacted Young. According to the newspaper Young said he was simply quoting the Apostle Paul.
“I join you in your lack of comfort,” Young is quoted as saying. “You don’t have a better friend than Ed Young.… I’m a friend of Israel.”
In September Jewish leaders met four hours with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss concerns about anti-Semitism in Europe. On Nov. 13 the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations warned that a growing number of anti-Semitic acts “are not only a threat to the Jewish community, they are a threat to the larger project of European liberalism and pluralism.”
Young, 78, isn’t the first Southern Baptist Convention leader criticized for remarks deemed offensive by Jews. In 1980 SBC President Bailey Smith made headlines by commenting at a National Affairs Briefing for fundamentalist Christians that “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.”
Smith later responded that he didn’t mean to sound anti-Semitic. “I am pro-Jew,” he declared in comments to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “I believe they are God’s special people. I believe they are still loved in the heart of God and that the Jews are some of the greatest blessings humanity has ever had, but without Jesus Christ they are lost. No prayer gets through that is not prayed through Jesus.”
In 1996 the SBC passed a resolution pledging to “direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the Gospel to the Jews,” a move denounced by Jewish leaders as a “spiritual declaration of war.”
In 1999 Jewish leaders criticized the SBC International Mission Board for releasing a prayer guide coinciding with Jewish holidays with tips on how to evangelize Jews during the 10 holy days when they are most sensitized to spiritual matters.
In 2003 the ADL criticized a Southern Baptist seminary president for comments at a meeting of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship comparing someone not trying to evangelize Jewish people because it might offend them to a doctor not telling a patient that he suffered from a “deadly tumor” needing to be removed.