Should we evangelize the Jewish people?

I strongly disagree with our bishops, who have said that it is inappropriate to evangelize Jews. My family is Jewish and I find it offensive to suggest that not evangelizing them is okay. I would like to know what you guys think about this issue.

Before asserting disagreement with “our bishops,” it is good to become current on what they have actually said. The U.S. bishops recently clarified the controversial document Reflections on Covenant and Mission. You can read the clarification online. I also recommend Jewish convert Rosalind Moss’s Open Letter to Cardinal William Keeler on the original Reflections document.

It may help to keep in mind some important distinctions: The Church and its members are always called to evangelize all people; but there are different methods of evangelization: some constructive, some neutral, and some destructive. In recent decades, those involved in interfaith dialogue with non-Christians have usually used the word proselytism to describe destructive methods. If we accept this narrower definition of “proselytism,” then we should be able to agree that Catholics should avoid the destructive methods of evangelization that are usually classified as proselytism, while not neglecting constructive and neutral evangelization efforts.

It should also be remembered that many Jews are sensitive to Christian evangelization efforts, seeing such efforts as destructive to the Jewish people because it is generally believed by Jews that conversion to Christianity is assimilation that will eventually mean the end of the unique identity of the Jews as a people. What a Christian sees as “sharing the gospel of Christ” may be perceived by a Jew as an invitation to participate in the destruction of his people. So, even otherwise constructive or neutral evangelization efforts may be understood by Jews to be “destructive.”

In my personal opinion, it may well be better for ordinary Catholics to avoid direct evangelization efforts to Jews (e.g., tract distribution, testimonials, direct appeals to become Christian). Perhaps instead they might focus on maintaining good relationships with the Jewish people in their families and social circles, and on living out their Christian lives to such an exemplary degree that they make Christianity attractive to their Jewish relatives and friends. In so doing, they will be living out the adage attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel always; use words if necessary.”

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