An international group whose goal is converting Jews to Christianity is holding its North American conference next month in Pittsburgh.
The Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism includes evangelical streams from several U.S. denominations and includes among its members European national churches and Christian-Jewish groups like Jews for Jesus.
Theresa Newell, coordinator of the 23rd annual conference and leader of LCJE's North American chapter, is employed by Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge.
"My mandate from the Gospel is the whole church is to take the whole Gospel to the whole world," said Dr. Newell, director of the seminary's travel study program. She opened the first American office "for the historic Anglican ministry among Jewish people" in 1980.
"My responsibility is to proclaim the Gospel to anyone willing to hear it," she said. "Jewish people have the right to hear the Gospel of Jesus proclaimed to them."
Pittsburgh Jewish leaders aren't so sure about that.
Several met in January with Dr. Newell and Assistant Bishop Henry Scriven of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to express their disappointment about the conference, because it occurs on the heels of a fall initiative in Pittsburgh by Jews for Jesus to confront and convert Jews.
No protests are planned as the three-day conference April 24-26 will be held inside the Pittsburgh Marriott Center City Hotel.
Nicholas Lane of Point Breeze, a member of the American Jewish Committee's board of governors who attended the January meeting with Dr. Newell, said that an organization that seeks to convert Jews "implies that Judaism is incomplete and essentially denies the covenant that Jews have with God."
"There's a sense of disappointment that we are still subject to the kind of arguments that have been used against us through the centuries when conversion ... was generally a method of violence," he said.
Bishop Scriven said he has followed the work of the LCJE since its inception in 1980, six years after the Lausanne Covenant was promulgated at an international evangelization congress in Switzerland. The covenant is a 15-point document that includes the statement that "those who reject Christ repudiate the joy of salvation and condemn themselves to eternal separation from God."
The covenant was expanded in 1989 with the Willowbank Declaration, which denies that Judaism "contains within itself true knowledge of God's salvation."
"Personally, I'm sympathetic to its aims," Bishop Scriven said. "It's a personal involvement as opposed to an institutional involvement."
Dr. Newell said the LCJE is an international organization with no interest in "any kind of forced conversion."
"The goal of the group is to be a global organization in which people involved in Jewish evangelism can come together," she said
Although Dr. Newell said the conference has no denominational connection, several U.S. denominations -- Assemblies of God, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Christian and Missionary Alliance -- are involved through missions. European denominations with connections include the Belgian Evangelical Mission, the Dutch Reform Church and the Church of Norway.
The goals of the LCJE are at odds with statements about Jewish evangelism issued by numerous Christian organizations during the past several years, including the World Council of Churches, the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations and U.S. Catholic bishops, who in 2002 agreed that "campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church."