Former CU coach embarks on a new crusade

Christians reach out to Messianic Jews

Denver Post/July 21, 2004
By Eric Gorski

Bill McCartney, the former University of Colorado football coach who began the Christian men's ministry Promise Keepers, has a new calling that barrels into the sensitive intersection of Christianity, Judaism and evangelism. McCartney has quietly founded Road to Jerusalem, a Denver-based group whose stated goal is to improve relationships between evangelical Christians and Messianic Jews, according to those familiar with its vision.

Small in number and relatively new to the American faith scene, Messianic Jews believe they can retain their Jewish identity while accepting Jesus - or Yeshua in Hebrew - as Messiah. Mainstream Jewish leaders consider Messianic Jews to be Christians who are no longer Jewish and say their true aim is to convert Jews.

McCartney, a white born-again Christian, is teaming with the Rev. Raleigh Washington, an African- American minister from Chicago who formerly headed Promise Keepers' efforts to achieve racial reconciliation. Washington is an elder at Church in the City, a racially diverse Denver congregation led by a Messianic Jew.

McCartney, the group's chairman, could not be reached for comment. Washington, the president and chief executive officer, declined to comment Tuesday.

The group plans a large event Dec. 3 in Palm Springs, Calif., to publicly launch the effort.

"I think (McCartney) is the first major Christian figure who is taking a stand with Jewish believers of Yeshua," said Russ Resnick, executive director of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, which numbers 85 congregations. "It's a significant thing."

But significant hurdles exist and not just from the Jewish community.

In recent years, evangelical Christians have become strong supporters of Israel and Jews. Some evangelicals' increased interest in Judaism stems from exploring their faith's roots; others are motivated out of the belief that Israel is central to events leading to Christ's second coming.

Some evangelical leaders distance themselves from Messianic Jews because they fear damaging those ties with Jewish leaders and Israel, Resnick said.

"The mainstream Jewish community really discourages Christian support for Messianic Judaism," Resnick said. "They feel it's OK for gentiles to believe in Jesus, but it's not OK for Jews. Sometimes the price of friendship (for evangelicals) in the Jewish world is to avoid us."

McCartney resigned from Promise Keepers last fall, saying he had finished his mission.

His interest in Messianic Judaism is not new - Messianic Jewish leaders took part in Promise Keepers' massive rally in Washington in 1997.

In a talk in May at a Phoenix church, McCartney, quoting Scripture, said that "on the shirt of reconciliation, the top button is Jew and gentile." McCartney talked of how "we are going to save the unbelieving Jew."

The best-known Messianic Jewish group, Jews for Jesus, aggressively courts Jews. Other Messianic groups proselytize but don't put as strong an emphasize on it.

Resnick estimated U.S. numbers of Messianic Jews at 10,000 to 20,000, but estimates range as high as 100,000.

Rabbi Howard Hirsch, founder of the Center for Christian-Jewish Dialogue in Colorado Springs, said he does not think that the evangelical community will take any steps that will harm its standing with the Jewish community or Israel.

"The evangelical community realizes one of the subtexts of the Messianic movement is evangelizing and conversion, and they know how sensitive the Jewish community is on that issue," Hirsch said.

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