Introduction to the Issue of Gentile Conversion
Kesher was established by the UMJC to be a journal willing to discuss substantive matters relevant to Messianic Judaism, including issues that are potentially controversial. This edition is primarily devoted to the topic of conversion of Gentiles to Messianic Judaism. In the Fall, 2004, the UMJC Executive Committee learned of a plan developed by the North American Halakic Council, primarily comprised of Messianic Jewish leaders in the Northeast, to convert Gentile members.
As a result the Executive Committee issued the following press release:
The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) was created in 1979 as a broad based organization of Messianic Jewish congregations, willing to entertainand confront important issues. One such issue is the role of Gentiles in Messianic Jewish congregations and whether, in certain limited situations, Gentiles can be formally converted to Messianic Judaism. In 1983, the UMJC examined this question and issued a position paper containing two views (available at www.umjc.org). The majority position opposed Gentile conversion; the minority supported it. Hence, since 1983 the UMJC does not recognize conversion of Gentiles within Messianic Judaism. It does, however, include under its umbrella some groups that do recognize such conversion.
Recently, a group of leaders affiliated with the UMJC developed and began to implement a formal conversion process for Gentiles within their local congregations. The UMJC does not endorse or recognize this process. Yet, the UMJC Executive Committee recognizes the importance of our founding mandate, “To provide a forum for the discussion of issues relevant to Messianic Judaism and Messianic Jewish Congregations.” We will continue to provide for dialogue on this issue and its theological and practical ramifications, including coverage in our professional journal, Kesher. In the midst of our diversity, we affirm our unity in Messiah Yeshua and in our vision for the Messianic Jewish congregational movement.
Therefore, this edition includes a proposal for conversion by Rabbi Rich Nichol and responses to it from other UMJC leaders, MJAA leaders, a Church theologian and Reformed Rabbi Dan Cohn-Sherbok. It also includes the official UMJC position paper on conversion. We appreciate all the thought put into the original proposal and the responses.
Jamie Cowen • President • UMJC
Jamie Cowen has been the leader of Tikvat Israel Messianic Congregation in Richmond, Virginia since 1990. He is the President of Russian Immigration Services, a Richmond-based organization which provides legal and social services to Russian Immigrants in the U.S. Mr. Cowen earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Pennsylvania State University, a Juris Doctor degree from Catholic University and a Master of Theology degree with a major in Jewish Studies from Messiah Biblical Institute and Graduate School of Theology. He currently sits on the Executive Committee of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations where he serves as the President.