Once again, baseball has captured the attention of many in our country. I am not referring to the pennant races or the World Series. No, this time the boys of September” are a rabbi, a minister, a chaplain and a reporter from the Washington Post. That may sound like the set up to a corny joke, but this story is no laughing matter.
Last month a volunteer chaplain for the Washington Nationals Baseball team was summarily dismissed from his post for answering a question from outfielder Ryan Church during a voluntary team chapel. The question was, “If Jewish people don’t believe in Jesus does that mean they are doomed?” Chaplain Jon Moeller nodded his head in the affirmative and Washington Post writer Laura Blumenfeld wrote about it in a front-page article. A rabbi read the article and held a press conference to spread the word that, “the locker room of the Nationals is being used to preach hatred.”
A Presbyterian minister agreed with the rabbi. Pointing out that Roman Catholics and many Protestant denominations have moved toward the view that God has a continuing covenant with the Jews, he added, “for chaplain Moeller to say this is an unacceptable understanding of our faith.” All of this resulted in the firing of that chaplain. In addition, outfielder Ryan Church was forced to make a public apology. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig is now considering suspending the Christian chaplaincy program for all major league baseball teams.
What did the chaplain say that was so hateful and unacceptable? He simply agreed with what Jesus himself said, “for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24b). I suppose that statement from Jesus could be viewed as extremely intolerant. But remember, Jesus is a Jewish rabbi and he was speaking to a group of rabbis in the Temple in Jerusalem. When those rabbis understood what it was Jesus was saying, John tells us, “…they took up stones to throw at Him.” (vs. 59) Talk about intolerance! I guess the Washington Nationals chaplain should be thankful that he was merely fired.
Anyone who has followed the ministry of Jews for Jesus knows that this issue of Jewish people and the gospel is a lightning rod. 2000 years hasn’t changed much on that score. What does seem to be changing however is America’s commitment to freedom of religion, and particularly for Christians. Not only is there growing intolerance for Jesus’ followers to express their convictions in the public square, but public pressure can be brought to bear even in a private sector. Members of a baseball team can no longer discuss their beliefs in their own locker room.
It isn’t surprising for a rabbi to take umbrage over a comment that there is no salvation outside of Christ. But many rabbis recognize the freedom Christians have not only to believe, but also to answer questions concerning this belief in Jesus alone for salvation. I doubt that most would want the chaplain censored for having answered this question as he did. In general, Jewish people would be the first to recognize that freedom of religion cannot be granted selectively or it ceases to be freedom. And freedom of religion includes freedom to express an opinion without fear of reprisal. Jewish people have enjoyed the fruits of that freedom in this country and don’t want to see it diminished. But the fact that a Christian minister would say the chaplain’s views represent “an unacceptable understanding of our faith” is very troubling. And when a major league baseball team and its commissioner punish a man for being honest about that “understanding”, everyone should be concerned—Jews and Gentiles, rabbis and ministers, Christians and people of any other religion who value their freedom.
Is punishing a Christian chaplain for clearly stating his understanding of the Bible the price for living in a pluralistic society? No, it is not. It is, however, indicative of a new favorite pastime for some in this great country of ours. That pastime is the game of “gotcha.” The goal of the game is to enforce a spiritual litmus test of “political correctness” that amounts to an extreme form of religious intolerance—particularly against an evangelical viewpoint.
It is ironic that a favorite accusation of the day is to call someone intolerant or judgmental—ironic because people routinely judge others and build intolerance against them merely by accusing them of these things.
Believers in Jesus may be accused of intolerance for insisting that Jesus is the only way for salvation, but the fact is that this is what our Messiah Himself taught. Anyone may take issue with Him or with us on that point, but we are still obligated to speak the truth in love.
Intolerance forced the chaplain of the Washington Nationals out of his post and it won’t stop there. Unless more Christian leaders are willing to uphold faithfully what Jesus taught about salvation in the pulpit—and when necessary, in the press—the court of public opinion will co-opt the meaning of Christianity altogether. If Christian leaders haven’t the courage to say that Jewish people need Jesus just like anyone else, soon they won’t have the courage to say that anyone needs Him.
The gospel is still to the Jew first in God’s plan—partly because that is the very place where the truth claims of the gospel are most likely to be tested. If we don’t get it right as it applies to the Jewish people, that is, if we say that Jewish people have no need of Jesus, then we are likely to get it wrong all the way down the line. Think about it—if Jesus is not the Messiah for the Jewish people, why on earth should anyone else have need of Him? He claimed to be the Jewish Messiah, in fulfillment of the Jewish prophets. Anyone who thinks the Jewish people don’t need to believe in Him would be hard pressed to explain why anyone else does. Christians who “play the game” of getting along and going along with the notion that Jewish people don’t need Jesus don’t realize that while they may still be on the team, they are merely warming the bench, when Christ is calling them to step up to bat.
I want to speak a word of encouragement to all those who are willing to speak up, risking public censure, to say to my Jewish people, “Yes, you do need Jesus in order to be saved.” Most of the Jews for Jesus staff can tell you that when we first heard that message it made us angry, too. But it also made us think and question our own beliefs to the point where we were willing to consider the truth. Without that kind of challenge, we may never have come to Christ at all.
We need to cheer on those who are willing to do and say what is right despite the consequences. What happened with Chaplain Jon Moeller should remind us all of the importance of standing up for truth no matter what the cost. He paid a price for telling the truth and I believe that it’s a cost that will have to be paid with increasing frequency by Christians who truly believe the gospel. What we want to say in Jews for Jesus is, we think it is all very much worth paying that cost so that men and women, Jews and Gentiles might hear the good news of salvation. We hope you will agree.