Sunday, December 18, 2005

Jews for Jesus Wins Defamation Suit

A Florida circuit court recently dismissed a lawsuit brought against Jews for Jesus, a defamation lawsuit filed by a woman who had been described (wrongfully) as a Christian. Three years ago, one of the organization's missionaries had reported in a monthly newsletter that his stepmother, Edith Rapp of Delray Beach, had received Christ as her Lord and Savior. But he seems to have jumped to the wrong conclusion because the next year Mrs. Rapp sued the ministry, claiming Jews for Jesus had defamed her by falsely implying she had become a believer. Furthermore, the woman demanded $1,000,000 in damages. The lawyers for Jews for Jesus argued that Mrs. Rapp's claim was bogus. Is it really defamatory to use terms like "Christian" or a "believer in Jesus"about someone? The court answered no. It not only dismissed all claims filed against Jews for Jesus by Mrs. Rapp but also ordered that she and her lawyer, Barry Silver, pay attorney's fees and costs for the defendants.

The case is being touted by Jews for Jesus as an important religious freedom and freedom of speech case. It is and I'm pleased with the result. However, the case does point out the problem evangelicals have of often being too quick (and too public) in claiming conversion status for others. Yes, becoming a Christian is an instantaneous event ("Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved."), but in our anxiety to announce someone's conversion and begin the party, we too frequently make the wrong call. This is especially true of celebrities. Think of Jane Fonda, Lynda Carter, Kris Kristofferson, Terry Bradshaw, and many others. It is okay to let some time go by with its corresponding evidence of a true conversion before making someone's story a headline.