Catholic Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs is for jews
From: Bruno Chapski [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Sunday, October 06, 2002 9:50 PM
Subject: Christians; "Jews best of all people..."
A show of spiritual force St. Petersburg Times, Oct 5, 2002; SHARON TUBBS;
After nearly 2,000 years believing that Jews are denied salvation unless they accept Jesus as the Messiah, Roman Catholics and scholars in mainline Protestant denominations now say they will, in fact, see the children of Israel in heaven.
In August, the Catholic Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs released "Reflections on Covenant and Mission." The statement says that Jews will always be God's chosen people whether or not they believe that Jesus was the Savior. Encouraging Jews to convert to Christianity is unacceptable, the statement says.
In September, members of the national Christian Scholars Group released a similar statement, "A Sacred Obligation." Scholars asked that church leaders examine scripture readings, prayers and hymns to "remove distorted images of Judaism."
Goodwill discussions between Christians and Jews have been ongoing since the Holocaust, largely among religious higherups. But these latest statements are perhaps the most far reaching and explicit in deeming Jewish evangelism not only unnecessary but wrong.
Writers said they hope to educate and stir discussion among laity, a number of whom denounce the notion that Jews don't have to believe in Jesus to be saved.
The Southern Baptist Convention, among the largest Protestant denominations in the country, with nearly 16-million members, has vowed to continue its evangelical efforts for Jews.
Freedom from evangelism
For Jews, the debate is, for the most part, a Christian dilemma.
"This is the big issue right now, and it has been for 2,000 years for the Christian community," said Rabbi A. James Rudin, the senior interreligious adviser for the American Jewish Committee, who spends his winters in Sanibel. For Jews there is no question of whether they are still God's chosen people, Rudin said.
As for the Christian debate, he said, "It's not for the Jews to solve."
Still, Rudin and other scholars support dialogue and partnership with Christian denominations that have settled the matter.
The National Council of Synagogues' partnership with the Catholic bishops in writing the August document spoke of such support. The council represents the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
"The Jews are, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, partners with God in a sometimes stormy and sometimes idyllic romance, in a loving marriage that binds God and the People of Israel together forever and which gives the deepest possible meaning to Jewish existence," read the section of the document written by Jewish leaders.
Two years ago, the National Jewish Scholars Project released a statement, "Dabru Emet," calling for Jews to "learn about the efforts of Christians to honor Judaism."
Ruth Langer, an associate director of Jewish studies at Boston College, was among nearly 200 rabbis and others to sign it.
"A lot of Jewish thinking about the world has been based on a model of opposition and a reality of oppression," Langer said in an interview. With the ongoing changes in Christian perspectives, she said, now is the time for Jews to begin thinking outside of that box.
Jews are eager to do away with Christian evangelism. "From Jewish perspectives, it's impossible to be in dialogue with someone who's wishing that you're not Jewish anymore," Langer said.
God made a pact with Abraham, telling him that his descendants would be "a great nation," that God would curse their enemies and bless all people on earth through Abraham. As is written in Genesis:
I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
Christians on both sides of the debate agree on at least one thing: God called the Jews his chosen people and entered into a covenant with them.
After that, things get complicated - at least from the Christian perspective.
Does God's Old Testament promise guarantee Jews salvation, regardless of whether they believe the New Testament premise that Jesus was the Messiah?
Catholic leaders say yes. They say the promise still lives today in what they call the "irrevocable covenant."
"Judaism is a religion that springs from divine revelation," the August document reads. "As Cardinal (Walter) Kasper noted, 'God's grace, which is the grace of Jesus Christ according to our faith, is available to all. Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism, i.e. the faithful response of the Jewish people to God's irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises.' "
How can this be? opponents have asked.
"It might look incompatible from the mere human point of view," but not from God's, said Eugene Fisher, the Catholic bishops' staff expert on Jewish relations.
>From the September statement of the Christian Scholars Group: "We believe that God does not revoke divine promises. We affirm that God is in covenant with both Jews and Christians."
Mainline Protestant denominations, including the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., the Episcopal Church (U.S.A.) and the United Church of Christ, have issued declarations that support Christian-Jewish partnerships or affirm God's covenant with the Jews.
Spiritual leaders and scholars say the Apostle Paul offers proof that God's covenant with the Jews through Abraham remains intact. University of South Florida religious studies professor Darrell Fasching pointed to Paul's letter to the Romans: "for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable," Paul says.
Fasching described Christianity as "the branch" and Judaism as "the root."
The Scripture represents the bedrock for the historic Christian belief that the sole way to heaven is belief in Christ's saving grace. And people such as Jim Sibley, the Southern Baptists' head of Jewish ministries, quote it often in discussions about Judaism.
Sibley said that he personally believes that God's covenant with the Jews is still in effect. The problem, he said, is that the Abrahamic covenant does not guarantee salvation.
"While there are many wonderful blessings that come from the Abrahamic covenant, salvation is not one of them," Sibley said.
Christians began to re-examine their perceptions of Jews after the Holocaust. European Christians who had touted brotherly love and compassion were faced with the reality that many had stood idly by as Nazis murdered the sons and daughters of the promised land. In the aftermath, Christians worldwide were faced with the notion that their anti-Semitic attitudes had fueled hatred toward Jews.
"The fact that the Holocaust could occur in Christian Europe was a tremendous blow to Christianity," said Fasching, the USF professor. "What the Holocaust did was force Christians to look at their history."
During the Second Vatican Council, from 1962 to 1965, Catholics began formal discussions about Judaism and determined that the crucifixion of Christ "cannot be charged against all Jews," according to a declaration released in 1965. Today, religious leaders have joined with Jewish scholars and encouraged educational centers, such as the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies at Saint Leo University.
Protestant denominations continue to lament the stigma of the Holocaust, some of them expressing shame over their ancestors' apathy.
In 1994, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America released a statement "to the Jewish community." It read, in part:
"Very few Christian communities of faith were able to escape the contagion of anti Judaism and its modern successor, anti-Semitism. Lutherans belonging to the Lutheran World Federation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America feel a special burden in this regard because of certain elements in the legacy of the reformer Martin Luther and the catastrophes, including the Holocaust of the 20th century, suffered by Jews in places where the Lutheran churches were strongly represented."
Opponents of the new Christian-Jewish partnership say they, too, deplore the Holocaust. But Christians shouldn't be called anti- Semites or made to feel guilty because of their belief that Jesus is the only bridge to eternal life.