Boston College Annual Report 2003

Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College

.An Orthodox rabbi stood before the students, theologians, and community members gathered in Higgins 300, pondering Jewish and Christian covenants with God.

Both religions believe in a covenant, said Rabbi Eugene Korn, the Anti-Defamation League’s director of Interfaith Affairs. But that marriage between God and man creates boundaries, allowing some inside a community, and keeping others out. “

Can a person outside the covenant be regarded as an equal?” asked Korn. “Can a person outside be validated? Can a person outside be saved?”

Two Christian scholars joining Korn on the panel took up his challenge, searching for common ground between the two faiths. Their discussion was part of a three-part series, “Christians and Jews: Shared History, Sharing the Future,” sponsored by the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College (CCJL) and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston.

Rev. John Stendahl, a Newton pastor representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, lamented the historical persecution of Jews by Christians as “a heartbreak to God” and suggested that we look at religions not as ideologies, but as groups of people. Philip Cunningham, director of Boston College’s Center for Christian-Jewish Learning, discussed two divergent Catholic approaches to accepting a Jewish covenant. “It seems clear to me that God wants two covenanted communities to be blessings for each other,” he concluded. “How else can they be blessings for the rest of the world?”

But this meeting of theological minds went well beyond notions of love for fellow man. It delved into the Biblical interpretations by which Jews and Christians find common ground. In fact, Korn told the group, considering all religious and moral systems to be equal is not good enough. “If all religions are true, then no religion can claim to be true,” he said. “If all faiths are equal, we run into the very deep problem of how a person can keep a commitment to a specific faith.”

It was the kind of provocative public forum that models the goal of the CCJL, established through a $5 million gift from John M. Corcoran ’48 to enhance respectful relationships between Christians and Jews and to provide a chance for joint exploration of the faiths both inside the classroom and out. The CCJL embraces difficult issues. Last year, it hosted Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. One CCJL forum brought in award-winning writer James Carroll, author of Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, A History, to address his critics. The center also supports the Christian Scholars Group on Christian-Jewish Relations, which recognizes the Church’s anti-Jewish history and rethinks theology and practice to address past in justices.

.“Boston College’s Jesuit ideal of inclusion rather than exclusion means that the University accepts the challenge that the search for truth and understanding is not hindered, but rather is enhanced, by diverse perspectives, especially when based on a profound respect for the individual. It was this spirit I wanted to foster between the two great sister faiths of Christianity and Judaism. The Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College seemed an ideal home for this kind of collaboration.”  JOHN M. CORCORAN ’48

In the classroom, Boston College students directly benefit from the CCJL’s painstaking efforts to offer objective courses, which are typically co-taught by scholars of Christianity and Judaism. “It creates a really interesting dynamic, a productive dynamic,” says one student. “There’s an expert in the room from both perspectives. When you get to difficult things, there’s somebody owning the difficult issues.”

The model, embodied in much of the CCJL’s programming, instantly emphasizes a respect for differing points of view. But the goal is much more than tolerance. As Korn pointed out: “It’s easy to be tolerant of something you don’t care about. The true test is to be tolerant on issues you care deeply about.”

Photo at top of page: (left to right) Rabbi Eugene Korn, Rev. John Stendahl, and CCJL Director Philip Cunningham at the panel discussion.

Inset photo: John M. Corcoran.

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