"Statement on Inter-religious Dialogue: Jews and Christians''
General Conference of the United Methodist Church (USA)
1. The United Methodist Church understands itself to be a part of the people of God and specifically a part of the whole Christian church, the body of Christ. It also gives thanks for its roots in historic Judaism. It rejoices in the reciprocal patrimony of the Old and New Testaments.
The heritage and hopes of a religious Israel in the context of which Jesus labored have continued to live in the Jewish faith and people. Christian awareness of indebtedness, however, to that history and its relationship to God is not as clear as it ought to be. Not only is the God we worship the same and many of our ethical concerns are held in common, but there are also numerous traditions in Israel's history whose impact upon and potential for the Christian church were lost or are still undiscovered. Moreover, to be faithful to Jesus the Jew, the contemporary relationship of United Methodist Christians and those who worship as Jews should not be neglected.
Appreciation for common roots should not blind us to the fundamental and inherently mutual theological problems to be faced. The relationship between the covenant of God with Israel and the covenant made in Jesus Christ and the understandings by Jew and Christian of each of these covenants merits exploration anew. Openness to the blessing of God on all covenanted people may lead to useful penetration of the intricacies of the interfaith discussions, if not to ultimate solutions. Serious new conversations need not and should not require either Jews or Christians to sacrifice their convictions. There is rich opportunity for potential growth in mutual understanding.
Service for humanity
2. At this moment in history, the potential of our common heritage is particularly important for the advancement of causes decisive for the survival of all mankind. While it is true that the concept of human brotherhood and solidarity is not represented by Jews or Christians alone, this concept has been central for both from their beginnings. The sacredness of persons as God's creation is expressed clearly in both the Old and New Testaments. The biblical view of each human being as an intrinsic member of the community of persons forbids any suppression of groups through society at large and any manipulation of individuals as well. Nevertheless, Jews in particular have been victims of systematic oppression and injustice more recurrently and more barbarously than have Christians. Therefore, in order to continue Jewish and Christian effort for the common cause of mankind, it is not enough for contemporary Christians to be aware of our common origins. Christians must also become aware of that history in which they have deeply alienated the Jews. They are obliged to examine their own implicit and explicit responsibility for the discrimination against and for organized extermination of Jews, as in the recent past. The persecution by Christians of Jews throughout centuries calls for clear repentance and resolve to repudiate past injustice and to seek its elimination in the present. In provision of guidelines for action and in specific processes of reconciling action for all men there is an opportunity now to join hands with Jews in common cause for a human community.
For Jew and Christian alike, God is active in history. The political and social orders are not free from his judgment. Dialogue which does not blink at differences of assumptions and interpretations of scripture and faith, but which accentuates the fundamental agreements for the sake of service to society can be, in the providence of God, a timely and fruitful inter-religious adventure.
3. In many areas of spiritual and intellectual concern the past relationship of Jews and Christians has been vitiated by inadequate communication. We have talked past one another instead of with each other. In new conversations there is an important opportunity to move past the polemical use of scripture and to explore how and why past conditioning keeps us apart, while we have much in common. In such dialogues, an aim of religious or political conversion, or of proselytizing, cannot be condoned.
To commend the love of God in Jesus Christ through saving word and serving work is an ingredient of dialogue for Christians, but antisemitism (against Jew or Arab) represents a denial of the love we proclaim and compromises our service of justice. Fruitful discussions should proceed with the clear acknowledgment that there is no valid biblical or theological basis for antisemitism. Prejudice and discrimination on racial grounds are not valid expressions of Christian faith. Why people still violate their unity given in God, and in his creation and redemption, should be examined in company with our Jewish brothers and sisters.
Responsibility in problem areas
4. Dialogues presently are complicated by problems of scriptural interpretation, conditioned attitudes, and turbulent political struggles such as the search for Jewish and Arab security and dignity in the Middle East. Facing these difficulties together may lead to creative results. In this process, we are obligated to respect the right of the Jews, as of all religious groups, to interpret their own scripture with regard to their peoplehood and destiny. When rival political positions each claim scriptural warrant, however, the issues no longer are related simply to religious freedom for one or another but to the political issue of how resources may be distributed justly. In Jewish-Christian dialogues is placed a responsibility for being concerned for the implications in the Middle East for peace and justice for all persons.
The Christian obligation to those who survived the Nazi Holocaust, the understanding of the relationship of land and peoplehood, and the conviction that God loves all persons, suggest that a new dimension in dialogue with Jews is needed. A new perspective for Christians is a prerequisite for the reduction of mutual ignorance and distrust.
Guidelines for conversations
5. The principles which have been outlined above implicitly or explicitly suggest some practical guidelines which can instruct conversations in local communities and at other points of interaction. An incomplete list of the more important considerations is attempted here.
a) Wherever possible, conversations with members of Jewish communities should be initiated and maintained through an existing or an ad hoc ecumenical framework. The ecumenical body could begin by accepting the principles in this United Methodist statement as a foundation for the dialogue, or by drafting its own.
b) In the absence of cooperative Christian efforts to explore mutual understanding, tensions and difficulties, United Methodist initiative (or response to Jewish initiative) is to be encouraged.
c) Christian participants should make clear that they do not justify past injustice done by Christians to Jews and that there is no tenable biblical or theological base for antisemitism, and that they themselves wish to be free of it.
d) Joint planning of conversations should emphasize the broad purposes of dialogues and lessen suspicion that conversion is a deliberate intention.
e) Honest differences should be expected and probed seriously, even as areas of agreement and mutual support are discovered.
f) A series of meetings with some guarantee of continuity of participants is necessary for fruitful conversation. False hopes and superficial optimism resulting from a single session together can lead to despair and further alienation.
g) The joint study of that part of our tradition which both groups have in common, the Jewish Bible or the Christian Old Testament, can be of paramount importance. It is here that the foundations of Jewish and Christian existence coincide. A joint study has potential for new insights into our mutual relationship and our togetherness.
h) Conversations which begin with exploration of scriptural and traditional heritages may move to political and sociological and economic investigations and might well result in common action in the cause of human rights.
i) The dialogues should not overlook the rich opportunities afforded in visitation of synagogues and churches and in common prayer and other inter-religious services.
Declaration of intent
6. No one can see with absolute clarity the shape of the future. Openness to dialogue with other major religions of the world is not excluded for the future, but a bond of understanding and peace between Jew and Christian surely is one key ingredient of a viable community of persons. In both theological and practical issues of the moment there are offered challenges and opportunities for growth.
A reduction of Jewish or Christian beliefs to a tepid lowest common denominator of hardly distinguishable culture religions is not sought in this process. A new confrontation of our common roots, of our common potential for service to humanity, with the benefits from mutual explorations, and with the knotty contemporary problems of world peace commends itself to us. Thus, it is the desire of the United Methodist Church honestly and persistently to participate in conversations with Jews. Our intent includes commitment to their intrinsic worth and import for society. It includes as well the Christian hope that the "oneness given in Jesus Christ" may become an example of hope for the oneness of humanity. Within this framework and in acknowledgment of the common Fatherhood of God on all occasions for this new inter-religious adventure the United Methodist Church seeks to be responsive.