Christians affirm call for ‘summit’ with Jews

The United Methodist Church is among 13 Christian religious groups that sent a letter Nov. 21 to Jewish leaders who criticized the former’s letter to Congress last month requesting a review of whether military aid to Israel violates U.S. law.

They remain committed to the issues raised in the letter to Congress.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and six other organizations, including the American Jewish Committee and Union for Reform Judaism, pulled out of a planned interfaith dialogue and instead called for a summit to “communicate face-to-face at the highest levels and determine a more positive path forward.”

Rabbi Steve Gutow, JCPA president, called the letter a “one-sided anti-Israel campaign.” He said it cannot be viewed apart from the “vicious anti-Zionism that has gone virtually unchecked in several of these denominations.”

United Methodist Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, who signed the letter to Congress as president of the denomination’s Council of Bishops. (See “Jewish groups pull out of interfaith dialogue,” Faith in Action, Oct. 24.) Wenner responded to the criticism. She pointed out that General Conference, The United Methodist Church’s highest policy-setting body, clearly stated that the denomination works for peace in the Middle East and urges all parties to respect the human rights of all people. The United Methodist position goes further than the letter she signed, the bishop pointed out.

“[The letter] does not say that Israel does not have the right to defend itself,” the bishop said. “We stand clearly the side of Israel and we are committed to human rights for all God’s people.”

Escalating violence

The Nov. 21 response to the Jewish groups’ anger cites the escalating violence between Israel and Gaza in emphasizing the urgency of finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

“We value our interfaith relationships with you, our Jewish brothers and sisters, and wish to respond affirmatively to your call for a high-level meeting in order ‘to determine a more positive path forward for our communities,’” the Christians’ letter states. They emphasize, however, that they remain committed to the issues raised in the letter to Congress.

We remain no less committed to deepening and strengthening our relationships even when we disagree.

“At the same time we remain no less committed to deepening and strengthening our relationships even when we disagree,” the Christians declare. “Face-to-face dialogue, as lifted up in your letter, can be a starting point in seeking to establish a way forward.”

The Christian group points out that “given the both supportive and critical responses to our letter and the concerns expressed for Jewish-Christian relationships,” they intend to share their response letter with others.

Varying degrees of relationship

The Christian group’s letter acknowledges that varying degrees of relationship exist between the churches and organizations they represent and Jewish partners.

The letter points out that it is important to differentiate between the signatories of the letter to Congress, and the participants in the two national Jewish-Christian roundtables. “It is our hope that those two tables can resume their important work while we work to initiate the dialogue for which you have called and to which we are responding positively,” the Christian leaders state.

Besides the United Methodist Church, other signers of the letter to the Jewish organizations are American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.; American Friends Service Committee; Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); Conference of Major Superiors of Men; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Friends Committee on National Legislation; Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns; Mennonite Central Committee U.S.; National Council of Churches USA; Orthodox Peace Fellowship; Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); and United Church of Christ.

The Christian response letter follows:

Letter on Christian/Jewish Interfaith Summit

Dear Colleagues,

Over the course of the last several days, we have been reminded of the tremendous cost of violence and the urgency of finding a peaceful resolution to the escalating conflict between Israel and Gaza. We lament what these developments mean for all the injured, for those who mourn the death of loved ones and all who live in fear of escalating violence. We pledge to pray and work for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

We value our interfaith relationships with you, our Jewish brothers and sisters, and wish to respond affirmatively to your call for a high-level meeting in order “to determine a more positive path forward for our communities.” We remain committed to the issues raised in our letter to Congress. At the same time we remain no less committed to deepening and strengthening our relationships even when we disagree. Face to face dialogue, as lifted up in your letter, can be a starting point in seeking to establish a way forward. Given the both supportive and critical responses to our letter and the concerns expressed for Jewish-Christian relationships, we intend to share this letter with others after you have received it.

We believe that it is important for us to differentiate between the signatories of the Oct.r 5 letter, and the participants in the two national Jewish-Christian roundtables. It is our hope that those two tables can resume their important work while we work to initiate the dialogue for which you have called and to which we are responding positively in this letter. Even further, we acknowledge that amongst us as signatories, there are varying degrees of relationship between the churches and organizations we represent and Jewish partners. As we have discussed the possibilities, we have come to believe that the questions of who should be convened and for what purposes are best addressed in dialogue together.

As a next step, we suggest that we each name 2-3 leaders from our respective communities who could meet with one another in order to give shape to a possible meeting with the goal of promoting better understanding between us.

We are appreciative of the numerous ways in which many of our organizations and yours work together in interfaith contexts and in public policy on social issues of common concern. It is our hope that as we tend to the very real differences between us, we also seek ways to identify and build upon the common ground we share.

Sincerely,

American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.
American Friends Service Committee
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Conference of Major Superiors of Men
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
National Council of Churches USA
Orthodox Peace Fellowship
Presbyterian Church (USA)
The United Methodist Church
United Church of Christ

Nov. 21, 2012

Letter to the Editor