In recent decades, a "third wave" of academic research into the life and
beliefs of Jesus has been led by mainline Christian, liberal Christian, and
Jewish theologians. They
are beginning to appreciate the depth of the relationship between Jesus' teachings and the
beliefs of various groups within Judaism during the 1st century CE. There is increasing
dialog with Jews by non-conservative Christian theologians interested in discovering the
roots of their own faith.
The Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, and the Roman
Catholic Church -- have entered into dialog with American Jews, while discontinuing
any efforts to convert them. They have gone beyond rejecting anti-semitism, and beyond
simple tolerance. They now value Judaism as a "sister" religion with whom
they have much in common, and from which they have much to learn. The dialog is conducted
between the two religions as equals in a spirit of honest seeking.
The United Church of Canada, is the second largest Protestant denomination in
Canada and perhaps the most liberal large faith group in the country. It is similar to the United Church of Christ
in the US. It has jokingly been referred to as a church which specializes in organizing
circular firing squads. This is because of its history of courageously tackling the really
tough questions: ordination of women in the 1930's; ordination of gays and lesbians in the 1980's; and a deep
dialog between the church and Judaism in the 1990s.
In the very late 1980's. the United Church's general council was petitioned to come to
terms with its past anti-Semitic history and to mend fences with the Jewish community.
1 A subsequent study produced a report: "Bearing Faithful Witness: United
Church-Jewish Relations Today." It was submitted in mid-1997 for approval by the
general council. It was released to the public in 1998-MAY.
The report is unusually frank for Christian faith groups in North America. It
calls for the church to:
Stop trying to convert Jews to Christianity.
End any Biblical interpretation which negatively stereotype Jews or leads to
anti-semitism or anti-Judaism.
Reject the concept that Christianity is superior to Judaism.
Reject the concept that Christianity is a replacement for Judaism.
Recognize anti-Semitism in its past.
Reactions to the report were predictable:
The "Community of Concern," a conservative reform group within the
United Church, rejected the call for an end to evangelical action to convert Jews
Spokesperson Rev. John Niles said "This is completely against the Biblical
mandate to go out into the world and baptize...It means the Gospel can't be preached."
He expressed confidence that more conservative ministers will continue to evangelize Jews,
even if the document becomes church policy.
Rabbi Reuven Bulka, chairman of the Religious and Interreligious Affairs Committee
of the Canadian Jewish Congress commented:"I think it deserves
the highest of accolades...They have not in any way compromised their own faith, but they
have realized failings within the faith and have honestly said 'Let's clean up this mess.'
The Right Rev. Bill Phipps, moderator of the Church commented: "Christianity
does not supersede Judaism...We are not picking up where they left off." He said
that the document urges people to "live your life fully. Try to make Jesus Christ
meaningful and attractive to people...but don't cast aspersions or criticize other faith
traditions." Rev. Phipps notes that Scripture has been often interpreted in a
way that leads to anti-Judaism. For example, when referring to Jesus criticisms of Judaic
practices of the 1st century CE, Christians must remember that "he wasn't
standing outside of the Jewish community being critical, he was doing it from within."
Peter Wyatt, general secretary for theology, faith and ecumenism for the United Church
indicated that no formal apology to the Jewish community is planned. "Jewish
people indicated that wouldn't necessarily be helpful, and it's not something they're
Joan Breckenridge, "United Church Reaches out to Jews," The Globe and Mail,
Toronto ON, 1998-MAY-23, Pages A1 & A10.