Celebrating the Resumption of Jewish – Christian Dialogue: A Reflection

By Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos (National Council of Churches)
and Rabbi Gilbert Rosenthal (National Council of Synagogues)

After two years of silence, a major dialogue resumed between Jewish and Christian leaders in mid-November. Focusing on pastoral issues, and aimed at exploring common challenges and ministries related to such issues, the dialogue has been an important part of Jewish – Christian relations for several years.

Co-Convened by the National Council of Churches and the National Council of Synagogues, the Jewish-Christian Dialogue on Pastoral Issues had been meeting regularly since 2010 until differences among some participants over matters related to but outside the purview of the dialogue, on Israel and Palestine, stalled the conversation. Another dialogue, formed in 2004, dealing with Middle East issues, as well as a new conversation begun this year among participant organizations’ leadership, have not yet resumed due to some of these ongoing differences.

The resumption of the dialogue on pastoral issues is therefore to be celebrated for its success in fostering ongoing relationship despite differences of opinion. Indeed, this relationship between Jewish community groups and movements and Christian churches goes back decades.

The theme of this session on pastoral issues, “Welcoming the ‘Other’ in Our Communities,” brought about a discussion ranging from the inclusion of interfaith spouses and children in congregational life, to the place of LGBT people in congregations, from welcoming returning veterans (often with post-traumatic stress disorder) into our communities, to ministering to the incarcerated and their families in our midst. The discussion also included presentations on scriptural and theological imperatives to welcome the other, as well as the possible impact on communal identity in welcoming the other.

As the group came together in Washington this past November 12-13, it was difficult to tell when it was a serious meeting over issues or a joyful reunion of old friends and colleagues. There were 28 participants, 14 from each faith tradition.

According to one of the dialogue’s co-conveners, Rabbi Gil Rosenthal, NCS Executive Director: “It was refreshing to hear all present cite the need to welcome the ‘other’ into our churches and synagogues because, in doing so, we affirm our belief in a God who loves all humanity. It was noteworthy that many cited Abraham and his hospitality to strangers as a paradigm for us all to follow.”

Jewish participants came from the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Movements, and from many areas of Jewish community life: congregations, academia, and rabbinical assemblies. They also included observers from Jewish agencies. Christian participants came from similarly diverse backgrounds: national Protestant and Orthodox churches, as well as from local councils of churches. They included participants from congregations, academia, and denominational offices.

The two coordinating groups are enthusiastically preparing the next meeting of the pastoral issues dialogue, likely to be held next summer. According to the other of the dialogue’s co-conveners, Dr. Tony Kireopoulos, NCC Associate General Secretary for Faith & Order and Interfaith Relations: “The enthusiasm surrounding this gathering, and the planning for the next gathering, is a reflection of the participants’ affirmation of our need to be together, and to discuss similar challenges and opportunities, as friends. Indeed, what comes to mind is the Psalm (133:1), ‘How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!’”

Since its founding in 1950, the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA has been the leading force for shared ecumenical witness among Christians in the United States. The NCC's 37 member communions -- from a wide spectrum of Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, Evangelical, historic African American and Living Peace churches -- include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.

NCC News contact: Steven D. Martin: 202.412.4323 or [email protected]