Reasons to be thankful, interfaith edition

Reasons to be thankful, interfaith edition

In keeping with the ecumenical themes of the season, here are a few reasons to be thankful:

The Christian-Jewish dialogue is alive and well in New Jersey. It’s one thing to have Jewish leaders reaching out to Christians; it’s another to be working in an area where two major Catholic institutions — Seton Hall University and the College of Saint Elizabeth — maintain serious, generously funded programs dedicated to studying the dark history of Jewish-Catholic relations and learning its lessons for a brighter tomorrow.

Earlier this month, as part of its 20th annual Week of Holocaust Remembrance, the College of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown hosted an Interfaith Dialogue with three well-known theologians — a rabbi, a Catholic priest, and a Methodist minister. (The event was cosponsored by the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, the Holocaust Council of MetroWest, and the Faith Lutheran Church in New Providence.)

Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg spoke of the “remarkable accomplishments” by the Catholic Church in the wake of the Shoa. “Two-thousand years of negative images [of Jews] were turned around and overcome,” said Greenberg.

But Greenberg also sees troubling signs of regression. The generation of priests and church leaders who “knew” the Holocaust firsthand is dying out. And there are signs that new conservative church leaders elevated by John Paul II, including the current pope, Benedict XVI, are cool to the reforms that set the stage for four decades of interreligious dialogue. Greenberg talked of the “fear” that such theologians “would come to dominate dialogue and undermine the gains of past decades.

The Rev. John Pawlikowski of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago was even more blunt. Benedict, he said, has “failed, in my opinion, to acknowledge how deeply the [church’s] anti-Semitic tradition prepared the ground for the success of Nazism.”

That such tough words about a pope could come from a Catholic priest from the stage of a Catholic college is a testament to the endurance — locally, anyway — of a crucial dialogue.

Religious groups see the big picture — and it’s green. The link between poverty and the environment isn’t always obvious. But a coalition of religious groups, including the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations, is getting behind an effort to “aggressively pursue an anti-poverty agenda that includes the creation of green jobs.”

The coalition met at Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton last week to urge Gov.-elect Christie and legislators to adopt policies that link jobs creation with an environmental agenda. Members include Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Lutherans, gathered under the wings of the religious environmental group GreenFaith.

“In an age where green is no longer a fad, but a necessity, where the divide between haves and have-nots grows ever wider, what could possibly make more sense than to promote, in every way possible, the fostering of the green industry and the creation of green jobs,” said Rabbi Clifford Kulwin from Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, a coalition member.

The announcement was scant on details, but the partners are counting on the idea that the clean-energy sector will create jobs. And like any interfaith effort, it gives leaders a chance to work together in a state where special interests tend to go their own way.

Our biggest interfaith crisis is whether a Christian group is too friendly. Evangelical Christian support for Israel leaves some Jews queasy. Their concerns boil down to theology and politics. Theology: Don’t you see we’re just pawns in their eschatological end game? Politics: Accepting Christian support for Israel will compromise our opposition to the rest of their agenda, which is often anathema to the largely liberal Jewish community.

(And there’s another sore point: Many Christian groups, which tend to support the settlements and oppose a two-state solution, are to the right of many American Jews when it comes to Israel.)

But it is a fairly luxurious argument, in that the Evangelicals, in exchange for a huge political and financial investment in Israel, don’t ask for much in return. The Israeli government, not exactly overflowing with allies, is invariably grateful for their backing. When pressed about evangelical theology, most Israeli leaders will tell you, “Time and God will decide that one. In the meantime, we’re happy to have them as our friends.”

But decide for yourself. On Nov. 30, the Rev. Robert Stearns, a principal in Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, will speak at Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston. He will be a guest of Jewish community relations councils of MetroWest, Central, and Northern NJ.

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