On November 3, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, warned about “attacks on church-state separation” by groups attempting “to implement their Christian worldview” and “to Christianize America.”
Foxman explicitly mentioned Focus on the Family, the Alliance Defense Fund, the American Family Association and the Family Research Council. Two weeks later, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, criticized people who claim “a monopoly on God.” While apparently uncoordinated, those public statements from prominent Jewish figures are interpreted by observers such as Michelle Goldberg, writing on Salon.com (Nov. 29), as signs that the honeymoon between the Jewish community and the Christian right may be over.
While the above issues had always mattered to American Jews, they had mostly kept silent about differences with the Christian right due to its support for Israel derived from Christian Zionist beliefs. At a time when support for Israel has eroded in many parts of the world, such staunch backing was appreciated. But leaders of the Christian right had also agreed to tone down their rhetoric on the “Christian nation,” which flourishes today without restraint. In addition, The Forward’s editor, J.J. Goldberg, explained to Salon.com‘s reporter that keeping silent about issues which made Jews uncomfortable was also a matter of access to the White House, but current developments make it less of a burning issue.
However, not everyone approves of Foxman’s move. Leaders of groups promoting Christian-Jewish cooperation, such as the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews (IFCJ), consider it as foolish at a time when they see Conservative Christian support as crucial. IFCJ’s Yechiel Z. Eckstein claims that Christian leaders have been offended and warn about risks of an anti-Jewish backlash among “Bible-believing Christians.”
Jewish relations with mainline Christians seem warmer, although not without complications. Whether by circumstance or design, mainline Protestant churches are sharing space and increasingly programs with Jewish congregations, reports Moment magazine (December). The phenomenon of Jewish and Christian congregations sharing space may begin as a practical necessity after a fire or some other calamity that damages a church or synagogue, such cooperation may becomes a permanent interfaith partnership. There are some Jewish and Christian congregations that have built a common structure where both permanently worship. For instance, the Cedars in Bethesda, Md., comprises Presbyterian and Reform Jewish congregations. Both Jewish and Christian symbols are downplayed, with the larger Christian worship space devoid of any symbols; the crosses are brought in by procession.
Lynne Schreiber writes that “successful sharing of space requires both partners to be on the liberal end of the religious spectrum.” This is because such arrangements tend to discourage targeting the other group for conversion. The greater use of Christian imagery in Catholic churches tends to exclude them (with some exceptions) from such arrangements.
More conservative Jewish congregations still observe the 16th century prohibition from entering Christian services, though some are seeking to reinterpret that sanction. The recent mainline Protestant trend of pushing for divestment from Israel over the Palestinian issue (which is an official position of the Presbyterian Church, USA) has also served as a point of conflict in these new interfaith arrangements, Schreiber adds.
— This article was written with Jean-François Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope, http://www.religion.info)
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