Relations between Jews and Christians are changing due to the growing influence of Christianity in the global South, according to an article in theChicago Defender (July 14). Today it is no longer a matter of Jewish groups dialoging with American mainline Protestant groups or working with evangelicals on their mutual support of Israel.
The changing situation is not all negative. In Africa, where the Christian population grew from about 10 million to 423 million over the 20th century, many feel an affinity for Jews and Israel. African Christians place a strong emphasis on the Old Testament, seeing it as a reflection of their modern-day suffering from poverty and illness to moral corruption. Jacob Olupona of Harvard University notes that many African Christians, have Old Testament names. Visiting Israel is so important to Nigerian Christians that many put “J.P.” –meaning Jerusalem pilgrim –at the end of their names after they travel to the Jewish state, just as Muslims who make the pilgrimage to Mecca add “al Hajj” to their names.
Among African and Asian Catholics, however, there is the sense that the issues regarding Jews are really European issues, says Philip Cunningham, executive director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College. Popular among these Catholics is a stream of Christian thought which focuses on the biblical message of freeing the oppressed. Its adherents across denominations worldwide tend to identify closely with Palestinians and have a negative view of Jews, Cunningham said. The post-Vatican II church’s rejection of anti-Semitism has also had less impact on Latin American Catholic leaders.
While this problem is not new, it has gained urgency because Hispanics are bringing their views with them as they move to the United States in growing numbers. Since the generation of Christian leaders who lived through the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 is dying out (Pope Benedict XVI, a 79-year-old German, could be the last pontiff to directly experience the war.), Jewish leaders are worried that the next wave of Christian leaders will have different concerns, and may not view relations with Jews as important. The American Jewish Committee created a Latin America institute a year ago, has sent travel teams to China and has just started an Africa outreach effort. Jewish groups have also been inviting Catholic cardinals from the developing world to visit U.S. Jewish seminaries and travel to Israel.