Jewish Community Welcomes United Church Report
By Melanie Collison
The Jewish community is welcoming a ground-breaking report by the United Church of Canada on improving its relationship with Judaism.
The New Testament was written by frustrated Jews criticizing their own religion, but passages have been taken out of context since Christianity split off as a separate religion, says Rev. Clint Mooney, Minister of St. Matthews United Church, who pulled together the writing of the report.
The report has been favourably received by the Jewish community. We welcome the paper and look favourably at the fact that it was initiated, and that people have put a lot of research, understanding and goodwill into this project," said Riki Heilik, community relations director for Calgary Jewish Community Council, in a recent interview.
"It"s an intelligent and sensitive document, a well-meaning document. There is a very explicit rejection of any kind of missionizing among the Jews," said Dr. Eliezer Segal, a University of Calgary Religious Studies professor. "The United Church is very open to learning from other cultures and respecting them, and that comes across."
The United Church may have some influence outside Canada, in part through a Calgary-based Web site at www.jcrelations.net. The site, which is run by Calgarian Fritz Voll, is an excellent resource on all aspects of Jewish-Christian relations, Segal said. Among several relevant church documents that are included or linked there is the United Church paper.
The paper was written in response to a request at the 1988 General Council -- the policy-making level of the United Church -- for a study on the origins of anti-Semitism, on the heels of the Keegstra affair.
Jim Keegstra is a former high school teacher in Eckville, Alberta, who was eventually convicted of promoting hatred of Jews, 12 years after his students told their parents what he was teaching them.
Rev. Mooney, and the other contributors to the report, Rev. Don Koots, Linda Payne, Rev. Bill Phipps, Carolyn Pogue Phipps and Fritz Voll, "were looking for disrespectful parts of the New Testament, to improve relations," Mooney said, "and we wanted to acknowledge our silence during the Holocaust."
The report proposes that the Church accept its contents as a resolution at its next General Council in the year 2000. At the moment, a study paper is being produced to make the report more accessible to lay people.
"For the first time ever, a significant body of the Christian church is interested in hearing what Jews have to say on the older testament, God, and the Second Temple period, and there is a significant segment of the Jewish community that"s willing to speak with us.
"There"s also been the discovery of many texts that were written in those times and awareness of the proliferation of groups at the time of Jesus. Judaism was very diverse in those days.
Riki Heilik is pleased with the way the report deals with evangelical Christianity and groups such as Jews for Jesus.
"I think it is important to acknowledge the fact that, overall, the history of anti-Semitism is one that few would defend today. Through the Crusades, the Inquisition, vicious pogroms, and the Holocaust, millions of Jews were killed by Christians. We have a long history of animosity, so it is very fitting that the church is initiating a change in those attitudes.
Rev. Mooney puts the paper in the broader context of community relations. "We are starting with Judaism, before moving to heal our relations with other faiths," he said.
Source: Jewish Free Press, September 18, 1997. With kind permission.
Melanie Collison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and editor, and principal of Write Right Communications.