Last Wednesday I wrote about the ups and downs in black – Jewish relations. Today I want to write about interfaith relations. Maybe it’s winter and freezing and I think we think more about relationships. Next Tuesday evening is our Interreligious Learning Institute; more about that later. The ILI is the offspring of the Community Torah Institute, one of my first creations at Beth El, breathed into being at a time when Jews weren’t getting along very well with other Jews. About 6-8 years ago, once we fixed that, it seemed that relations with other faith communities were more in need of attention and so we changed focus.
Looking over the landscape, relations with Christians here in America are actually in mostly good places. We have a lot in common with mainstream (= liberal) Christians and have little trouble hanging out together and accepting their kids into our families. The only real flash point seems to be around Israel. A certain cadre of liberal Protestants, especially some clergy whose mantra is “peace and justice” and who love the underdog, have latched on to the plight of the Palestinians and picture Israel in the darkest possible light. That didn’t just happen – there are Palestinian Christians travelling the church conference circuit selling BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) quite convincingly, never mentioning that Israel is the only Middle Eastern country that permits and protects all religions or that the Palestinians and their ilk are making life miserable for most Christians (who can’t wait to relocate.) Look up the innocent sounding Sabeel Liberation Theology Center and check out the Action and Advocacy section on their website. Motions to divest from church holdings in American firms that do business with Israel are the most obvious result of these efforts. Sometimes the motions succeed; always they are a worrisome irritant.
In the trenches, the mainstream of the church-going population supports Israel. That doesn’t get much press. Clergy on that mainstream side of the aisle, led by brave pastors like our neighbor and friend at Saint Mark Presbyterian, Roy Howard, confront the BDS folk and their dangerous campaigns. Also on the supportive side are the many evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants who, to the embarrassment of some Jews, love Israel more than most of us do. While we share little in values or approach with those folk, their support for Israel is genuine.
Beth El clergy do outreach with the Methodists across the street and the Presbyterians down the road. Dialogues, Bible study, theatrical performances, and of course the Thanksgiving Joint Service, are precious opportunities for clergy and congregants to work together and build understanding. The Catholics are more insular and outreach efforts have not been sustainable so far. I hope to change that in coming years.
Relations with Muslims are a much more complicated story. This column is already long enough, so I will take that on next week. In between, think about joining us for the ILI, this coming Tuesday (February 3rd), 7 – 8:30PM at Beth El. We have dynamic young clergy coming – Rabbi Ita Paskind from Olam Tikvah, Pastor Kara Scroggins from Bethesda United Methodist, and Imam Rasoul Naghavi from the Islamic Education Center in Potomac. They will tell us about their work and their beliefs, and engage with me in dialogue around questions such as what they say when people call religion the cause of many of the world’s problems, or what ideas they have for people of our three faiths getting along better. No charge, no reservations, yes refreshments.
Have a good Wednesday. Bill Rudolph
P.S. The best Jewish a cappella college student group, Tizmoret from Queens, is spending the weekend at Beth El. They are taking over most of the service and dinner Friday night (dinner reservations required) , singing in the sanctuary Shabbat morning, and doing a public concert on Sunday at 11AM (there is a charge.) Next weekend is our Scholar In Residence, Prof. David Kraemer. You won’t want to miss that either.