Christian, Jewish Leaders Work Together Despite Strained Relations

Amid strained relations between Mainline Protestants and Jews over the “selective" divestment policies of some churches, a group of 13 Christian and Jewish leaders vowed to strengthen interfaith efforts and advocate for peace following a joint visit to the Middle East last week.

"That Jewish and Christian leaders representing their denominations and organizations are going on this trip together is in itself a significant statement of trust and hope," said Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, National Council of Churches USA Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations, when the Sept. 18-23 trip began, according to the NCC.

Since last year, when the Presbyterian Church USA decided to “selectively divest” from companies it viewed as propagating violence between Israel and Palestine, the long-standing relationship between Jewish and mainline Christian churches began breaking apart. The situation worsened when the Anglican Communion, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ joined the PC(USA) in considering pulling support from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of disputed territories.

Most U.S.-based Jewish communities condemned the church policies, charging them of unfairly blaming Israel for a two-state problem. The denominations largely acknowledged the criticisms but continued implementing the policies.

While tensions remain within the two faith groups, last week’s delegation symbolized a change in attitude – at least among some Jewish communities – to work together with mainline groups "to seek peace even when there are disagreements on specific policies and solutions." The delegation included representatives from the PC(USA), ELCA and the UCC.

“A trip that started from many different places has brought us closer together in hope and faith,” a statement from the delegation read. “While there were many difficult moments, our trust in each other deepened. We sustain hope and faith in each other as agents of peace. We affirm hope and faith in our two religious communities as partners and advocates for a two-state solution.”

Through the statement, the delegation promised to deepen engagement with each other at the local level, work together for peace in Israel and Palestine, urge government officials to work out a negotiated peace settlement, and jointly support those in the Middle East who are working for a two-state solution to the conflict.

“On this day, we together affirm our partnership with God in bringing about justice, compassion and peace,” they stated.

The Jewish and Protestant leaders who made this journey represent the Alliance of Baptists, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, National Council of Churches of Christ, Presbyterian Church (USA), Religious Action Center of the Union of Reform Judaism, United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.