- Written by Tyler Hendricks
Dr. Michael Jenkins (UTS '77) and Dr. Frank Kaufmann (UTS '79) recently convened a theological dialogue between Jewish and Christian leaders in the Holy Land. Dr. Kaufmann wrote in his brief report, "The recent Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Jerusalem, March 13-14), held under the auspices of the Universal Peace Federation, came not a moment too soon. The pursuit of peace in the Holy Land, and by extension the region and world, continues to be a pressing matter for the Middle East Peace Initiative (MEPI, founded by Reverend Sun Myung Moon).
"The region and the world abound with peace initiatives for the Holy Land and rightfully so. Not only for the obvious humane reasons, but further for the pressing social and geo-political realities there, to which the entire world is closely tied. Each initiative has its own signature and special insight. All are urgently needed.
"MEPI proceeds out of a handful of core impulses that make it an indispensable partner in the shared pursuit of peace. These include full affirmation that all religions are born of God, the fact that conflict is spiritual in nature above all, and finally insistence that success requires broad and closely integrated collaboration among the key spheres of influence including the religious and spiritual, political and social, media and education, and other centers of human striving.
"This particular meeting extended a monumental moment in peace history based on spiritual leaders going to places of extreme trust and vulnerability for the sake of peace, namely, the formal signing of the Jerusalem Declaration on May 18, 2003. On that occasion, Christian and Jewish leaders took the all but unheard of position of repenting to one another. The courage and humility of these leaders far exceeded the routine conventions and norms of polite interfaith dialogue. These leaders managed in that moment to put the cause of peace, and true love as taught in their respective traditions above all other concerns.
"This public act rocked the firmament. When the dust settled, doubts and shadows scrambled to re-divide these communities but, minor setbacks aside, it was too late. The die was cast. The true relationship preferred by God for Christians and Jews had been irremovably fixed at that moment.
"This month's dialogue continued the work to expand this relationship of repentance, forgiveness, love and togetherness by bringing together influential scholars and leaders from both communities to tackle in a substantial way the challenges facing the possibility of increasing cooperation and collaboration among believers from these two religious groups.
"Twenty or so leaders, and scholars of approximately equal number, spent a day and a half in 5 sessions of serious dialogue and discussion. Session 1 provided the occasion for self introduction and for all gathered to discuss in general terms the premise for the dialogue. The premise in part included the view that peace issues beyond Jewish-Christian relations, including peaceful relations with Muslims, requires that Jews and Christians transcend their a terrible history and knit ourselves together as enlightened world leaders.
"The other four sessions treated scripture, tradition, theology, and social and political implications respectively. All but the final session were deeply grounded in scripture and source documents.
"The scripture session took up a comparative analysis of the Jacob and Esau story. The tradition session compared the obligations of charity in each tradition. The theology session examined imago dei doctrines intrinsic to each group.
"All sessions were rich beyond our most optimistic imagination. This is not exaggeration. Once the spirit of harmony prevails, content and inestimable value inside each tradition pours forth for the other. What is gained in profound. Surely all involved left far richer and wiser, each better equipped as Jews and Christians alike. Furthermore, the the bonds formed marked the beginnings of a world-important community of leaders forged in the intimacy of this conversation.
"The final session examined social and political implications derived from the prospect of increasing harmony and collaboration among Jews and Christians. Special emphasis and particular interest was given to solutions to conflict in the Holy Land. The guidelines for this applied session urged the dialogue partners to assess the nexus and respective roles of the US, Europe, and Israelis and Palestinians in the pursuit of peace in the Holy Land.
"The prominent and influential partners of this dialogue are not named in this report as this project is meant to create an enduring and effective community of religious leaders. These meetings are not designed to create symbols of unity, nor are they to designed create public relations activity for the MEPI."
Theological dialogue has been a hallmark of UTS for three decades, beginning with the Theologians Conferences in our White Carpet Room. The next local Theologian's Conference will take place April 29 at 4 West 43rd Street, under the auspices of the Theologian's Club and EC Student Advocacy.
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