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Monday, February 20, 2006

Good news in Christian-Jewish relations.

For once there's a religion story about liberal religion that isn't about the so-called "religious left." Instead, the New York Times focuses on what appears to be deepening interfaith dialogue between Christian seminarians at Andover-Newton Theological School and rabbinical students at Hebrew College, which moved onto Andover-Newton's campus back in 2001. (The campus is on a hill top in nearby Newton, Mass.; Andover-Newton, a non-denominational seminary, enrolls many Unitarian Universalists.) For the last two years, Katie Zezima writes, the two neighboring schools have worked to open up channels for Christian-Jewish dialogue: "Now the colleges share courses, Seders, Sunday church services and lectures, as well as location."

Why is this a story about liberal religion? I'm using "liberal" here to point to a willingness to see other religious traditions as valid and one's own tradition as open to criticism and revision. It's a characteristic that has been more common in mainline Protestant Christianity and Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism than in other denominations of each faith, as the story hints:

Curtis Freeman, a professor of religion at the Duke Divinity School, said he did not know of other institutions that had such a close proximity and collaboration. He said the idea of a partnership would probably not have been broached if one of the colleges were evangelical or Orthodox.

"I think there's much more of an interfaith inclination among mainline Protestants than evangelical Protestants," Professor Freeman said. "But the fact of the matter is it's a wonderful thing for Jews and Christians to be in a conversation together."

Students and faculty members said they had not only learned about another religion, but had also forged a deeper connection with their own faith by re-examining basic religious tenets.

It's a brief story and it's hard to tell yet how these shared experiences will affect the churches and synagogues the students will lead. Of course I'm also curious to learn how Unitarian Universalists participate in these interfaith events and how their involvement will shape their ministries.

Which brings me to say, however, that you can find aspects of this kind of liberalism among Evangelicals, contrary to Freeman's claim. In January, for example, a group of Jewish leaders met for two days with people from the "emergent" community — a fascinating group of largely Evangelical Christians — to learn from each other about building spiritually vital communities of young people. I didn't see much in the media beyond this AP report, but I did see a lot on the emergent-oriented blogs and at Velveteen Rabbi about it. See Synagogue 3000 for more.

("Hebrew and Christian schools in Massachusetts share space and an interfaith vision," Katie Zezima, New York Times 2.18.06, reg req'd; "Dissatisfied Jews, Christians share ideas," Gillian Flaccus, Associated Press 1.18.06)

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 20 February 2006 at 10:39 AM

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Dudley Jones:

February 20, 2006 07:37 PM | Permalink for this comment

This is an encouraging story - good luck to all involved. Does the UUA do much in terms of dialogs with "the church across the street", if I may use an old RE term?


February 21, 2006 04:17 PM | Permalink for this comment

There's also a really nifty lecture series in March on the relationship between Christianity and Judaism in the 2-4th centuries, hosted jointly by ANTS and Hebrew College. The last is by Karen King. They look amazing.

Clyde Grubbs:

February 23, 2006 04:26 PM | Permalink for this comment

Technically Andover Newton is an open and inclusive seminary with covenant relations with the United Church of Christ and the American Baptists.

I was on campus twice, some DMin work about six years ago and seminary some time before that. Most of my ABC classmates thought of themselves as evangelical, they were open and "liberal" in the proper sense that Philocrites is using the word here, but they also believed that they had a unique revelation of the truth.

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