At the heart of interfaith dialogue is how religions view one another. The past year has chalked up several interfaith milestones, which have begun putting to rest centuries of misunderstanding and animosity between Christians and Jews, and drawn some Christian churches closer together.
Two statements issued over the past week, though, are likely to leave their mark on the dialogues in very different ways.
The Roman Catholic Church seemed to go against the grain of its own efforts of recent years. Shortly after beatifying Pope Pius IX, whom many Jews consider anti-Semitic, the Vatican issued a pronouncement reasserting its primacy as the one true church and road to salvation, and relegating other Christian churches to a "gravely deficient situation." It seemed to many Protestants and Catholics to be a retreat from the spirit of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, which sparked greater ecumenical activity.
Meanwhile, Jewish scholars at the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore, Md., released a statement endorsed by more than 150 rabbis from all Jewish denominations calling on Jews to reevaluate their perceptions of Christians and Christianity.
Responding to Christian steps to revise views of Judaism and apologize for past mistreatment of Jews, the theological statement titled Dabru Emet (Speak the Truth) is "unprecedented in Jewish history," the group says. It also challenges some widely held views in the Jewish community. The statement discusses eight points:
*Jews and Christians worship the same God.
*They seek authority from the same book - the Bible.
*Christians can respect the claim of the Jewish people upon the land of Israel.
*Both accept the moral principles of Torah.
*Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon.
*The humanly irreconcilable difference between Jews and Christians will not be settled until God redeems the world.
*A new relationship between Christians and Jews will not weaken Jewish practice.
*The two must work together for justice and peace.
Rabbi David Sandmel of the Institute says the statement was prepared "in the hope that it might serve as an antidote to an old mind-set of 'Christa-phobia' among too many Jews." Learning materials are also available to spur discussion among clergy and congregations.
Last week's declaration by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the other hand, furrowed the brows of many Protestants, although it aims mainly to keep Catholics in line.
Concerned about "the rapid spread of the relativistic and pluralistic mentality," the Vatican says the Catholic faithful "are required to profess that there is an historical continuity ... between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church." They are "not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection ... of Churches ... nor are they free to hold that ... [it is] only a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach." Protestant churches are not churches, but "ecclesial communities."
Several Protestant leaders have expressed dismay and disappointment, saying the declaration fails to account for ecumenical steps already taken. The head of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (75 million Christians) wrote Rome, for example, questioning "how we can continue in dialogue with integrity."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society