A New Beginning for Jewish Relations with the WCC?

by Rabbi David Sandmel last modified 19 July 2019 08:45 PM
A New Beginning for Jewish Relations with the WCC?

Representatives of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) met in Paris, France, June 25-27. Photo: Marianne Ejdersten/WCC

19 July 2019

At a meeting held in Paris, June 25-27, the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) restored formal relations after a hiatus of more than two decades.

IJCIC, a consortium of 11 international Jewish organizations, was founded in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and is the Vatican’s official dialogue partner with the Jewish community.  IJCIC is also the official Jewish dialogue partner of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Orthodox churches.  I am one of ADL’s representatives to IJCIC and currently serve as its vice-chair.

The WCC consists of some 350 churches around the world, representing around 500,000,000 Christians. In 1948, the year it was founded, the WCC declared " We call upon all the churches we represent to denounce anti-semitism, no matter what its origin, as absolutely irreconcilable with the profession and practice of the Christian faith. Anti-Semitism is sin against God and man.”

The theme of the meeting in Paris was, “The normalization of hatred: challenges for Jews and Christians today.” At this meeting, I presented on the current global surge in anti-Semitism, its various manifestations, and its effect on Jewish communities worldwide. Carole Nuriel, Director of ADL's Israel Office, participated in a panel on local perspectives on hate, in which she highlighted the importance of finding innovative solutions to social challenges in Israel.

The aforementioned breakdown in relations was the result of strong disagreements, particularly on issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is understandable that the WCC is concerned about the situation of Christians in Israel and more generally about human rights. However, some of its statements and actions have, from our perspective, been problematic and the WCC has been accused of being both anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, charges which the WCC rejects.  Recently, representatives of the two organizations have held several consultations at which these and other issues were discussed quite frankly, and while certain differences of opinion remain, the final communiqué states: “This meeting took place with acknowledgment of the development in both more constructive communications and the way that differences are conveyed publicly.”

I participated in the aforementioned consultations and have had other encounters with the WCC, some positive and some challenging.  I can attest to the tension, as well as to the learning and building of trust that led up to the formal renewal of relations. This renewed relationship is in its infancy; how it will weather the inevitable challenges that lie ahead is yet to be seen.  If it is to be successful, it will need to be nurtured through ongoing discussion and continued learning.

The full text of the final communiqué can be found here:  https://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/communique-world-council-of-churches-wcc-and-the-international-jewish-committee-for-interreligious-consultations-ijcic

DavidSandmelRabbi Dr. David Fox Sandmel is long-time interfaith activist.  He has served as Director of Interreligious Engagement at ADL since 2014. From 2003-2014, he held the Crown-Ryan Chair in Jewish Studies at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. As Judaic Scholar at the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies in Baltimore, he managed the project that produced “Dabru Emet: A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity.” He is an editor of Christianity in Jewish Terms and Irreconcilable Differences? A Learning Resource for Jews and Christians.  His commentary on First Thessalonians appears in The Jewish Annotated New Testament.  He is an interfaith observer to the WCC’s Reference Group for the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace.

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The impressions, hopes and ideas expressed in this blog are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.

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