Leaders of mainline Christian denominations and heads of major Jewish organizations met on Thursday, March 27, for an unprecedented gathering to discuss ways to strengthen and maintain relationships between the two faith groups. The Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, was one of the 15 faith leaders who attended the meeting, which Black said was the first of its kind in recent memory.
"I believe that the outcome of this meeting has been very positive," Black said. "It will lead to better communication and more constructive dialogue and action on matters of mutual concern – including, but not limited to, Israel-Palestine – between American Christian and Jewish leaders in the future."
During the one-day summit in New York City, participants made a commitment to develop an effective and ongoing national dialogue between Christian and Jewish leaders. The group also committed to meet at least annually and to reinstate the traditional Jewish-Christian roundtables that were suspended in Oct. 2012 over differences regarding U.S. aid for Israel. Thursday’s meeting was the first to bring the groups together since Jewish groups suspended discussions with the churches after Christian groups sent a letter to Congress on Oct. 5, 2012, calling for an investigation of Israel's use of U.S. military aid.
"We affirm a strong commitment to continue working together on domestic and international issues of common concern," the group said in a statement. "We will aspire to genuine and ongoing dialogue related to Israeli-Palestinian issues, seeking to identify and discuss, in respect and humility, areas of real or potential disagreement and of real and potential cooperation.
"As people of faith we enter the holy season of Easter and Passover to celebrate the gift of our renewed relationship and look to the future to enhance our closeness and our commitment to serve the common good."
"Such an opportunity to bring together principal leadership of the several Jewish organizations and Christian churches is rare," said Peter Makari, executive for the Middle East and Europe for Global Ministries, a shared ministry of the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). "We have, and continue to, engage together on so many issues of common concern – poverty, social justice, among others. Our historical commitments are strong, and while our perspectives on the Middle East may not always align, to have open lines of communication can only enhance our relationship."
The other Christian faith leaders included the Rev. Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America from 2001-2013; the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA); Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, ecumenical office, Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church; the Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada; and James E. Winkler, general secretary/president of the National Council of Churches.
The Jewish leaders in attendance included Rabbi Steve Gutow, president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League; David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee; Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism; Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International; Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly; Rabbi Steven C. Wernick, chief executive officer of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; and Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.