It has to be one of the most frustrating political and religious conundrums ever encountered. For centuries now relations between Jews and Christians have rocked back and forth, from bad to horrible. The horrible occurred during our darker moments when Christians labeled Jews “Christ-killers” and used that charge to justify violence against Jewish people.
The bad has been as evangelicals have “targeted” Jews for conversion. Whatever biblical or theological justification may exist for evangelism, given our darker moments of relational history, it’s hard to imagine a positive response to being “targeted.” To get an idea of what it might feel like just imagine how Christians would react if they were “targeted” for conversion by Muslims. Given our recent history with Islam it’s a safe bet the campaign would not proceed peacefully.
There have been some moments of hope. Not long ago, the members of Southside Baptist Church in Birmingham invited the congregation from Temple Emmanu-El to share their worship space while the synagogue was being renovated. The shared space evolved into a friendship which has led to some shared worship experiences. There have been critics, of course, who have suggested that Christians and Jews should not worship together because of basic theological differences. But the folks at Southside and Temple Emmanu-El disagree.
In fact, this model of interfaith cooperation and shared community has been so successful that others have taken up the cause. In conjunction with the annual Cooperative Baptist Fellowship meeting in Birmingham this past week, there was a celebration of Christian and Jewish relations, as well as public support for constructive Jewish/Christian dialogue.
One symbol of the hope for this sort of dialogue was promoted by the Nashville based Baptist Center for Ethics. They hosted a luncheon on Friday in which Baptist church members from around the country invited Jewish friends and neighbors from their respective communities to share a meal and a moment of worship and reflection.
Those who oppose such interfaith activities believe that breaking bread with another faith means sacrificing something essential about their own faith. There is fear that by recognizing the faith of another we will no longer be able to say, “Ours is the only way.”
But saying “Ours is the only way” is a statement of faith. It is a belief that we hold in our hearts and practice in our lives. Hopefully our commitment to our belief will deeply impact the quality of our lives and the integrity of our relationships. And, if we are right, then one day we will enjoy the fruits of eternal life and the bliss of God’s blessings forever.
Until then, at least here in America, saying “Ours is the only way” is a slogan available to every religious group in the country. We are free to pursue God, or not pursue God, in any manner we choose.
In order to protect that freedom, however, it is necessary to defend that freedom for everyone. If we think we can enact a Christian nation simply by the power of our majority, then we know nothing of people or the history of religions.
Besides that, Jesus did not counsel us to impose our faith or dominate the faith conversation by marginalizing those who differ from us. Jesus said that we would be known by the way we love God and our neighbor. What better way to demonstrate our commitment to the love of our neighbor than to break bread with them and offer prayers for peace.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.