Jewish World Review August 15, 2002/ 7 Elul, 5762

Uwe Siemon-Netto

Catholic mission to Jews ends | (UPI) Catholic and Jewish leaders in the United States have concluded the two faiths must not target one another for mission but jointly heal the sick world instead.

"Campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church," according to the U.S. Bishops' Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee.

"We believe both faith groups are beloved of G-d and assured of His grace," stated Rabbi Gilbert Rosenthal, executive director of the National Council of Synagogues. He stressed the joint mission of Christians and Jews to "heal a sick world" and "the imperative to repair the damage we humans have caused to G-d's creations."

Rosenthal went on, "We believe we are partners in bringing blessings to all humankind for this is G-d's will."

Both organizations were partners in an interfaith project called "Reflections on Covenant and Mission," the results of which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released Monday. The Catholic rejection of the direct evangelization of Jews corresponds to the view of most mainline Protestants, though not all branches of evangelicalism.

However, the Rev. Thomas C. Oden, a leader of the theologically orthodox Confessional Movement within the United Methodist Church, told United Press International Tuesday he concurred with the Catholic position.

"What I would like to see is Jews becoming good Jews -- and let G-d do the rest," he said in a telephone interview. Oden, who teaches theology at Drew University in Madison, N.J., and is general editor of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, also said he agreed with the Catholic view that the Covenant between G-d and the Jewish people was eternal.

"I take a two-covenant view," he explained, meaning on the one hand G-d's promise to the people of Israel, and to the "new Israel," or the Christian Church, on the other.

The Catholics, chaired by Cardinal William Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, were careful not to make light of the Christian duty to evangelize. They pointed out that inter-religious dialogues gave Christians this opportunity without targeting Jews for mission.

While "devoid of any intention whosoever to invite the dialogue partner to baptism," Catholics "are nonetheless witnessing to their own faith in the kingdom of G-d embodied in Christ. This is a form of evangelization, a way of engaging in the Church's mission."

Moreover, the Catholic Reflections underscore a rarely mentioned translation issue in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19), where Jesus commands his followers to make "disciples of all nations."

In the Greek original of this text, the word "ethne" is used for what became "nations" in English. The authors of the Catholic reflections remind their readers that "ethne" is the cognate of the Hebrew "goyim," meaning nations other than Israel.

They argue the Church "must bear witness in the world to the Good News of Christ so as to prepare the world for the fullness of the kingdom of G-d." But then they go on, "This evangelizing task no longer includes the wish to absorb the Jewish faith into Christianity and so end the distinctive witness of the Jews to God in human history."

The Catholic view that Jews and Christians "have missions before G-d to undertake in the world," was shared by the Jewish side, whose co-chairmen are Rabbi Joel Zaiman of the Rabbinical Council of Conservative Judaism and Rabbi Michael Signer of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

Insisting that all humans are made in the image of G-d and that "the pious of all nations ... have a place in the world to come," the Jewish participants declared:

"While Christians and Jews understand the messianic hope ... quite differently, still, whether we are waiting for the messiah -- as Jews believe -- or for the messiah's second coming -- as Christians believe -- we share the belief in an unredeemed world that longs for repair."

"Why not articulate a common agenda? Why not join together our spiritual forces ... to act upon the values we share ... and that lead to repair the unredeemed world?" Jewish scholars asked.

They reminded of the Christian-Jewish cooperation on social issues such as civil rights and social justice and urged further commitments along these lines, appealing to members of both faith groups alike to hear "the call of G-d to be a blessing and a light to the world."

Uwe Siemon-Netto is UPI's religion correspondent. Comment by clicking here.


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