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Protestant Group Affirms Judaism’s Legitimacy, Asks Forgiveness

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The United Church of Christ, one of the largest American Protestant denominations, issued a strongly affirmative declaration on Judaism Tuesday. It proclaimed that Judaism and Christianity are equally legitimate and requested forgiveness for denying Judaism’s validity and for the sometimes dire historical consequences of that denial.

The landmark declaration, made at a convention in Cleveland of the 1.7 million-member UCC, followed a compromise statement by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) several weeks earlier. The latter was received with ambivalence in the Jewish community because it stressed Palestinian rights and claimed “the modern state of Israel cannot be validated theologically.”

Rabbi Alan Mittleman of the American Jewish Committee, who sat on the UCC committee that drafted the document, said that document is unique because it “reflects what Jews see as their Judaism… The Christians were well aware that one of the great sins of their Church has been defining our Judaism for us.”

“It really is a very bold statement which has also admitted historical Christian complicity in anti-Semitism,” he continued.

TEXT OF THE STATEMENT

The Protestant statement declared: “We in the United Church of Christ acknowledge that the Christian Church has, throughout much of its history, denied God’s continuing covenantal relationship with the Jewish people expressed in the faith of Judaism. This denial has often led to outright rejection of the Jewish people and to theologically and humanly intolerable violence.

“…We pray for divine grace that will enable us more firmly than ever before, to turn from this path of rejection and persecution to affirm that Judaism has not been superseded by Christianity; that Christianity is not to be understood as the successor religion to Judaism; God’s covenant with the Jewish people has not been abrogated. God has not rejected the Jewish people; God is faithful in keeping covenant.”

Mittleman indicated that the document made the following important declarations:

Christians cannot understand the New Testament without understanding first-century Judaism.

A confession of guilt for denying God’s covenant with the Jews and an admission of systemic bias against Judaism that has pervaded church theology and teachings.

The acknowledgement of a causal connection between the church’s bias against Judaism and the anti-Semitic bias of governments or classical political anti-Semitism, and a declaration that Christians cannot distance themselves from the political phenomenon.

A strong affirmation that Christianity does not supersede or replace Judaism.

A call to implement the new perspective on Jews, Judaism and Israel in Christian institutions by teaching in schools, liturgy and other functions an affirmative theological view of Judaism. Although the issue of Israel as the Jewish homeland is contentious and problematic in Christian theology, the Protestant statement did include Israel in its overall affirmation of Judaism. “This church has gone on record to affirm the entire historical and modern life of Jews including Israel,” Mittleman said. “It is a global affirmation of solidarity with the Jewish people.

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