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Australian church shifts stance, alters views on the Jewish state

SYDNEY, Australia, July 31 (JTA) — One of Australia’s largest churches has adopted a comprehensive statement that indicates an apparent shift in its views on Israel. The Uniting Church agreed at its recent meeting in Perth to use the word “homeland” in reference to the Jewish state. It also acknowledged that “the Jewish people have a particular historical, cultural, emotional and spiritual bond with the land of Israel, which is a central element of the Jewish faith, and which is inextricably bound to the history of the Jewish people.” This part of the statement was particularly welcomed by the Australian Jewish community. Relations between the church and the Jewish community reached a crisis point in 1991 after the church published a document, Mission Probe, which was extremely hostile to Israel and included what were described as caricatures and misrepresentations of Judaism. The statement also put forward a series of initiatives designed to improve interfaith dialogue and improve education within the church about Judaism. It notes that despite advances in scholarship and theology, “many Christians are regularly exposed to the interpretations of Scripture which denigrate the Jewish people and Judaism.” The church adopted as official history that “Churches have consistently shaped a negative perception of Jewish people and Judaism” and that “Jews have been prosecuted by Christian authorities in many countries, and have been depicted negatively (indeed, sometimes vilified) in sermons from Christian pulpits.” The church identified key elements for its members to recognize when participating in interfaith discussions. These include: * “Christians and Jews share a common heritage in the unique testimony of the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures) to the One God, Creator and Redeemer; * “an anti-Judaism which developed in Christianity created fertile ground for the spread of antisemitism, culminating in the Holocaust (the Shoah); and * “just as Jewish faith has been challenged by the Holocaust (the Shoah), so Christian theology is challenged when it takes account of the theological issues raised by this event.” The church also voted to distribute videos explaining the link between Christian teaching and anti-Semitism and to encourage all Church officials, teachers and ministers to “take into account the theological implications of antisemitism and the Holocaust (the Shoah) in their reading and interpretation of scripture.” The president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Diane Shteinman, who attended the session, said, “the statement issued by the Uniting Church is testimony to the genuine efforts by that church to understand the historic relationship between Christianity and Judaism.” The Uniting Church, with 1.3 million followers, is Australia’s third largest religious denomination. The Catholic and Lutheran churches recently adopted similar documents.

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