The Jewish Community Relations Council’s Jewish-Evangelical dialogue emerged from the latter group’s support for Israel.
When the JCRC arranged buses to pro-Israel rallies in New York City, “there were always representatives from the Evangelical communities of neighboring towns. They were part of Christians United For Israel. We of course made room for them on the bus,” said Joy Kurland, who directs the JCRC for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.
“From that we began to know each other a little bit better. We thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to convene some key Jewish leadership and some key Evangelical leadership to see whether we would want to explore the relationship further through a dialogue series, to see where our commonalities and differences lie,” she said.
The JCRC brought together 10 representatives of each group for a series of discussions that began in November 2009 involving both clergy and lay people.
“It led to a wonderful friendship and greater understanding of each other. It created a greater understanding of the different aspects of our faith traditions. We’ve come to see where our different perspectives lie and where they cross paths and where we have commonalities. It’s led to wonderful friendship.”
The group meets approximately once a month. After an initial session on the principles of interreligious dialogues, meetings have featured presentations on topics including: the case for Jesus and the case for chosenness; Isaiah 56 as a text for religious understanding; social justice; attitudes toward homosexuality; life after death; the authority of Scripture.
The series will resume after the summer with presentations on “respective views of each of our faith communities on interfaith marriage.”
“As we study together, we learn more about each other,” said Kurland.
“I clearly see what great allies we have [in the evangelicals] when it comes to support for Israel. A lot of misconceptions existed about what their ulterior motives were, and these were totally dispelled. People came with suspicions about conversion and proselytization. That’s not an issue. These people are our friends.
“The evangelical leaders and laypeople who have been at the table are people we can truly count on in support of Israel.
“Being able to understand each other and our different religious perspectives is a very positive force going forward,” she said.