BLOG 271 SEPTEMBER 21, 2015
Readers of this blog know that I have been traveling in Israel and the Middle East since 1968. I have two sons who were college professors in Jordan and Lebanon. In addition, I have many friends and colleagues in Israel. This week I am shifting from my usual views on the Middle East struggles because of the forthcoming arrival of the Pope in America. What you may not know is that Pope Francis ask me to be his envoy to spread the message that unity without uniformity is now possible between Roman Catholics, Protestants, AND Jews. Asking me to take the title “Apostolic Representative for Christian Unity,” Pope Francis directed me to spread the message that people who hold different opinions and convictions can still live and work together in unity. We can be one while having diverse perspectives.
Much to my surprise, I have found that the message of reconciliation is not universally received. Both Protestants and Roman Catholic leaders and members bristle over this message. Many will be surprised to discover that when Pope Francis is in Philadelphia this week, he will dedicated a new piece of sculpture called “Synagoga and Ecclesia” on the campus of St. Joseph’s University. The sculpture portrays two friends sitting together in harmony studying their sacred texts both with eyes open and recognizing the deep historical connection between the synagogue and the church.
Several week ago, I proclaimed this message of reconciliation on an internet and television recording for the Jesus Alliance’s emphasis on unity. Much to my chagrin, I was plunged into a maelstrom of disunity. Using all kinds of excuses for their dislike of my statements, the bottom line was that these people don’t like the idea of unity with Judaism. They were totally out of touch with where the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church actually are today.
I was in Bari, Italy the day the Roman Catholic Church signed an agreement with the Lutheran Church in Europe fully accepting Martin Luther’s position on Justification by Faith.
The Pope told me that this document ended all warfare between Catholics and Protestants.
Well, it ended the theological war, but it has not stopped the hostility that still exists in and with individuals today. Any student of history knows that the Church was the major source of religious anti-Semitism. During the centuries behind us, the Church provided the background for other forms of anti-Semitism expressed economically, socially, and racially. In turn, the Jewish community became distrustful and wary of the world beyond their boundaries. The late American Rabbi Leon Klenicki, a pioneer in interreligious dialogues, said about this problem, “Christianity must overcome the triumphalism of power, Judaism the triumphalism of pain.”
Friends, we are in a new age! We can overcome.
The Church is now part of the solution of stopping this animosity and strife. Pope Francis has expressed a “yes” to the Jewish roots of Christianity and an irrevocable “no” to anti-Semitism. His call is for rediscovered friendship while we maintain our different opinions and convictions. The time has come for all Christians of all persuasions to join this contemporary expression of unity.