United Church of Christ The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, news director 216/736-2177, <email@example.com
For immediate release September 19, 2006
HONORING 'UNBREAKABLE COVENANT' BETWEEN CHRISTIANS AND JEWS, UNITED CHU RCH OF CHRIST LEADER ACKNOWLEDGES 'VULNERABLE,' 'VOLATILE' RELATIONS
CLEVELAND -- In a major address on Sept. 19, the leader of the 1.2-milion-member United Church of Christ spoke forcefully about the importance of Christian-Jewish relations, in the face of criticism from some Jewish groups and conservative Christians that the UCC General Sy nod has abandoned its long-held pro-Jewish positions and has sided, instead , with Arab Palestinians.
"Jews and Christians remain, even in moments of deepest tension, inextricably linked to one another by the God whose covenants with each community have not been and cannot be broken," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, even as he emphasized that the church was not backing away from its long-standing commitment to the rights of Palestinians and to opposition to the Israeli Occupation.
Speaking at the fall convocation at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, one of the UCC's seven closely related theological schools, Thomas used the occasion to give a significant theological add ress on Christian-Jewish relations.
"From time to time a new shipment of history arrives," Thomas said, quo ting a line by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. Thomas spoke to the ever-changin g societal contexts, but irreversible bonds, that characterize relationsh ips between Christians and Jews today.
Thomas, who serves as the principal spokesperson for the denomination's biennial General Synod, recalled how the UCC, in 1987, was groundbreaki ng in its call for more than mere "tolerance" and "friendship" between Christians and Jews, but for "a theological and biblical grounding that placed the relationship within the very faithfulness and providence of God."
The UCC was among the earliest Christian denominations to refute any characterization of Christianity as a "superseding" faith to Judaism.
"Judaism has not been superseded by Christianity," he said, quoting fro m the 1987 General Synod text. "Christianity is not to be understood as t he successor religion to Judaism. God's covenant with the Jewish people ha s not been abrogated."
Thomas said the 1987 statement remains "the official position of the General Synod and its officers."
"Its implications have found their way into seminary curricula, into th e pedagogy of the church, into the liturgies and lectionaries of the chur ch, and into the way the vast majority of members and ministers in the Unit ed Church of Christ ? relate to their Jewish neighbors, co-workers, and in many cases, family members," he said.
In July 2005, the General Synod, meeting in Atlanta, approved a resolut ion calling for the church's use of "economic leverage" to promote peace in the Middle East, including the possibility of divestment from companies tha t profit from Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands. Delegates also approved a resolution calling on Israel to tear down a massive separati on wall built on Palestinian territory that has reportedly forced many Palestinians from their homes and livelihoods.
Despite the Synod's reaffirmation of Israel's right to "safe and secure existence within internationally recognized borders," the Synod stateme nts were received by some in the Jewish community, including the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, as "functionally anti-Semitic."
Thomas, however, sought to explain and reiterate the UCC General Synod' s long-standing policy on Israel and Palestine: "Two viable states with secure and internationally recognized borders," he said. "Two people li ving if not in harmony, at least at peace and with dignity. Two nations and three religions sharing a capital that is sacred to each."
"This remains the only viable future for the children of Israel and Palestine, the only way these children will be able to live," Thomas sa id.
Even as he condemned all terrorist bombings and kidnappings, Thomas sai d Israel's occupation and militarization of Palestinian lands have led to "growing frustration and despair" among Palestinians, leading to desper ate, violent responses. Thomas also said Israel's "devastating" military recourse, increasing restrictions on Palestinian life, and the construc tion of the separation barrier have "led to an intensifying of rhetoric and to the sharpening of advocacy positions that leaves Jewish-Christian relationships in a very vulnerable, even volatile place, far from achie ving the hopes of 20 years ago."
"The current state of our relationship, stretched almost to breaking by the dilemmas of the Middle East and the depressing regularity of new shipme nts of history, does not offer an encouraging atmosphere within which to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1987 General Synod's groundbrea king theological affirmations," Thomas concluded. "Yet it is those very affirmations that offer the promise that this precious relationship can not ultimately be broken and impels us, amid all of today's challenge and confrontation to find ways to embody the unbreakable covenants that bea r witness to the faithfulness of God."
The United Church of Christ, formed in 1957 with the union of the Congregational Christian Churches in America and the Evangelical and Reformed Church, has 5,600 congregations throughout the United States a nd Puerto Rico.
The full text of Thomas' speech can be found at: