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Christian Dialogue Shows Signs of Maturity
New York, May 25, 2005 - A dialogue table begun a year ago between staff and representatives of several Christian denominations and mainstream Jewish organizations is showing signs of maturity, says the National Council of Churches USA executive who coordinates the Christian partners in the dialogue.
"The table, which sometimes experienced intense negotiations and often felt tenuous, has held," Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, NCC Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations, said Wednesday. "There was hardly a 'tea and sympathy' phase in this dialogue," he said, citing a phrase attributed to Rabbi Leon Klenicki. "The stakes for peace in the Middle East were too high."
At its most recent meeting May 13, the table members agreed on plans for a Jewish-Christian trip to the Middle East September 18-23, and reached a consensus on a set of principles about how the groups speak to one another and to the media.
In planning for a scheduled Jewish-Christian trip to the Middle East, Premawardhana said, "each side agreed to put themselves in the others' hands for two days so that each could hear and experience the other's "narrative," i.e., their distinctive way of viewing the situation. "This demonstrates a remarkable level of trust that has developed around the table," said Dr. Jay Rock of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
"Although we cannot predict what, if any, impact this trip will have towards peace in the Middle East," said the Rev. Brian Grieves of the Episcopal Church, USA, "we do know and fully expect that the trip will change those of us around the table. Even though some in the group make regular trips to the Middle East and have previously heard those whom we might meet, the difference this time is that we will hear those same stories in the presence of and through the ears of the other."
"The participants agreed to a set of principles about how we speak to each other, our constituents and the media," reported Premawardhana. "These included trying to assure that statements we make to the media don't come as surprises to our partners, being careful to distinguish between one's personal position and organizational position and being accurate about each other's positions."
This part of the conversation was occasioned, in part, by an April 22 letter written by the Jewish partners to Christian partners in which the writers expressed a concern that "any Protestant denomination that would consider the weapon of economic sanctions to be unilaterally and prejudicially used against the State of Israel, or those who would hold the State of Israel to a standard different from any other sovereign state, creates an environment which makes constructive dialogue almost impossible."
In a letter of response, dated May 10, 2005, the Christian partners reaffirmed their commitment to dialogue, asserting that "dialogue is not only possible but necessary also among those who differ strongly in their deeply held convictions."
Partly in response to the concerns raised by the Jewish community, the letter affirmed that "in our churches there are a variety of approaches, at various stages of development, to the question of using economic leverage as one part of a strategy to end violence and support justice in the creation of lasting Palestinian-Israeli peace."
As in previous dialogues, the May 13 meeting began with a theological reflection, this time on Reconciliation. Dr. David Smock of the United States Institute of Peace, an expert on the subject, having worked on issues of truth and reconciliation in many countries, particularly in Africa, offered 18 principles of reconciliation. He underscored the value of continuing to stay at the dialogue table, despite the challenges and tensions that arise.
Participants in this continuing dialogue represent the following Christian communions and Jewish organizations:
American Jewish Committee
Contact: NCC News, Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252, email@example.com; or Dr. Shanta Premawardhana, 212-870-2560, firstname.lastname@example.org
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