13th Annual Meeting of the CCJR

At the end of October our North American member organization, the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations (CCJR), held its 13th Annual Meeting; this year’s meeting and conference took place in Mobile, Alabama in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Mobile Christian-Jewish Dialogue.

Abridged version of the online report on the CCJR’s meeting:

Friday, October 24,2014:
This was a special CCJR meeting because participants shared Shabbat together, thanks to the kindness of Rabbi Steven Silberman and the Ahavas Chesed Congregation (Conservative) of Mobile. The conference honored the 40th anniversary of the Mobile Christian-Jewish Dialogue, with special tributes to paid to the late Paul and Mary Filben, who led the Dialogue for over thirty years.

Shabbat began at the synagogue at Friday evening services, led by Rabbi Silberman with cantorial assistance from Bethany Slater (Boston College). A joint D'var Torah entitled, "Prayers about the Other in Our Worship," was offered by CCJR Chair Ruth Langer (Boston College) and CCJR Secretary-Treasurer and ICCJ President Philip A. Cunningham (Saint Joseph's University).

Saturday, October 25, 2014:
The afternoon was devoted to text study and interreligious dialogue. Three conversations about the Torah portion for the day (Parshat Noah) were facilitated by Adam Gregerman (Saint Joseph's University), Peter Zaas (Siena College), and Steven Silberman (Mobile Christian-Jewish Dialogue).

Sunday, October 26, 2014:
Christian Sunday morning services were held at the Mobile Marriott Hotel. James Bernauer, SJ (Boston College) celebrated a Catholic Mass. This was followed by an ecumenical and interreligious Christian Bible Service centered on that Sunday's lectionary readings. It was prepared and presided over by Susan Auchincloss (Faith Not Fault), Joy Blaylock (Mobile Christian-Jewish Dialogue), and Elena Procario-Foley (Iona College).

On Sunday afternoon, a CCJR panel on "Pope Francis and the Future of Dialogue" was held in the Byrne Memorial Library at Spring Hill College with speakers Noam Marans (American Jewish Committee) and Dennis McManus (Georgetown University and USCCB) with Larry Voit (Mobile Christian-Jewish Dialogue) moderating. Rabbi Marans mentioned moments of controversy over the past decades, including the opening of the Vatican archives during the World War II period, the role of Pope Pius XII, the 2008 Good Friday prayer, the crises in the Middle East, and education about Nostra Aetate especially in the Global South. Fr. McManus reviewed the pontificates of the "pre-dialogical popes" (Pius XI and Pius XII), of the "dialogical popes" (John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI), and suggested that with Francis we are entering a moment beyond dialogue in which relationality is the defining quality. Both speakers praised Pope Francis for the relational and interpersonal emphasis that he has brought to the new relationship between Jews and Christians.

This was followed by a public program entitled, "Beyond Intolerance and Hate: Interreligious Relations in the South" (see photo above), which was moderated by CCJR Chair Ruth Langer (Boston College). The panelists were Scott Douglas III, executive director of Greater Birmingham Ministries; Roy Hoffman, novelist and journalist, and Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Mr. Potok described the research on hate groups conducted by the SPLC and current trends in relation to the election of the nation's first African-American president. Mr. Douglas spoke of the evolution of Greater Birmingham Ministries from its beginnings as a purely Christian ministry, changing its self-understanding to include Jews on an equal basis, and most recently reaching out to Muslims. Mr. Hoffman narrated moving stories of growing up Jewish in Mobile and a number of cases in which borders between religious groups were powerfully transcended.

Monday, October 27,2014:
The annual meeting continued with a panel discussion of "American Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant Interactions over Middle East Issues," which was moderated by George Gilmore (Spring Hill College). The panelists were Adam Gregerman (Saint Joseph's University), Peter A. Pettit (Muhlenberg College), and Emily Soloff (American Jewish Committee). Adam Gregerman briefly considered two Christian church statements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and concluded that "despite their best efforts ... the authors demonstrate an inability to avoid a thoroughly theologized view of the modern State of Israel, something that simply never happens with any other state." Similarly, Peter Pettit spoke of the way in which many Christians view the State of Israel as a sort of custos (custodian) of divine virtues that they expect to be manifest in the Land. He proposed that in order to move beyond the present polarization that humility, a recognition that two peoples are competing to establish a national identity on the same land, and compassion for the fears for survival on all sides are imperative. Emily Soloff asked whether it was possible "to become an insider in the family conversation of the other [faith] community?" She noted that American Jews are not Israelis and that real friends "do not blindside one another." She urged Christians in the United States to understand their Jewish neighbors and to help by serving as bridges for American Jews to the rest of the world.

After this panel the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Council of Centers concluded with repeated thanks offered to the local hosts and planning team of George Gilmore and Ricky and Larry Voit.

(Author: Dr Philip A. Cunningham / Pictures: Dr Peter Pettit)

Read the full version of the report on CCJR's website.