The Need for Enlightened Jewish-Christian Dialogue

By Patricia Anders, Editorial Director

“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.” (Matt. 5:9)

In the aftermath of another deadly shooting at a synagogue, this time not far from where I lived (and still have family) in Southern California, I felt moved to do something. But it’s hard to know what to do, how to help, in the midst of such pointless violence. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” but what does this really mean?

“They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
when there is no peace.” (Jer. 6:14)

Faith Seeking Mutual Understanding

We painfully know too well that we live in a fallen world. When it comes to those of the Jewish faith, it is evident how much suffering they have endured over the centuries. This is especially apparent in recent attacks on Jewish synagogues. In April 2014 at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and Village Shalom, a Jewish retirement community, three people were killed by a neo-Nazi. More recently, in October 2018, there was the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue (L’Simcha Congregation) in Pittsburgh in which eleven people were killed and seven wounded—by yet another white anti-Semitic terrorist. And now, just this past Saturday (April 27, 2019)—the last day of Passover—there was another shooting. This time at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue. A sixty-year-old woman, praised by her rabbi as a “woman of kindness,” jumped in front of that rabbi and took the bullet for him. Her murderer was yet another anti-Semitic white man—actually, a nineteen-year-old kid with a lightweight semi-automatic rifle. The miracle in this story is that the gun jammed and the murderer fled before he could inflict further damage. Otherwise, the body count could be much higher.

It seems that not only are there spiritual forces that wage war against humanity, but we humans have also become experts on inflicting cruelty on ourselves. While we long for harmony and love, our reality screams discord and hatred. Why?

Perhaps one major reason is because we lack understanding of “the other”—those who are different from us, whether financially, geographically, culturally, ethnically, or religiously. There have been many inspiring stories told of a change of heart when boundaries are crossed, and those previously considered as enemies become allies in the advancement of all that is good in this world.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. (1 John 1:5-7)

But how do we cross those boundaries into such unknown—and perhaps scary—territory? How can we even begin to make the first step? One way is through dialogue, through honest conversation and really listening to one another.

This is exactly what two friends—one Christian (Anthony Le Donne) and one Jewish (Larry Behrendt)—decided to do. They began to talk with each other, sometimes argue but always listen, trying to understand this other person who at times could seem completely foreign. For them, it was cultural and religious differences. The result of this conversation—and the subsequent honest searching of their souls—is found in the excellent book Sacred Dissonance: The Blessing of Difference in Jewish-Christian Dialogue.

“Blessed Are the Peacemakers”

Jesus clearly calls us to be peacemakers. As he preached his sermon on that mount in Israel, he didn’t qualify this statement. He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” If we truly believe that humanity was created in the image of God (the imago Dei)—we even call ourselves “image-bearers”—then this is true of every person on the face of this earth. And in this sense, we are all part of the human family. And if we are all part of the human family, created in God’s image, then we are indeed brothers and sisters. Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls this our “shared humanity.”

Just as in all individual biological families, there are going to be (sometimes strong) differences of opinion—political, philosophical, and religious—so we Christians have definite theological differences with the Jewish members of our human family. But like those families into which we’re born, we still need (at the very least) to be civil, to let the other person have their say, to attempt to understand their position, their sincere beliefs. This is exactly why Sacred Dissonance is so important. It helps readers—both Christian and Jewish—begin that first step of crossing over the borders we have placed between us.

Not only is Sacred Dissonance a great help in breaching this unhelpful (and even dangerous) divide, but Christian readers will also benefit from reading both the Old Testament (the Tanakh) and the New Testament (the B’rit Hadashah) in The Complete Jewish Study Bible: Insights for Jews and Christians (an English translation from a Jewish perspective, including the various Feasts and Holy Days, such as Passover and the Sabbath) and A Handbook on the Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith (in which readers learn what the Jewishness of Jesus actually means and why it is important).

“There Is No Darkness but Ignorance”

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. (1 John 2:7-8)

As Shakespeare said, “There is no darkness but ignorance.” God calls us to live in the light. In the Scriptures, we often see evil reigning supreme at night, when it is dark. We are children of the light, and as Paul says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (Eph. 1:18). The only way for this to happen—with respect to fear and suspicion, which can breed anti-Semitism, however latent—is for us to get to know those who practice the Jewish faith.

This is exactly what Anthony Le Donne is attempting to do in Sacred Dissonance, just as Larry Behrendt is trying to understand the faith of his Christian friends. Anthony writes:

How did I become interested in Jewish-Christian dialogue? For me—to quote Cool Hand Luke out of context—it was about getting my mind right. Or to misquote Yoda, I had to unlearn what I had learned. . . .

Sacred stories possess transformative power. For good and ill, my masculinity, my politics, my religious outlook, and my vocation were shaped by the ancient Israelites. Or, at least, these identity markers were shaped by Israelites in their storied form, as seen through a particular ideological lens. And this is where Cool Hand Luke and Yoda become necessary teachers. Because, you see, my perception of Jews was quite narrow and distorted. Jews were characters in stories. Even in my adolescent awareness of the Holocaust, Jews were European victims of World War II. Jewish life was something that I studied in history books. I knew that there were Jews in the modern world in the same way that I knew that there were Amish communities or Eskimos. I never had the opportunity to humanize or complicate my picture-book imagination. (13–14)

In trying to educate himself and others, Anthony shares his goal along with Larry for their readers:

In writing this book, we are inviting you into a conversation. It is not a conversation we began. Jews and Christians have been dialoguing with varying degrees of success for a very long time. You are joining a program already in progress. Nor is the program likely to end—not as long as there are Christians and Jews who continue to provide new and interesting voices to guide us. With this in mind, we invite you into this sacred and sometimes dissonant encounter. We hope that you begin to experience interreligious dialogue as a process of maturation, reevaluation, and transformation. Welcome to the table.

“Love One Another”

I wish I could reproduce more of the book here for you (especially Anthony’s opening chapter, “My God Had a Jewish Mother”). But I think you’d do better with reading it in its entirety for yourself. My hope is that you’ll read it and recommend it to another Christian (or Jew) and then ask that person to pass along the recommendation, and so on.

There is a serious need right now—as there has been for over two-thousand years—for enlightened Jewish-Christian dialogue. Today (May 2) is the 2019 National Day of Prayer. The theme chosen, “Love One Another” (https://nationaldayofprayer.org), comes from what Jesus said to his disciples at their Passover supper on the night he was handed over to be crucified for the world: “Love one another. Just as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

Indeed, Jesus knew that the way for us to become peacemakers is for us to love one another. When we do this, then we will truly be called the children of God.


Patricia Anders is editorial director of Hendrickson Publishers.


For more information about Sacred Dissonance, visit our website.

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