Inaugural

Donald Coggan Lecture

"Jewish-Christian relations - from Holocaust to Hope"

The Most Reverend and Right Honourable
George Carey
Archbishop of Canterbury


St. Alban's (National) Cathedral - Washington, D.C.

St. Alban's Cathedral
The National Cathedral, Washington DC
Delivered - 24 April 2001


 

It is indeed a great honour to be asked by the College of Preachers to give the inaugural Donald Coggan Lecture in this wonderful National Cathedral. It is a place that Donald loved as much as he loved the work of the College of Preachers. He mourned the dearth of biblical preaching and longed for serious grappling with scripture and theological truth. I am told that one of his books - entitled 'Convictions' - amusingly ended up by mistake in the criminal law section of some libraries. That very title, however, indicates that Donald was a scholar and teacher who sought to make vital connections with the world around him. We are sad that Jean and their daughters are not with us today but Jean wrote to me just a few weeks ago to say she was not up to the journey. She is, however, truly delighted that the College of Preachers has inaugurated this lecture series in Donald's honour. She sends her love to us all gathered here this evening.

My choice of Jewish-Christian relations as the topic for this, the first Coggan Lecture, is hardly accidental. This issue was one of the central topics of Donald Coggan's life and work. As Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald was ex officio a co-President of the Council of Christians and Jews in the United Kingdom. But Donald very intentionally continued his commitment after he retired, serving as the Chairman of CCJ UK, which involved him in the International Council of Christians and Jews as well. He made a profound and lasting contribution to Jewish-Christian understanding and I wish to revisit his contribution and, if possible, clarify a controversial point. I believe that we are indeed in a unique moment in the history of Jewish-Christian relations, as I will indicate more fully later.

But let us begin with Donald. It is no exaggeration to say that his entire ministry was grounded in a love of the Hebrew scriptures and by implication a love of the Jewish people. In a moving address a few years ago he said: 'I found myself . as a Christian to be in debt, everlastingly in debt, to the people of the book, the people of the Land, the people of Israel.' Not for him an 'Old Testament' detached from the faith and history of a real people.  At Cambridge as an undergraduate he sat at the feet of Herbert Loewe and 'learned to explore with him the treasures of later Judaism, vibrant with a faith of its own.' Margaret Pawley, his biographer, states, 'Donald's interest and respect for the Jewish people, their religion and culture did not diminish, but increased over the years, and it was to take a variety of positive forms in the future'.

However, the positive forms of which Margaret Pawley speaks have to be seen against the background of the appalling evil of the Holocaust which scars so much of the 20th Century. Indeed, Donald's ministry cannot be understood except against the 'Shoah' and, later, the creation of the State of Israel.  But there were others of course in England, no less concerned than he to deepen and develop relations between Jews and Christians. George Bell, Bishop of Chichester was one of the first in the 30's to warn the church and nation of the evils of Nazism. For a long time his warnings went unheeded.  His long and significant friendship with Dietrich Bonhoeffer helped to bring the plight of Jews in Germany to the attention of Britain as Hitler corrupted the soul of his nation. William Temple, one of the greatest Archbishops of Canterbury, not only spoke with urgency against the terrible things happening in Europe but with the Chief Rabbi, Dr. J.H. Hertz, established the Council for Christians and Jews - which continues to this day to fight anti-Semitism and xenophobia in all the unattractive guises which they assume.

To the question which is asked frequently: 'Why was it that the holocaust occurred in one of the most profoundly Christian nations in the world?' no straightforward answer can be given. Christianity was certainly not the direct reason for the holocaust because Hitler had rejected his Catholic faith long before he embarked upon his evil political career. Indeed, he put to death many thousands of faithful Christians as he did a million gypsies and possibly two million Poles. Many noble Christians were prepared to risk death in Germany and France to protect Jews and pass them on to safety in England.

One illustration will suffice. Fr Dimitrii Klepinin was a Russian priest who with the famous Mother Maria Skobtsova worked in Paris during the occupation, providing French Jews with forged papers to escape. Fr Dimitrii was captured and interrogated for four hours. He was offered his freedom on condition that he helped no more Jews. He then raised his pectoral cross, showed the figure on it and asked: 'But do you recognise this Jew?' He was beaten and both he and Mother Maria died in the camps. Eyewitnesses recall that before his death the SS addressed him as 'Jude'.

Nevertheless, in spite of many stories like that, there can be no gainsaying that two religious trajectories with their long and sad history, involving conflict, persecution, and misunderstanding, helped to fuel the hostility that found such evil expression in Belsen, in Auschwitz, in Treblinka and elsewhere. Few of us who visit the impressive holocaust museum here in Washington, or the new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London or, most powerfully for me, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, can leave without feeling emptied to the core - angry beyond expression at the evil that could put hundred of thousands of innocent children to death; and angry with a God who could let it happen.

Yes, issues of theodicy - that is to say, the question of whether we can believe in God in the face of impenetrable evil - will not go away and continue to be explored by Jewish and Christian thinkers and theologians.  Among them, of course, was the great Elie Wiesel who found himself caught between the question of Jew and Christian and the question of God. In his earliest books Wiesel is obsessed with the confrontation of Jew and Gentile. 'All I know of Christianity,' he writes, 'was its hate for my people'. Or, again, 'the persecution may have borne the Nazi stamp but it wore the Christian image'. In later books the anger retreats and in a prayer addressed to God, but one that by implication is relevant to the wider society, Wiesel appeals: 'I no longer ask you to resolve my questions, only to receive them and make them part of you'. In relation to the issue of theodicy Wiesel answers boldly: 'I do not believe we can speak about God; we can only - as Kafka puts it - speak to God. It all depends on who is speaking. What I am attempting to do is to speak to God. Even if I am speaking against him, I am speaking to him. And even if I am angry at God, I am attempting to show him my anger. But that in itself contains a confession of God, not a negation of God.'

If theodicy continues to torment thinking Jews and Christians since the holocaust and divide people into believers or non-believers, its implications for Jew and Christian sharing a common humanity and even more importantly living side by side are no less significant.

Donald Coggan as a Christian and European was, of course, very much aware of the heavy burden of the holocaust. But it was in the last years of his life, after he had retired as Archbishop of Canterbury, that his life-long study of Judaism and his love for the Jewish people were to bear the most fruit.  In 1985, 1992, and 1995 he delivered three lectures on Jewish-Christian relations. Here he set forth his mature thought as someone who had been reared in the most rigorous of Anglican Evangelical contexts and yet who had come to appreciate and respect the integrity of the Jewish faith and people.  How did he reconcile these two aspects of his life?

In 1985 in a lecture at St Paul's Cathedral entitled 'When Christian meets Jew' he suggests five attitudes or postures which a Christian might develop in such an encounter. The first is the attitude of silence. This might be the silence of sympathy and empathy. 'Which people in the history of the world,' he asks, 'has suffered more than the Jewish people?' Perhaps, he said, 'we Christians have talked too much and listened too little to our Jewish friends - and to their God and ours.'

Second, he explores the attitude of listening and learning. We should 'adopt the attitude of disciples with ears at the ready to receive the wisdom that Israel has to teach us.'

Third, Donald considers the attitude of penitence - 'new generations of Christians must be made aware of the terrible things which Christian leaders like Ambrose and Chrysostom and Augustine and Luther have written and of the silence - how damning silence can be! - kept by Christians in the face of persecution suffered by the Jews.'

But then Donald suggests two more positive relationships we might adopt. The fourth attitude is that of joint-trusteeship to the world around. We - Jews and Christians - share a message of vast importance addressed to our world.  He says, 'Let me mention certain treasures which Judaism has held and at the best still holds in trust for the world: The high value of the family, the involvement of the family in worship in home and synagogue, the observance of one day in seven for rest, the clarion call for social justice, the doctrine of God as Lord, Creator, Judge and Redeemer.' He continued: 'It is the supreme privilege and duty of Jews and Christians to proclaim these truths, to incarnate these truths, together in a spirit of joint-mission.'

The fifth and final attitude was one that Donald offered with great hesitancy and delicacy, and which he called the attitude of invitation. He says, 'To a Christian his most precious possession is his faith, the new life that has come to him, through Jewish channels, consummated in Jesus. It is natural that, precisely because he loves his Jewish opposite number, he should be eager to share his discovery with him. No pressurising! No proselytising! No conversionism! Rather an invitation.'

In the second lecture given in 1992 at the 50th Anniversary of the Council for Christians and Jews, he enlarged on the theme of 'joint trusteeship' by saying: 'It will at once be said that there are differences between the Jewish and the Christian faith. Indeed there are, and they are big and many; those differences must continue to be at the heart of ongoing dialogue. But mother (Judaism) and daughter (Christianity) have so much in common which is essential for the very life of the world that we should regard it as the truth of which we are common trustees and together we should make its light shine. We have a common message and, I would dare to say, a common mission.'

But what is this common mission? He answers as he did seven years before in terms of the nature of God, the theme of the Sabbath rest and care for creation. However, what is notably absent from this lecture is the theme of 'invitation.' Similarly in the third address, the Annual Sacks Lecture in 1995 at the University of Essex, Donald picks up the theme of partnership and unites it with the theme of joint trusteeship: 'In the midst of a world gone sour with secularism, we, Jews and Christians, stand with a God-centred message.' When he considers mission in this address he does not do so in the context of a mission of Christians towards Jews but rather of a joint mission of Christians and Jews towards the rest of the world. He asks, 'What is the next step [in Jewish-Christian relations]?' - and then answers his own question: 'I see two hands, grasped in a common task with Christian saying to Jew and Jew replying to Christian: "We have passed from hatred to tolerance, from tolerance to dialogue. Now, together, we go - in obedience to a common mission - to fulfil a shared task given to us by God. We are partners. We are co-trustees. Come, let us go - and go together."'

Now, earlier on I said that we are living in a unique moment in Jewish-Christian relations, and it is from the unique nature of this moment that I have taken the title of this lecture: 'From Holocaust to Hope.' So before interacting any further with Donald Coggan's thinking on this topic, I'd like to turn our attention to an immensely exciting and hopeful initiative from the Jewish community here in the United States. In a unique way, Jews have decided to make a public statement about their relation to Christians and to Christianity. And I am referring, of course, to 'Dabru Emet' - 'To Speak the Truth' - a statement released last September by the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies, just up the road from us in Baltimore. It is subtitled, 'A Jewish Statement on Christians and Christianity,' and over 170 leading rabbis, scholars, and leaders across the spectrum of Jewish traditions have signed it.

I understand that 'Dabru Emet' has attracted considerable attention and discussion on this side of the Atlantic, but as a primarily American document it has not yet made much impact in the UK. The Jewish and Christian communities in Britain are only just now beginning to read it and consider what it might mean for our lives together. My comments, therefore, are meant to be descriptive rather than prescriptive.

What sets 'Dabru Emet' apart from other documents, and what creates the new situation in which we find ourselves, is that it is a specifically Jewish response to Christian contrition over the horrors of anti-Semitism and persecution. The first paragraph reads as follows:

In recent years, there has been a dramatic and unprecedented shift in Jewish and Christian relations. Throughout the nearly two millennia of Jewish exile, Christians have tended to characterise Judaism as a failed religion or, at best, a religion that prepared the way for, and is completed in, Christianity. In the decades since the Holocaust, however, Christianity has changed dramatically. An increasing number of official church bodies, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, have made public statements of their remorse about Christian mistreatment of Jews and Judaism. These statements have declared, furthermore, that Christian teaching and preaching can and must be reformed so that they acknowledge God's enduring covenant with the Jewish people and celebrate the contribution of Judaism to world civilisation and to Christian faith itself.

And the second paragraph goes on to say:

We believe these changes merit a thoughtful Jewish response. Speaking only for ourselves-an inter­denominational group of Jewish scholars-we believe it is time for Jews to learn about the efforts of Christians to honour Judaism.  We believe it is time for Jews to reflect on what Judaism may now say about Christianity. As a first step, we offer eight brief statements about how Jews and Christians may relate to one another.

These eight statements are as follows:

1. Jews and Christians worship the same God.

2. Jews and Christians seek authority from the same book - the Bible (what Jews call 'Tanakh' and Christians call the 'Old Testament'). 

3. Christians can respect the claim of the Jewish people upon the land of Israel. 

4. Jews and Christians accept the moral principles of Torah. 

5. Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon. 

6. The humanly irreconcilable difference between Jews and Christians will not be settled until God redeems the entire world as promised in Scripture.

7. A new relationship between Jews and Christians will not weaken Jewish practice. 

8. Jews and Christians must work together for justice and peace.  Now, clearly, this is a list that invites much comment, and I cannot begin to go into the 'ins and outs' of each statement. Obviously some are quite controversial, with - for example - some Christians wanting to question whether 'Christians can respect the claim of the Jewish people upon the land of Israel,' and some Jews wanting to question whether 'Nazism was not a Christian phenomenon.' My point is not to endorse every statement on this list, but rather to highlight the contents of the document.

Let me focus just briefly on the first and last statements.

The first says, 'Jews and Christians worship the same God.' This conviction seems to have been at the heart of Donald Coggan's growing appreciation for the Jewish faith. 'Dabru Emet' states,

Before the rise of Christianity, Jews were the only worshippers of the God of Israel. But Christians also worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, creator of heaven and earth. While Christian worship is not a viable religious choice for Jews, as Jewish theologians we rejoice that, through Christianity, hundreds of millions of people have entered into relationship with the God of Israel.

This is a fascinating claim for Jewish theologians to make, and one that raises many issues for their Christian counterparts.

The final statement of 'Dabru Emet' is, again, very close to Donald's heart:

'Jews and Christians must work together for justice and peace.' This is, in effect, precisely Donald's vision of the next step. The document states, Jews and Christians, each in their own way, recognise the unredeemed state of the world as reflected in the persistence of persecution, poverty, and human degradation and misery. Although justice and peace are finally God's, our joint efforts, together with those of other faith communities, will help bring the kingdom of God for which we hope and long. Separately and together, we must work to bring justice and peace to our world.

In other words, the theological kinship in the first statement leads inevitably to the moral partnership of the final statement. And to the prospect of such partnership I hope we can all say, 'Amen.' Through the long years of reflection and dialogue since the horrors of the Shoah, through the work of organisations like the Council of Christians and Jews and the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies, through the sincere repentance of Christians for wrongs done and the courageous generosity of Jews to re-establish bonds of trust, we have indeed moved from Holocaust to hope.

But let me now return to the question that I left dangling at the end of my discussion of Donald Coggan's thinking on Jewish-Christian relations. That question, you recall, involved the disappearance of the concept of 'invitation' from his model of Jewish-Christian dialogue. This disappearance of the concept of 'invitation' raises the question of how Jews and Christians should properly relate to each other in this new context. Put bluntly, is it ever permissible for a Christian to invite a Jew to consider Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel?

To answer this question we must look at the alternatives. The first is the traditional missionary stance of the Church. This argues that if Christ is the answer to human sin then he is the saviour of all human beings. Those who do not accept Christ are lost. We must therefore go into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone with the intention to convert them to Christ. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, bond or free, male or female - the gospel is for all.

Now, in relation to Jews this traditional missionary stance is almost always accompanied by 'supersessionism' - the belief that Christians have replaced Jews as God's elect people, and thus the Church inherits all of the promises God made to Israel. Supersessionism, however, is widely questioned today by many scholars. Questioned, not for woolly-minded reasons or wishful thinking, but because of a powerful stream of biblical scholarship that has focused - perhaps for the first time - on what Paul actually says about his people in Romans 9-11. Richard Hays of Duke Divinity School sums up this new understanding when he says that in Paul's view 'God has not broken his covenant with Israel' - and he cites Romans 11.2: 'God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.' And Bruce Marshall of St Olaf College says simply that, 'Once noticed, the theological reasons for rejecting supersessionism seem obvious and compelling. The apparent theological problem with supersessionism is that were it true, no one could take the God of Israel at his word.'

The rejection of supersessionism obviously has immense implications for Christian theology and for Jewish-Christian relations. Marshall claims that the 'discovery that Christians ought to share with Jews a belief in the permanent election of Abraham's children poses a challenge for Christian theology, one which in some respects has not been faced seriously since the second century: how can Christians coherently maintain a commitment both to the permanent election of Israel and to the unsurpassability of Jesus Christ?'

One solution to this challenge is the second alternative for Jewish-Christian relations, and that is to abandon the Church's traditional missionary stance altogether. In the eyes of many, this is the only conceivable way for Christians to interact with Jews in a post-Holocaust context. In its survey of a number of Christian approaches to relations with Jews, the Church of England document 'Sharing One Hope?' explains this position as follows:

Many . believe that Christian responsibility for the 'teaching of contempt,' and therefore for anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism down the centuries, makes it unthinkable for Christians to seek to persuade Jews to change their minds about Jesus and 'become Christians.' The point is also strongly made that conversionist endeavours of this kind can destroy the foundations of trust between Christians and Jews, and so adversely affect the development of dialogue and co-operation which should be the imperative in Jewish-Christian relations.

This document also notes that 'Often this view is based on a particular theological understanding of God's covenant with the Jewish people.' This, of course, is the well-known 'two-covenant' theory. This theory is especially associated with the writings of the Anglican priest James Parkes from as early as the 1930's, but interest in it has grown especially in more recent decades. Ellen Charry, an Episcopal theologian at Princeton Seminary, provocatively claims that the two-covenant theory is in fact the 'theological arm of the Christian-Jewish movement of the twentieth century.'  The theory states that 'there are not one but two ways to be related to God.  Jews are related to God through the Mosaic covenant; Gentiles are related to God through Jesus Christ.'

While it is not for me as an outsider to say, many would agree that this two-covenant position is the established new orthodoxy among mainline American denominations. For example, according to Ellen Charry, the 1988 General Convention of the Episcopal Church 'redefined Christian witness to Jews as dialogue: "a sharing of one's faith convictions without the intention of proselytising," although it did not explicitly argue theologically for the validity of Judaism or propound a two-covenant theory.' She understands this resolution to mean that, officially, 'preaching the gospel to Jews is now considered off-limits to Episcopalians.'

But, like supersessionism, the two-covenant theory is being questioned today on both biblical and theological grounds. Richard Hays says that Romans 11.26 - 'All Israel will be saved' - is a favourite text for interpreters who ascribe to Paul a two-covenant theory, in which the Sinai covenant remains soteriologically valid for the Jewish people, while the new covenant in Christ is exclusively for Gentiles. Such an interpretation hardly does justice, however, to Paul's complex dialectical wrestling in Romans 9-11. If Paul had simply meant that Moses was for Jews and Jesus was for Gentiles, he could have said so far more straightforwardly.

While Bruce Marshall clearly rejects supersessionism, he is equally unhappy with the two-covenant theory which he denies 'is a position which Christians can coherently maintain.' Why? Because, he says, 'It seems quite basic to the New Testament that in the slaying and raising of the Jew Jesus, the God of Israel has acted definitively - unsurpassably - on behalf of all humanity, Jews as well as Gentiles.' And Tom Wright, formerly New Testament lecturer at Oxford and now Canon of Westminster Abbey, argues that 'the late twentieth century, in order to avoid anti-Semitism, has advocated a position (the non-evangelisation of Jews) which Paul regards precisely as anti-Semitic. The two-covenant position says precisely what Paul forbids the church to say, namely that Christianity is for non-Jews.'

So where does that leave us?

If we are uncomfortable with both the supersessionism of the Church's proselytising tradition, and with the two-covenant theory and its 'separate but equal' implications, what other options do we have? Can we conceive of any model of Christian witness other than aggressively pressing it on one hand and completely abandoning it on the other?

I want to suggest that any truly Christian answer to these questions will position itself at the centre of our faith, and that centre of course is the cross of Christ. Christian witness to Jews or any other faith community must ever and always be cross-shaped.

What will this mean?

First, it will mean that a Christian approach to the problem of theodicy must be worked out in the light of the cross. Overshadowing the history of Jewish-Christian relations is the terrible suffering of the Jewish people - in which Christians have too often played a part. We must make no bones about it; nor seek to diminish it. It is a fact. In a moving sermon Stanley Hauerwas suggests bravely that 'our task is not to make Jews Christians, but simply to ask them to forgive us.' If truth is often found in the middle, he is half-right. The Pope movingly asked for such forgiveness in his visit to Israel last year. And yet a young German girl said to me in Hamburg after I had preached about the Holocaust: 'But what has this to do with me? I was not there. I am not guilty - but you are suggesting that my generation and I are implicated in that terrible act'. I felt constrained to say to her that I too was implicated, even though I was only ten when the war ended and I was moreover of a nation at war with Germany, fighting to liberate Germans as well as Jews from the tyranny of despotism and totalitarianism. We were all implicated. And that is also in effect the message of the gospel. Jesus was not put to death by 'Jews'. Humanity killed him; and humanity killed Jews and others who died in the concentration camps.

Recognising our responsibility and asking for forgiveness is the first step towards healing.

But the cross takes us still further. I once had an extraordinary conversation with a leading rabbi who was himself a Holocaust survivor. I was bold enough to ask him, not out of mere curiosity, but out of a burning need to know - 'How do you account for the silence of God?' He smiled gently and said: 'This is the question I ask myself even today nearly sixty years after those events in which I lost my entire family. You know, I find myself having to use Christian concepts to speak of God's absence when we needed him most.' And as he finished I remembered that wonderful book by Chaim Potok, 'My Name is Asher Lev', in which Asher Lev, a young artist, can only speak of love and hate in terms of crucifixion. And so also the paintings of  Marc Chagall. Perhaps we Christians need to be taught new aspects of our faith from a Jewish perspective. But it is the cross which must be the hermeneutic for our sharing of faith with Jewish brothers and sisters.

The characteristics of a 'cross-shaped' witness should in my view take the following form:

First, our understanding of the cross takes us into theological empathy with our Jewish brothers and sisters. We can only approach the question of the 'silence' of God in the Holocaust when we Christians take the cross into it. Not, by the way, a cross as symbol of power - 'in this sign conquer'- but the cross as a symbol of loving service and humility. So, Jurgen Moltmann, writing as a German Christian who knows far more than most Christians the terrible burden of the Holocaust, says:

It is necessary to remember the martyrs, so as not to become abstract. Of them and of the dumb sacrifices it is true in a real, transferred sense, that God himself hung on the gallows, as Elie Wiesel was able to say. If that is taken seriously, it must also be said that, like the cross of Christ, even Auschwitz is in God himself. Even Auschwitz is taken up in the grief of the Father, the surrender of the Son and the power of the Spirit.

Jews might object to this 'Christianising' of Auschwitz but we Christians can only approach it from a perspective of God where weakness, sacrifice and abandonment are part of the way we see theological truth. Indeed, we offer a concept of God where silence, darkness and abandonment are central to our knowledge of God. My fellow Archbishop, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Wales, makes the point so well in his latest book 'Christ on Trial'. Commenting on Mark's Gospel, he writes:

"God becomes recognisable as God only at the point of extremity, where no answers seem to be given and God cannot be seen as the God we expect or understand. Yet, if God is somehow recognised in such a place, in the reality of a loving embrace of the tormented world, it still does not give us any theory about why the universe is as it is, or why human beings are capable of unspeakable cruelties towards the innocent. It simply tells us that humanity can be taken with the immense seriousness of unreserved love and asserts that this, not any other response, is the one perception which is adequate to the truth."

Second, this theological empathy must transform the way Christians bear authentic witness to Jesus Christ. How can we bear witness to the crucified Christ? Never arrogantly, but only in deep humility and tenderness. Very often the witnessing will not even turn itself into words - only the action of lives lived in love and offered in friendship. And when the witnessing does turn itself to words, it should be done at the invitation of the Jewish partner. As Ellen Charry says, 'We should not withhold our testimony from Jews interested in hearing it.' This is very different from standing on a street corner shouting at people. It must take the form of a conversation. You see, if Christ is so important to me that I wish to introduce him to you (whether Jew or Gentile) I can only do that on the basis of listening to your story too. I cannot pre-empt the possibility that I have something to learn too.

Let me make this personal. When I meet with Jewish friends I do not approach them as people to convert. I approach them as people already known and loved by God and therefore to be respected and esteemed by me. But I do not abandon that desire to introduce them to my faith and the way I see it. However that will only come at the right time, in the right context and usually when my friend takes the first step.

Third, a cross-shaped witness will respect the truth - no matter how painful that may be. Our mutual respect and compassion for each other must never be an excuse for not telling the truth about who we are and what we believe. David Novak, a Jewish scholar at the University of Toronto and one of the drafters of 'Dabru Emet', has some strong words on this subject. He takes the bull by the horns and says that,

The willingness of Christians to accept Jewish converts and the willingness of Judaism to accept Christian converts shows that both religions reject relativism. Even though Jewish-Christian dialogue must not be an occasion for the conversion of either side, Jews and Christians recognise that conversion is always a possibility within the covenantal realities in which Jews and Christians participate. The reason that proselytisation and conversion remain issues for both Jews and Christians is that truth is not relative, and thus the ultimate truth claims of Judaism and Christianity are not only different but mutually exclusive.

And in case we are not quite sure what he means by this, he spells it out as clearly as possible by saying, 'The highest form of worship of the Lord God of Israel is either by the Torah and the tradition of the Jewish people or by Christ and the tradition of the church.'

Now that's putting your cards on the table! I admire that. I respect that.  If a Jewish theologian can boldly state the truth as he sees it, then surely Christians must do the same. I find it interesting that, in spite of the excellent work of the Council for Christians and Jews, we still find it hard to engage in true give-and-take dialogue. It is my hope that 'Dabru Emet' will give us confidence truly to 'speak the truth' and share our theological convictions with each other.

Fourth and finally, a cross-shaped witness surrenders its results to God. Ellen Charry does indeed say that 'We should not withhold our testimony from Jews interested in hearing it.' But she goes on to add,

But we do not know what God will do with that testimony in the life of that hearer of the gospel. It may send Jews back to or deeper into Judaism. Or it may arouse a curiosity to know Christ. That is not for us to say.. All we can do is trust that God is in control and confess our willfulness in wanting more vision than we are granted.

Just as Jesus on the cross said, 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,' so a cross-shaped witness commends itself to the God from whom it comes and to whom it is directed. Of course this does not mean for a moment that we relax our commitment to mutual understanding and our partnership in working for peace and justice. But, as 'Dabru Emet' says, even that is finally in the hands of God.

This is a lecture sponsored by the College of Preachers. How then is this to be preached? Donald Coggan had a great love of preaching and was an enthusiastic supporter of the College of Preachers. He longed for intelligent, biblical preaching that engaged with society and the world. He also longed that preachers should have a close and detailed knowledge of the languages of the Bible as well as having a thorough knowledge of Judaism.  How frustrated he was when he heard Christian preachers misrepresenting Torah! How he fumed in that polite Coggan way when he heard distortions of the Hebrew scriptures which only misinformed generations of Christian congregations!

We thus have a duty to be thorough in our preparation, intelligent in our use of scripture and understanding of the debt we owe to Jerusalem, which is mother of us all. We cannot, of course, abandon proclaiming a gospel which is a gift for all people, but we are responsible for how it is proclaimed and taught. Christian preachers must strive to be aware of recent developments in biblical studies, particularly with regard to the Jewishness of Jesus and the religious context which nurtured him. These are insights which should be deepened through closer Jewish-Christian relations, and preachers must also make every effort to share this knowledge with their people. We must preach in such a way that all Christians come to understand, as Donald did, that we are 'in debt, everlastingly in debt, to the people of the book, the people of the Land, the people of Israel.'

And that point is made very powerfully in an amusing and telling recent book by E. L. Doctorow called 'The City of God', in which Episcopalianism and Judaism are brought together. A heavy brass cross is astonishingly stolen from St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in New York and discovered on the roof of the Synagogue of Evolutionary Judaism. The crime, which is symbolic in character, brings together a sceptical Episcopalian priest and a reformist woman rabbi. They turn 'divinity detectives' and contemplate the case for God and religion in a post-modern world. The burden of the book is that in a world shot through with impermanence, loss of meaning, and loss of hope, Christianity and Judaism have much in common to share with a world where faith is in short supply.

Well does this echo Donald Coggan's great yearning expressed at the end of the first lecture I referred to in St Paul's Cathedral:

I long to see, at all levels of our society, a sharing of the deepest things in our religious faith, the one with the other. We have, I trust, moved from suspicion of one another, from mere toleration of one another, to a sense of appreciation of and enrichment by one another, to a sense of responsibility for one another. Now, has not the time come when, without risk of misunderstanding, Christian may issue to Jew an invitation - to pilgrimage together (for truth is found on the road rather than on the balcony of mere observation); to exploration, not only through a study of the Scriptures but also through an entering into the religious experience of Christians; and, if he will, to join us on the road'.

That kind of journey would, indeed, be one that would take us from the evil and nightmare of the holocaust into hope for the entire human family.

LAMBETH PALACE - 25 April 2001

Holocaust | Festivals of Light | Judaica