Eden Seminary, JCRC set up new collaborative effort

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

A center dedicated to “issues of concern to both Christians and Jews” was unanimously approved by the board of Eden Theological Seminary on May 4. The new Christian/Jewish Center for Public Issues at the seminary is a cooperative effort with the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). It will focus on topics and issues of importance to promote “a more just, equitable and peaceful world.” The center will sponsor educational opportunities, examine and monitor issues in the legislature and religious communities and bring together members of both faith groups in various activities.

There wasn’t any precipitous event that prompted the formation of the center. It was a process built over the years with the one-on-one relationship between the two organizations. Said JCRC executive director Batya Abramson-Goldstein, “We had been working on some things in collaboration and came to the conclusion that good things were happening by this ad hoc kind of a relationship. It made sense to explore how it could be institutionalized to make sure the positive outcomes would be continued.” Several members of the St. Louis Jewish community participated in the formation of the center including: JCRC president Terry Bloomberg, Gerald Greiman, Lynn Lyss, Maury Poscover and Abramson-Goldstein.

The idea of being in a relationship and communicating with each other is important to both communities. David M. Greenhaw, president of Eden Theological Seminary and professor of preaching and worship, has always enjoyed his relationship with the JCRC. Said Greenhaw, “This new center offers an opportunity to undo some of the damage done by some portions of the Christian Church. Some of these outspoken Christians represent chauvinistic Christianity, anti-Semitism and racial and ethnic biases. It is important for the rest of Christianity to speak out, to show there are other voices and that these groups do not represent the full Christian perspective.”

The conversations and cooperation are essential as the groups learn about each other and to trust each other. Some mistrust exists due to the historic behavior of some Christians to look at the Jewish people as objects of conversion. Said Greenhaw, “There is nothing intrinsic or necessary, nothing that Eden Seminary represents, requiring conversion of Jews. In fact, we teach the importance in all matters of treating others in a loving way. There is a reason to have relationships with others who are different and distinct. We complement each other. There is humility in admitting we don’t have all the knowledge. It is so important for us to work with the Jewish community to regain and build trust anew. We must show we do not have a hidden agenda.”

The relationship has been an important one already as the group has tackled several important topical issues including: divestment issues of the church, the separation of religion and state, a response to the statements of the new president of Iran and support of stem cell research. In addition, Greenhaw wrote a letter to members of the Francis Howell School District about their recent decision to change the name of “winter break” to “Christmas break.”

Both groups are looking forward to exploring issues of mutual concern and knowing they are able to mobilize when it is appropriate to do so. Greenhaw said: “We sometimes come from different starting points, but do have shared values and commitments to things like economic justice. I’m looking forward to sharing and learning from each other.”

Abramson-Goldstein said: “We are looking forward to our collaboration with the center. We are so delighted by the response from members of other faith groups who are also excited about having this new resource in St. Louis.”

Early this summer the group will convene to plan the next steps. Abramson-Goldstein said: “We’re aware that we really don’t want to be too leisurely about it. The range of issues is great. The importance of the issues is high. We want this valuable resource to be able to respond. So we do want to move it carefully — but as quickly as possible.”

Greenhaw said: “There is a tragic history of Christian violence and domination when it comes to our relationship with the Jewish people. In this generation, we must set a course of cooperation to try and overcome this history. There is a drive and a need for this right now. There are still forces and trends that would repeat past mistakes — making it all the more important to establish new patterns for the future.”

Sign up for Your Morning Light