Some Observations and Guidelines for Conversations between Lutherans and Jews

[Issued by the Lutheran Council in the U.S.A., a cooperative agency of three Lutheran church bodies (American Lutheran Church, Lutheran Church in America, and Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod), New York, April 1971.]

Improved relationships among separated Christian churches in recent decades have also led to growing conversation between Jewish and Christian groups. We commend all endeavors which seek greater understanding, mutual confidence, elimination of tensions, and cooperation in the quest for justice and peace, and note statements issued by Lutheran groups which are helpful in these areas.

Amid the pluralism of American society today and in the face of many practical problems facing Christians, Jews, and all men of goodwill, it is especially necessary to foster and expand such conversations on more local levels, as a contribution to community understanding and cooperation, to heal wounds of the past, and to understand better our common heritage and common humanity. Today the mission of the church surely includes such conversations, and indeed must often begin with them. We urge Lutheran pastors, people, and institutions to seek greater involvements in such endeavors.

The Christian cannot fully understand what it means to be Jewish but our common ground in humanity and in the Hebrew Scriptures makes a base for beginning. In order to have authentic relationships there must be honesty, openness, frankness, and mutual respect along with a recognition of the real differences that exist and a willingness to risk confronting these differences.

To these ends we offer some practical suggestions and make some observations as to methods so that conversations may be both honest and fruitful:

  1. In localities where Lutherans are comparatively few in number, they are encouraged to cooperate with other Christian groups in initiating and sustaining conversation with Jews.

  2. Where Lutherans comprise a substantial group within a locality, they are encouraged to take the initiative in fostering conversation and community understanding.

  3. Meetings should be jointly planned so as to avoid any suspicion of proselytizing and to lessen the danger of offense through lack of sensitivity or accurate information about the other group.

  4. Because of the long history of alienation between the two groups, Christians and Jews should remember that one meeting does little more than set the stage for serious conversations. False hopes and superficial optimism by either group can lead to despair and further alienation.

  5. On both sides, living communities of faith and worship are involved. Because of fervent commitments, emotions may run deep. It should be underscored that neither polemics nor conversions are the aim of such conversations, nor is false irenicism or mere surface agreement. There may remain honest differences, even as broad areas of agreement are discovered.

  6. If we have been open and have shared our assumptions, prejudices, traditions and convictions, we may be able to share in realistic goal setting, especially in regard to further understanding and common cause in spiritual and social concerns such as fostering human rights.

  7. Different methods of procedure may be followed as mutually determined locally, such as:

    • Educational visits to advance mutual understanding of artistic, liturgical tradition.

    • Exchange visits at regular worship services, "open houses," and special celebrations, followed by explanation and discussion.

    • Informal small group discussions in homes in the manner of the "living room dialogues." Participants may involve one synagogue and one congregation or neighborhood groups without regard to membership.

    • Weekend retreats with equal participation of members from both groups and equality of expertise.

    • Popular lectures, discussions, and demonstrations by well-informed resource persons. Lutherans might invite representatives of the American Jewish Committee, Jewish Chautauqua Society, Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, National Conference of Christians and Jews, and Jewish theological schools.

    • Scholarly lectures and discussions by experts in biblical, historical and theological studies.
  8. Possible topics include: Our common heritage; the people of God and Covenant; Christian and Jewish views of man; the significance of Hebrew Scriptures today; law, righteousness and justice; State of Israel; the Christian Church in Israel; survey of the attitudes and teachings of the Church concerning Judaism; the image of the Jew in Christian literature; Luther and the Jews; the meaning of suffering; can a Hebrew Christian be a Jew? an Israeli?; eschatology in Christian and Jewish theology; the significance of the Septuagint; the universal God in an age of pluralism; the state and the religious community in Jewish and Lutheran traditions; what can we do together?

  9. Christians should make it clear that there is no biblical or theological basis for antisemitism. Supposed theological or biblical bases for antisemitism are to be examined and repudiated. Conscious or unconscious manifestations of discrimination are to be opposed.