The relationship between the Methodist Church and the Jewish community in Britain has experienced its highs and lows in recent years. Conversations between Jewish and Methodist leaders have often been overshadowed by the fallout from Methodist conference reports and resolutions in support of BDS.
Most recently, many were angered by an exhibition at Hinde Street Methodist Church in West London which included a mock-up of an Israeli checkpoint. Yet at the same time, Methodist leaders have experienced the value of cooperative dialogue, which brought the right steps towards a Methodist Conference moratorium on Israel/Palestine.
When an apparent distraction arises over issues surrounding Israel/Palestine, many might ask what the Methodists have ever done for Jewish-Christian relations.
I work for the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), the UK’s leading nationwide forum for Christian-Jewish engagement. I am also a Methodist.
I believe passionately in the importance of interfaith relations and especially in the relationship between the Church and the Jewish community. From my experience—when I was a student and now working in the interfaith sector—I believe that there are grounds for hope in the future of Methodist-Jewish relations.
Many in the Jewish community have understandably felt deep hurt at the way in which the Methodist Church has approached Israel/Palestine issues in recent years. I spoke out against BDS on the floor of the Methodist Conference in 2014. Where the situation in Israel/Palestine is being discussed by churches, it is essential to promote balanced dialogue which includes concerns for security in Israel and the safety of Jewish communities in the UK, as well as the understandable concerns for daily life for Palestinians. To focus on a one-sided perception of the situation is both misrepresentative and damaging to relationships. We need justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.
But the Methodist-Jewish experience need not be defined by whether local churches and synagogue congregations agree on every detail of this complicated situation.
There is much in Methodist heritage that encourages Methodists to embrace interfaith encounters and partnerships.
Methodism broke away from the Church of England in the eighteenth century. It grew out of a concern to take Biblical lessons of welcome, hospitality, and egalitarian love out of the stuffy confines of pew and pulpit and into the complexity and plurality of communities themselves.
This generous, outward looking spirit is something that Methodism can contribute to society today. At a time of the largest displacement of people since the Second World War, when hate crimes continue to increase as a result of political disagreement and uncertainty, and as anti-Semitism threatens Jewish communities, it is essential for Methodists—and all Christians—to commit to a renewed interfaith partnership. On these issues affecting our communities, Methodists and Jews can demonstrate cooperation. In doing so, people of faith should inspire wider society to live with difference and unite in pursuit of a more positive future.
I was drawn to CCJ because of its leading work on these issues. We recently launched our Campus Leadership Programme, equipping interfaith leaders to enable positive interfaith dialogue on campus and to transfer those experiences into their lives beyond graduation.
We have established a Jewish-Christian forum which developed out of CCJ’s study tour to Israel/Palestine. At a meeting just last week, Jews and Christians from across all denominations shared experiences and comments on BDS and antisemitism in a balanced, interfaith setting.
In November CCJ will take 22 Christian clergy and church leaders to Yad Vashem on a 10 day seminar. We will examine how centuries of Christian anti-Judaism contributed to the horrors of the Holocaust and reflect on how Christians can challenge antisemitism today. This is a seminar which CCJ has been organising for nearly a decade. Dozens of church leaders have benefited from the lessons learned and conveyed those lessons into their communities.
In these initiatives and many others, Methodists are prominent in interfaith efforts. Most Methodists want to live in community with others, celebrate diversity, and learn more about the Jewish faith to which Christianity owes so much. We must ensure that when it comes to issues concerning Israel/Palestine, we engage in a spirit of understanding for all experiences and points of view.
We are determined that through the work of CCJ and other interfaith bodies, my generation of Methodists will show that the future of the Methodist-Jewish relationship can be positive and full of hope.