The Beliefnet.com / Newsweek poll showing overwhelming support from evangelical Christians and Roman Catholics for the idea that people can be saved even if they do not share the same religious beliefs as Christians has had me in a state of disbelief since first reading it last night.
What does this mean for interfaith relations? Specifically, what does it mean for Jewish-Christian relations?
Many Christians believe that the Jewish people are not saved and should be evangelized. This has been a matter of intense debate and some evangelical Christian groups routinely attempt to convert Jews.
Not all Christians, however, hold this view. The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, Allen and Dottie Miller Professor of Mission and Peace at Eden Theological Seminary, often asks students a question similar to this:
Could you honestly tell a Jewish child being forced into the fires of a concentration camp that they are doomed to the fires of hell because they don’t accept Jesus as their savior?
In 1987, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ adopted this statement about Judaism:
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND AND THEOLOGICAL RATIONALE:
Christianity, developing its faith and identity, its life, and its creativity from a common heritage with Judaism, has a unique relationship to the Jewish people. The New Testament can only be adequately understood in the light of this common heritage with the Jewish people. The New Testament testifies to how painful was the historical process of separation of the Christian community from the Jewish people.
We in the United Church of Christ acknowledge that the Christian Church has, throughout most of its history, denied God's continuing covenantal relationship with the Jewish people expressed in the faith of Judaism. This denial has often led to outright rejection of the Jewish people and to theologically and humanly intolerable violence. The Church's frequent portrayal of the Jews as blind, recalcitrant, evil, and rejected by God has found expression in much Christian theology, liturgy, and education. Such a negative portrayal of the Jewish people and of Judaism has been a factor in the shaping of anti Jewish attitudes of societies and the policies of governments. The most devastating lethal metastasis of this process occurred in our own country during the Holocaust.
Faced with this history from which we as Christians cannot, and must not, disassociate ourselves, we ask for God's forgiveness through our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray for divine grace that will enable us, more firmly than ever before, to turn from this path of rejection and persecution to affirm that Judaism has not been superseded by Christianity; that Christianity is not to be understood as the successor religion to Judaism; God's covenant with the Jewish people has never been abrogated. God has not rejected the Jewish people; God is faithful in keeping covenant.
WHEREAS, the God we worship is the God of all creation; and
WHEREAS, the Christian communities of recent times have come more and more to recognize that God's covenant with the Jewish people stands inviolate (Rom. 9-11); and
WHEREAS, the Christian Church also stands bound to the same God in covenant, the covenant affirmed and embodied in Jesus as the Christ, and
WHEREAS, the Christian Church has denied for too long the continuing validity of God's covenant with the Jewish people, with all the attending evils that have followed upon such denial;
THEREFORE, the Sixteenth General Synod of the United Church if Christ affirms its recognition that God's covenant with the Jewish people has not been rescinded or abrogated by God, but remains in full force, inasmuch as "the gifts and the promise of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29).
FURTHER, the Sixteenth General Synod of the United Church of Christ expresses its determination to seek out and to affirm the consequences of this understanding of the continuing divine covenant with the Jewish people in the Church's theological statements, its liturgical practices, its hymnody, its educational work, and its witness before the world.
This is a theological viewpoint rejected by many conservative evangelicals.
While Jewish evangelism is controversial today, Mohler said Christians do Jewish people a disservice by failing to confront them with the gospel. He compared it to a person with a potentially deadly tumor, who would rather have a doctor give a truthful diagnosis than say all is well to avoid offending him.
In the same way, telling a Jewish person she is in danger of hell "is the ultimate act of Christian love," Mohler said….
In addition to his comments about the Jewish religion, Mohler has also described Catholicism as “a false church” teaching “a false gospel.” He says liberal Protestants have abandoned the Christian faith.…
Mohler isn’t the only Southern Baptist leader holding such views. Strained relationships between Southern Baptist and Jewish leaders date back decades to SBC president Bailey Smith’s infamous 1980 quote, "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew."
Former SBC president Jerry Vines provoked outrage from Muslims last summer when he called Islam’s founding Prophet Muhammad a “demon-possessed pedophile” and a terrorist. “NBC Nightly News” reported on the controversy in February with a reference by anchor Tom Brokaw to “preaching hate.”
Mohler’s views were widely criticized by Jewish and Christian leaders (his response was to attack his critics for not being as faithful as he considers himself to be).
Religious pluralism is actually a great gift. While Christianity for me is the truth, I also find truths in other understandings and expressions of God and feel fortunate to live in a time where we are free to move beyond dogma and rigid creeds to examine God’s complexity with new eyes and open hearts and open minds. The results of this poll suggest new possibilities for interfaith relations. That is a very good thing.