O riginally published on June 23, 2011 in the News section of Fuller Theological Seminary’s homepage. To read on fuller.edu, click here.

Rabbis and Pastors Search for Common Ground at Interfaith Event
Rabbi Mark S. Diamond and President Richard J. Mouw lead dialogue about Israel

More than 60 Los Angeles-area pastors, rabbis, and other members of the Jewish and evangelical Christian faith communities convened at the Jewish Federation Goldsmith Center in Beverly Hills on Tuesday, June 21, for an interfaith dialogue event, “Searching for Common Ground: Christians and Jews Talk About Israel.” 

Seventh in an annual series of rabbi-pastor dialogues cosponsored by Fuller and Southern California’s Board of Rabbis, the program featured Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, and Fuller President Richard J. Mouw. “We have created a safe space to discuss difficult and sensitive issues,” said Rabbi Diamond in his opening remarks, listing past topics covered in the series, such as social justice and theodicy.

Encouraged by last year’s “refreshingly open, honest, and spirited” conversation that also focused on Israel, Diamond explained that this year they invited a more diverse audience, “beyond the core group of academics, pastors, and rabbis, in order to broaden and deepen the conversation” about Israel. Participants associated with a range of congregations and institutions—from Rabbi Yitzchok Alderstein, director of interfaith affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, to Jean Bouchebel, director of resource development for World Vision International— gathered for a candid and civil discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ways people of faith can work together for peace in the Middle East.

Both Dr. Mouw and Rabbi Diamond gave presentations, with Mouw briefly explaining the three most common stances toward Israel found in Evangelicalism. On one end of the spectrum is dispensationalism, with its strong belief that God promised Israel to the Jewish people, and on the opposite end are those Evangelicals who believe Jews don’t have any special status with God, subscribing to replacement theology, which sees God’s covenantal promises as transferred to Gentile Christians. Mouw, however, proposed a third view, using the grafting imagery in Romans 11:17-18—which portrays the Gentiles as “a wild shoot . . . grafted in among the others”—to explain that there is “not a brand new Israel, but an expanded Israel” consisting of Gentile and Jewish believers enjoying God’s blessing together.

In his presentation, Rabbi Diamond shared some Jewish perspectives on Israel, pointing out a major difference between Christian and Jewish starting points in the conversation. “Evangelicals tend to begin with the ancient—with the Scriptures—when formulating a view of Israel,” he said. “But Jews begin with the modern—with anti-Semitism.” Diamond also warned against the unhelpful exercise of comparing stories of oppression. “We would do well to end the unproductive cycle of saying, ‘My pain is greater than your pain,’” he said. “There is enough pain to go around.”

Ample time for small group discussions followed their presentations, as well as responses offered by Dr. John A. Huffman, former pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, and Dr. Tamar Frankiel, dean of academic affairs at the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles. The conversation touched on many issues, including different solutions for peace that have been proposed and the sacredness of the land of Israel to the Jewish people.

In their closing remarks, Mouw and Diamond each stressed the necessity for both justice and peacemaking. “We need to work together for the kind of peace that eliminates injustice,” said Mouw. Diamond agreed: “When we want our voices heard, we must be balanced and nuanced as we work toward peace,” he stated, emphasizing the need to “invest in projects that bring Israelis and Palestinians to work together” and to organize trips to Israel that combine Jewish, Christian, and Muslim participants and itineraries.

Additionally, Mouw and Diamond encouraged humility in the dialogue and peacemaking process. “We must come humbly before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” remarked Mouw, “and stand before the gaze of God, who knows us better than we know ourselves.” Diamond further encouraged such transparency and humble openness. “For Israelis and Palestinians alike,” he said, “peace will only come when we see the image of God in the face of the other.”