Whatever the history of Christian anti-Semitism, when most evangelicals read our favorite Old Testament narratives, we identify with the Jews. As the new Israel, we see ourselves in biblical Israel's best and worst moments.
But just because we Christians mentally inhabit these stories doesn't make them ours alone. The narratives will always belong first to a people whose ancestors suffered in medieval ghettos and 20th-century concentration camps, the children of Israel by DNA and (sometimes) piety. Because we share their sacred stories, we think we know them. But in real life, we discover significant differences.
In 2003, a delegation of Jewish leaders challenged me to listen to Jews before publishing articles about them. A Christianity Today essay had offended them. Out of that encounter, I developed a friendship with Rabbi Yehiel Poupko of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Over time, it became clear to us that we needed a national dialogue between evangelicals and Jews. Evangelicals needed to be able to speak more knowledgably about Jews and the modern State of Israel. And Jewish leaders, who are by and large unclear about the realities of American evangelicalism, could likewise know better how to relate across the divide that separates us. Both groups needed personal exposure, friendships, and phone numbers in order to listen before speaking about the other.
We recruited sympathetic evangelical and Jewish partners and convened an exploratory dialogue in Washington, D.C., in June 2009. We held a second conversation 12 months later. We look forward to meeting again in 2011.
What have we learned? If we make explicit the genuine and sometimes deep differences between us, and agree to disagree ...