A senior Church of England bishop has suggested that people who believe in God but do not accept the claims of Christianity might find a "spiritual home" in Judaism.Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, said: "Looking at people's spiritual needs, I see a category of people who are natural monotheists and who simply cannot believe Christian claims about Jesus, but who would love to have a spiritual home."Whilst New Age religions offer some spiritual insights, Judaism offers a tradition, a way of believing and behaving that has been tried and tested for nearly 4,000 years."Bishop Harries, who is chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews, was writing in Manna magazine, published by the Sternberg Center for Judaism, the London headquarters of Reform Judaism.In an interview with ENI, Bishop Harries said Jesus was fundamental to his own faith, and "without belief in the Incarnation, I might not even be able to believe in God." However, Judaism had offered "a remarkable witness to God" in the Holocaust and throughout the ages.He declined to say whether he had one of the several traditions of Judaism in mind when he referred to a "spiritual home" for those not responsive to Christianity.Asked whether Islam was a more natural home for them than Judaism—Jesus is regarded as a prophet of Islam—Bishop Harries said: "Both are monotheistic religions, and Islam has won converts in the West. I cannot say that one is a more natural home than the other."In his Manna article, he explained that in the past monotheists who doubted Christianity had been able to find a spiritual home as Unitarians, but Unitarianism in the UK had now virtually died out. The Quakers (Society of Friends) might offer a spiritual home but, "admirable though they are, [they] have a distinctive approach which clearly appeals to some but not many."Bishop Harries also expressed sympathy in his article for calls for a more missionary-oriented Judaism.Judaism had long held that Jews themselves had a special religious vocation, he wrote. "According to this view all that is required of Gentiles is that they observe the basic moral laws and live by the light with them. Judaism has a higher vocation, but one confined to itself."The bishop commented: "But it is difficult to find this view in the Hebrew scriptures."Asked by ENI whether encouragement of Jewish mission conflicted with Christian evangelism, Harries said: "Christianity is not the only missionary religion. We live in a pluralistic and consumer society. I don't see why Judaism shouldn't offer what it has."He explained that his views had been formed before he became chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews, at a time when he belonged to a combined study group of theologians who met regularly and sought "a deeper understanding" of the two religions.Also writing in Manna, Rabbi Alexandra Wright, co-chair of British Reform rabbis, said: "We tend to forget that rabbinic literature, on the whole, is overwhelmingly positive about proselytes … "But for now, I am more concerned about our own members' lack of Jewish literacy, rejection of faith and understanding of Judaism."An American-born rabbinate student, Janet Burden, wrote in Manna that Jewish outreach in the United States was built on "a spirituality that does not require anyone to check their brains at the door. It would be ungenerous—and possibly even un-American—to keep this to ourselves."In Britain, she found, "all segments of the [Jewish] community are far too ambivalent about converts for any similar campaign to take root."Copyright © ENI. Used with permission.
See more coverage of the bishop's statement by The Times of London, The Guardian, and the BBC.Though Manna magazine is online, the bishop's article apparently hasn't been posted yet.
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