Israeli Institute Gets $2.2 Million to Help Christians Study Jewish Thought

President of the Herzl Institute Yoram Hazony. Photo courtesy of the Herzl Institute/RNS.

A new institute in Jerusalem has been awarded $2.2 million to help Christians and Jews study Jewish texts, launching what’s being billed as a new kind of Jewish-Christian cooperation.

The Herzl Institute was awarded what’s being called the first ever multimillion-dollar grant in Jewish theology by the U.S-based Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has focused much of its giving on science-related projects. The Herzl Institute is a research institute that focuses on the development of Jewish ideas in fields like philosophy and history.

The institute is named for Theodor Herzl, considered the father of modern political Zionism, ideas that have found much support from conservative and evangelical Christians in the U.S.

Jewish and Christian collaboration has often been relegated to the political level, said Herzl President Yoram Hazony. The partnership reflects a new kind of engagement between Christians and Jews, he said.

What Christianity Can Learn from the Dalai Lama

This Dalai Lama may be the last. Photo via vipflash/shutterstock.

Historically, Christianity hasn’t been very open to the idea of being influenced by other religions. In the early days of the faith, we borrowed from Hellenism, Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, Judaism and various “pagan” religions, repurposing their symbols to mean something new. Following the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, we focused more on converting others to our faith, or at least denigrating the legitimacy of other faiths to establish ours as superior.

Oh, but times, they are a’changin.’

Our numbers are down, our influence continues to wane, and we’re struggling with what I call in “postChristian” both an identity crisis and a credibility crisis. The good news is that, in this newly humbled state, lies a glimmer of opportunity. Not the kind we’ve had previously, to once again dominate the cultural landscape. That time has passed. Rather, as more of us within the Christian faith take less for granted, we’re asking harder questions:

Behind #WeAreN: 'If One Group Is Marked, We're All Marked'


Iraqis holds up a banner with the red letter 'N' in Arabic, which stands for Christian. SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

When I first saw Americans joining in solidarity with Iraqi Christians through the #WeAreN hashtag and protest campaign, I was encouraged. Our team at Preemptive Love Coalition had been sounding the alarm about the targeted persecution of minorities in Iraq through private emails and social media messages for weeks, in between making urgent appeals in our effort to provide lifesaving heart surgeries for children amid the violence.

Most of our efforts were largely unsuccessful before the “Islamic State” gave Mosul’s Christians an ultimatum to (1) convert to Islam; (2) pay a submission tax; or (3) “face the sword.”

After Islamist militants began marking the homes of Christians in red paint with the Arabic letter “N” (Nazarene) for extermination or expropriation, we tried again to use our proximity to the problem in Iraq to provoke our friends in America to pay attention by tagging a photo “#WeAreN,” in which I had symbolically marked myself with an Arabic “N.”

But it was not strictly an act of solidarity with Iraqi Christians. We had the targeting of Turkmen, Yezidi, Shabak, and even Sunni Muslims in view, as well. #WeAreN was more about the marking of Christians; less about the marking of Christians.

Muslims and minorities across Iraq immediately sensed the gravity of the tactics deployed by the Islamic State: if one group is marked, we are all marked. If we stand by in silence today while others are marked for extinction, our time will come, and there will be no one left to stand for us.

In response, Muslims across Iraq joined together in protest, prayer, and viral photographs saying “We are Iraqi. We are Christians.”

RESOURCE: "Christians, Muslims, and the Common Good"

Christians and Muslims in Nigeria are working together for peace, says Gopar Tapkida in “The Momentum of Peace” in the August 2014 issue of Sojourners. Though tensions remain between the groups in Nigeria and across Africa, many are joining together in the name of nonviolence and reconciliation.

Sojourners’ Christians, Muslims, and the Common Good: Loving Your Neighbor in the 21st Century is a study guide for engaging Muslim-Christian relations and the forces that divide and unite us. Based on articles from Sojourners magazine and the God’s Politics blog, this guide is perfect for sparking discussion in small group and church settings.

Download the guide today to learn how to stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters. As Tapkida writes, “We have to sustain the momentum of peace."

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The Momentum of Peace

Cross and Crescent, symbols of Christianity and Islam

THE VIOLENCE AND kidnappings in Nigeria are more than a religious conflict: They are a political manipulation of religion.

Before the 2011 Nigerian election, northern politicians (who are mostly Muslims) threatened to make the country ungovernable if Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south, became president. Jonathan was vice-president for Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, a Muslim from the north, who died before completing his eight-year term. Jonathan assumed power after Yar’Adua’s death, as is allowed by the constitution. However, northern Muslims claimed that since Yar’Adua did not finish his term, they should be allowed to place someone of their own choosing in power. Jonathan’s refusal angered the north.

In response, the Muslim terrorist organization Boko Haram began intensifying its attack on Jonathan’s rule in order to discredit his presidency and his pursuit of the 2015 election. If Boko Haram succeeds in pushing Jonathan out, southern militia groups are likely to commence their own violent campaign. These terrorists are trying to manipulate people by making them think that it is a religious fight, when in reality it is about political power.

People, however, are beginning to reject the violence. In April, as the world is well aware, Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, a community that is said to be about 90 percent Christian. The outcry of rage and pain about this incident transcended religious lines. In a May market bombing in the city of Jos, both Christians and Muslims lost their lives. After the bombings, Muslims and Christians on the streets of Jos tried to work together in finding a way through the situation. People no longer want to fight and are starting to value peacebuilding and interfaith efforts. This is a sign of hope.

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Study: Interfaith Civic Groups Bridge Diversity with Participatory Prayers

Ruth Braunstein is a co-author of the study. RNS photo courtesy Ruth Braunstein.

Just because interfaith, interracial, and varied ethnic groups share a common cause doesn’t mean a diverse coalition can hang together.

It often takes prayer. And not just a “Bless this group, Amen,” invocation.

A new study by three sociologists finds that three out of four interfaith civic coalitions turn to what the sociologists have dubbed “bridging prayer” — interactive, participatory, and often innovative prayers and rituals that highlight their shared identity as people of faith.

“Shared issues alone don’t necessarily ensure cooperation,” said Ruth Braunstein, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. “But groups that cannot build a shared culture could find it very difficult to succeed.”

In Mixed Faith Marriages, Focus Is on 'Values,' Not 'Beliefs'

Dale McGowan’s most recent book, “In Faith and In Doubt.” Religion News Service photo courtesy of Dale McGowan.

If interfaith marriages are supposedly doomed, Dale McGowan’s should have been toe-tagged from the start.

He’s a committed atheist; his wife comes from a line of Southern Baptist preachers. Yet 23 years and three kids later, they are still happily married.

What’s their secret? McGowan, 51, has just written “In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families,” to help other couples considering what he calls a “religious/nonreligious mixed marriage” succeed.

“The key is to talk about your values,” McGowan said from his home in Atlanta. “A lot of time we mix up the words ‘values’ and ‘beliefs.’ Beliefs are what you think is true about the universe. Is there a God? Where do we go when we die? But values are what you believe are important and good. When you get couples talking about values they find out they share a tremendous amount, even if they don’t share beliefs.”

That’s what McGowan and his wife, Becca, did. While she believed in one God, she did not believe salvation could be had only through belief in Jesus. And he agreed that he could go to church with her — and did, for many years, with their children.

To a Dying Church: Either Die or Live Like You Mean It

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Dear Church,

I received some distressing news today. Oh, I know you thought you’d kept it secret, but I answered the phone when the doctor’s office called to change your chemo appointment.

Chemo? Seriously? What, you thought I wouldn’t find out eventually? I know I seem preoccupied sometimes, but I’m not an idiot. I can see the signs.

I knew something was up when I saw you shrinking, little by little over time. Maybe other people couldn’t tell, but I suspected something bad was going on. You can paste on a smile, and listen to your happy music, and buy new stuff. But anyone who really knows you, realizes your body has been slowly betraying you.

Dying happens. I get that. What really makes me mad, though, is that you didn’t trust me enough to tell me. Maybe you didn’t know for awhile. I guess that’s possible. But the doctor had to have told you, right? I mean, at some point you decided to do something about it — if only to keep it a secret. And if you didn’t know, then you’re not who I thought you were.