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Middle East Peace Programs

Jerusalem Conference Launches Middle East Peace Pilgrimages

The end of the era of the cross

Participants in the first Middle East Peace Initiative pilgrimage set out at sunrise on Sunday, May 18, 2003, to symbolically lay to rest in Jerusalem the image of Christian conquest and forced conversion. The Americans walked reverently, mourning the lack of faith that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. Suddenly, sirens sounded and police cars passed them.

At a church, they gathered around the place that represents Jesus' tomb. After a prayer to remove the obstacles dividing Jews and Christians, a cloth was reverently placed over the cross.

Two ministers carrying a large pine cross led a procession down a winding road toward an expanse of grass and rock known as Potter’s Field, where hole had been dug. They read Bible passages, lifted up the cross one final time, and placed it in the ground forever. One by one, people placed some of the soil of the Holy City on the cross, pledging before heaven and earth to end the suffering in the Holy Land and bring the blessing of God to every individual, family, and community.

Three women holding hands said they felt like they were among the women at Calvary watching Jesus’ body being released from the cross.

Word of this event reverberated through the Jewish community. Dr. Shuki Ben-Ami, an Israeli theologian and author, exclaimed afterwards: "This is a new Gospel to a divided world: bury the cross! Can you believe it? The Christian symbol that symbolizes all the suffering of my people — inquisition, anti-Semitism, swastika, banishment, and so on — is now put to rest in the Potter’s Field. My friends, these are the end times! Instead of the cross we have a crown. The crown reminds me of an ancient Jewish prayer, ‘Almighty God, King of the universe, we offer You a crown!’ I bless this wonderful vision. I say Kadosh! Kadosh! Holy! Holy! From here salvation begins."

Afterwards, people learned that a suicide bombing had just taken place near their hotel, killing seven people and injuring 22.

Listening to each other

Rabbis and other Jewish leaders joined those on the pilgrimage at the Hyatt Regency Hotel for a symposium devoted to Jewish-Christian reconciliation. Travel was difficult because of the roadblocks set up after the bombing. The mayor of Jerusalem was unable to attend due to the bombing early that morning; and an assistant conveyed his greetings.

Dr. Chang Shik Yang, Chair of the Middle East Peace Initiative, opened the gathering by calling for a revitalization of religion around the core understanding of God as the parent of all humankind. “We need living faith, living truth, and living religion,” he stated.

Dr. Eliezer Glaubach-Gal, a former Jerusalem city council member, welcomed them: "Dear brothers and sisters, you have come to Jerusalem, the spiritual center of the entire world, in the completion of God’s providence for the Jewish people and humanity as a whole. We welcome you with open arms and blessings and thank you for your vital support and personal sacrifices." He referred to Biblical prophecies of all nations coming to the mountain of the Lord and quoted the prophet Isaiah:

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good tidings,
who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, "Your God reigns." (Is. 52:7)

"However," he continued, "in the twentieth century, religions faced the danger of becoming an irrelevant social relic, out of touch with the modern reality. To combat these challenges, God appointed the Rev. Moon, who began the daunting task of reconstruction with commanding modern principles in mind. The aim of this conference is to deal with negative history between the two great monotheistic religions. With the new spirit of removing symbols that brought separation and hatred, we wish to create affinity through repentance for the mistakes of the past and to build a bridge of reconciliation, understanding and mutual respect."

In his keynote address, Archbishop George Augustus Stallings, Co-President of the American Clergy Leadership Conference, said, "We came to Israel specifically to repent on behalf of Christianity and ask forgiveness from our Jewish brothers. We feel deeply grateful to our Jewish brethren for keeping the faith and serving as the foundation for the family of God. Yet, we as Christians have misunderstood and persecuted Jews. Under the sign of the cross, we conducted crusades, inquisitions, and pogroms. We blamed Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion when we ourselves are to blame because we glorified the cross. We have used religion to define and separate us rather than to help each other find our way back to God. We need religion not to separate us, not to define us or to divide us, but to help us find our way back to the same God who is Abba, who is Father of us all."

These words strike the heart, for truly not everyone has lived up to his calling as God’s child. "We must be bold enough and big enough to forgive each other," Archbishop Stallings said, "knowing that forgiveness is love come full circle. We must truly love each other, because God has loved us. In the Hebrew scriptures we read where God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’ (Gen. 1:26). We have been made in the image and after the likeness of God, whether we be Jew, Christian, or Muslim. We are all made in His image and His likeness. And somehow we have to be restored back to that original position where we can see one another as God made us, just as Jacob saw the face of God in his brother. Jacob said to Esau, ‘I pray you, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God, with such favor have you received me.’" (Gen. 33:10)

Recognizing that none of us is perfect stirs us to repentance. Archbishop Stallings emphasized that while people of faith serve and love the same God, sometimes they hurt each other in the name of God, as if somehow one has more of God than the other does.

The next speaker, an Israeli rabbi, embraced Archbishop Stallings and said, "Shalom. Peace. Salaam aleikum. I greet all of you with a blessing of success for this entire conference, especially because the atmosphere in Jerusalem brings us wisdom."

He described how Judaism sees Christianity as the younger brother who went away from home but has done a great and very important mission: to bring faith to people’s hearts. "Wherever there were nonbelievers, the Christian messengers came and brought faith in God," he said. "In that sense I see great value in the work that has been done by Christians throughout history. I have deep respect for Christianity as being embedded in Judaism."

The rabbi pointed out the great importance of Judaism and Christianity giving each other a hand: "That will help the people who have been drawn away from religion to come back to the faith. There is a prejudice against religions in general as being instigators of conflict: Christians against Jews, Jews against Muslims, and so forth. I feel that this great occasion will have a providential impact on changing the image and role of religions. I yearn for the time when religions will play the role of peacemakers and become a driving force to bring world peace. I see a great blessing in our coming together as Christians and Jews. Anti-Semitism is raising its head again in recent years. I have great hope that such a gathering as ours today will contribute greatly toward the end of an era of anti-Semitism and allow Jewish people and all people to live in mutual respect." In conclusion, he expounded on the words of King David that it is both good and pleasant for brethren to sit together (Ps. 133). "Some things that are good are not pleasant, and some things that are pleasant are not good," he added. "But sitting all together as brethren is certainly both."

A speaker from the Jewish Law Society discussed the classical way for Jews to understand the righteousness of Gentiles, based on the idea that God revealed seven pillars of human civilization to Noah, the ancestor of all humanity. These Noahide laws deal with idolatry, blasphemy, homicide, incest and adultery, robbery, eating the flesh of a live creature, and establishing a system of justice. “Justice and peace are values without which the world could not exist, and therefore anyone who strengthens these values participates in the creation of the world created by God,” he explained. “Both justice and peace are integrally tied to God, creator of the universe. In our prayers we refer to God as the king of law and justice. Similarly, God is referred to as the king to whom peace belongs. Greater than this peace, the word shalom is the name of God.” He quoted from Zechariah 8:16, "You shall secure justice, truth, and peace within your gates."

With respect to God's commandments, all of humanity is divided into two general classifications: the Children of Israel and the Children of Noah (everyone else). While the children of Israel are commanded to observe the 613 commandments of the Torah, rabbis taught that the children of Noah are commanded concerning the seven universal laws, or seven Noahide laws. "One of these is the commandment to establish a legal system. By law, we refer not only to legal norms but also just norms. It is not enough for norms of behavior to be established by law; these norms must be based on justice, equity, and without discrimination. Today this is known as the rule of law.”

Between presentations, there was time for round-table discussion. Carefully briefed group leaders from both traditions moderated. The reconciliation process might have stumbled without the close bonds that developed in these small group sessions. Participants wrestled with the difficult issues of the day, such as how forgiveness can help people come together, and whether they have ever forgiven or loved a person from another religion.

Dr. Andrew Wilson, Associate Professor of Biblical Studies, Unification Theological Seminary, Barrytown, USA, played a crucial role in bringing Jews and Christians to a more comprehensive understanding of each other. He introduced his presentation with an analogy of two families meeting at their children’s wedding. Wanting to get along with their new in-laws, they make pleasantries and stay on their best behavior. Yet underneath, there are unspoken thoughts of dirty linen and unpleasant memories. Only a few generations ago, Jewish and Christian families would not even speak to one another, so deep was the pain and hurt. He invited everyone to take a daring step and look squarely at the core of the Jewish-Christian divide. "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord," and perhaps we can break through to a new level of reconciliation and mutual respect. Affirming that he was not seeking the conversion of anyone, Jew or Christian, he focused on ways that Jews and Christians can respect each other’s faiths.

He described the very different perspectives that Jews and Christians bring to interfaith gatherings. First, he took the Christian viewpoint: "Christians state that God established the Jewish people to receive the messiah. Jesus came as the messiah, but the Jews did not receive him. As a result, Christianity was born as a new religion to carry on where Judaism left off. Christians regard Jews as having a defective doctrine of God, since they deny that God made Himself more accessible to humanity by incarnating as Jesus Christ. Therefore, while in polite company they may praise Judaism as a great religion, in their heart of hearts many Christians look down upon the Jews."

Then he took the Jewish viewpoint: "Jews, for their part, regard the religious path of Torah as entirely adequate. They are offended by Christian misrepresentations of their religion scattered about the New Testament. They do not see any superiority in Jesus’ ethics over those of the best rabbis. Jews don't believe that Jesus was any kind of messiah. After all, Jesus never accomplished what the messiah is supposed to do: liberate Israel from oppression, bring the Jews back from exile into the Holy Land, and establish world peace. The world after Jesus was still filled with violence and oppression, and for Jews it grew much worse. Ask most Jews what they honestly think about Jesus, and you will find a deep bitterness. Jesus was the starting point for the painful history of Christian anti-Semitism. Centuries of Christian violence against Jews — mob violence, pillaging, rape, confinement to ghettos, forcible abduction of children to be baptized as Christians, expulsions from many nations, and finally the Holocaust — have poisoned the minds of Jews from being able to appreciate the goodness of Jesus Christ."

For his Jewish audience, Dr. Wilson noted that Christians in the room had begun to recognize and repent for their anti-Semitism, realizing their failure to live up to the teachings of Jesus, who preached forgiveness and love. He challenged his fellow Jews to give up their aloofness and acknowledge Christianity and Judaism as brother religions, fellow children of Abraham. He appealed to the Jews to appreciate Jesus as a righteous Jew, as a teacher and rabbi whose words recorded in the Sermon on the Mount are in accord with the best teachings of the sages.

"God’s spirit was so strong!" Dr. Wilson reported afterwards. "Every word flowed out of my mouth effortlessly, and you could hear a pin drop in the room." Halfway through his talk, people started applauding. After the third round, he asked if only the Christians were applauding, and the answer came back, "We are Jews!"

After Dr. Wilson’s presentation, Archbishop Stallings read the Jerusalem Declaration of repentance and reconciliation in English, and it was translated into Hebrew.

Then Archbishop Stallings turned to a prominent rabbi and asked if he would join him in signing the declaration. The rabbi was uncomfortable. For a Christian to ask a Jew to repent for killing Jesus is an insult to Jewish sensibilities. In a moment inspired by God, the rabbi replied: "I will sign it if my Muslim brother will sign it with me," placing the declaration in a multifaith context. Archbishop Stallings turned to the audience and announced: "My esteemed elder brother has asked me to extend an invitation to our chief Muslim brother to join us." A sheikh from Nazareth stood up and walked forward. The three men signed the declaration and embraced. Spontaneously, the audience rose to its feet. People rushed to the front and lined up to add their signatures.

The Jerusalem Declaration

In a spirit of understanding, harmony and reconciliation, believers from both families of Judaism and Christianity wish to repent for the dark parts of our past, and seek a bright future together, caring for the plight of all who suffer and long for a better world. We have come to recognize that leaders and members of our respective communities have sinned in terrible ways against God, and against one another. We seek forgiveness from God, and from one another. Assembled in the Holy City of Jerusalem, in the land where God chose His covenant people and sent His prophets to purify our faith and lead us in paths of righteousness, on this 18th day of May, 2003, for the sake of God and a world of peace and love for all God’s children we join together with one heart and voice to declare:

1. Each of our traditions has experienced the path of suffering and persecution, together with God, for the sake of our respective faiths, often suffering unspeakable horrors at the hands of evil oppressors.

2. We too have fallen into ways abhorrent to God, sometimes becoming actors on the side of evil, even persecuting and killing others. For these times we truly repent and beg forgiveness from God and from one another. We wish to cleanse our lives and all future history from the moments when we have not loved innocent people whom God loves.

3. We wish to bring to a close the long history of suffering and evil, and work together with the prophets, saints, sages, and founders of our religions, who are now united in the spiritual world, to usher in an age of peace and good will.

4. We Christian believers have celebrated what was actually the moment of God’s greatest sorrow by glorifying the execution, which ended Jesus’ physical life, shattered the dream and promise of the prophets, and blocked the coming of God’s Kingdom for 2,000 years. During this time we have too many times failed to embody the love of Jesus, and instead perpetrated a history of anti-Semitism. For this we truly repent.

5. We Jews, chosen by God as a people, wish to open our hearts to God to see ancient events with His eyes, and liberate ourselves once and for all from the burden of Jesus’ crucifixion. This simple and innocent Jewish young man Yeshua, whom God loved and in whom He placed His hopes and dreams, was betrayed by the rich and powerful among his own people, who for the sake of their status and comfort turned him over to executioners of hateful foreign powers. For this we truly repent.

6. On this day of May 18, 2003, in the Holy Land of Israel, united in love, we Christians and Jews pledge to receive Your endless grace and forgiveness, even as we forgive and reconcile with one another, and devote ourselves anew to Your living will. We affirm the courageous and sacrificial work of the Reverend and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon to bring our families of faith together. We will make one family of God with the blessing of True Parents, establish our own ideal families according to Your eternal teaching, and create a new world of justice, peace, and true love.

Transcending history

Dr. Frank Kaufmann, Executive Director of the Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace, worked with the Jewish and Christian leaders who were preparing for the interfaith convocation. Everything had to be designed perfectly to create what he termed "the one-in-a-million chance that the moment of reconciliation would be blessed by God and history could move forward to a new era." The insight about reciprocal repentance emerged during the night before the conference, as organizers studied recent communications from religious leaders who have passed on to the spiritual realm, describing new insights they gained there. In faith that these historical figures would be able to inspire their spiritual heirs, the organizers wove these insights into the tapestry of the text. By morning, the Jerusalem Declaration was ready to present for broader consideration.

Throughout the morning, there was considerable discussion in Hebrew among the rabbis about whether or not to sign. One rabbi courageously led the way.

Those who described that moment used poetic imagery. One person said it was as if the heavens opened and rained upon all present. People stood as if in a downpour after a drought, reveling in the promise of spring. Another described the document glistening in gold as the pen was passed from one signer to another.

As this was happening, an American bishop was sitting in the audience was suddenly filled with negative feelings toward the Jews, remembering unpleasant experiences with a Jewish landlord. As he heard one speaker repent for Christianity not having the right heart toward its elder brother, Judaism, this bishop felt an overwhelming urge to repent. "I’m here to reconcile," he said to himself. "How can I allow these old prejudices to remain in my heart?" As he repented in his heart, a well-known Jewish artist came up to him and said, "I think I should be with you today," and they both were profoundly moved. Afterwards, she wrote a letter to the bishop describing the enormous impact the conference had on her relationship with Christians. "How we must respect and be grateful for the nobility of your souls!" she exclaimed.

Minister Angelika Selle from the US walked onto a veranda overlooking Jerusalem. With her came a young Jewish woman and an American woman. "I asked them if the three of us could offer a prayer of gratitude for what we just experienced," she said. "They agreed, and so we all held hands while looking over the city. Each of us prayed in her native language, German, Hebrew, and English. Tears flowed down our cheeks." At the end, the Jewish woman said, "Thank you for your prayer and your presence. I could feel Jesus through you." She then explained that it had only been a few weeks ago that she and other friends felt compelled to investigate more about Jesus of Nazareth, who he was and what he was trying to accomplish, and why their Jewish religion has shunned him till now.

For Dr. Wilson, it is a testimony to the spirit of God that quite a few Jews have a private relationship with Jesus, and many will make a distinction between Jesus, a good Jew, and followers such as Paul who distorted his message, alienated Judaism from appreciating Jesus, and turned Christianity into a Gentile religion. “I practiced for my presentation by speaking about this message to my family at Passover,” he said, “and one of my cousins asked, ‘Why should we Jews need to regard Jesus as the Messiah? Can’t we all be messiahs?’ I explained to her that we needed to restore the brokenness of history, but nevertheless, I thought that was a very good question."

When Christians embraced their Jewish brethren, they saw them weep with the hope that the history of accusation and isolation would end. Rev. Betty Tatalajski, from the Temple of Universality in Tucson, Arizona, had never dreamed that she would see rabbis and Jewish leaders weeping in response to love from Christians. "For ourselves as Christians, we were overwhelmed with the feeling that we had found our long-lost relatives."

Such experiences exemplify the words of the Mishnah, a commentary on the Hebrew scriptures: "If two sit together and the words between them are of Torah, then the Shechinah is in their midst." (Abot 3.2)

One rabbi said: "For the first time in my life I could see what God wants to do through Christianity. If Christianity was like the spirit at this evening's banquet, then I can see Christianity and Judaism uniting as one and everything could be solved. I really was touched by God." Another stated that he accepts Jesus as a rabbi and welcomes him back home. A Jewish peace advocate, Baruch Shalev, said, "Through the black Christians, I feel that their love comes from a place of suffering. If this is what the real Jesus is about, then I love Jesus." One Israeli gave this advice: "Be courageous and meet everyone. They are all in fear. They are using their intellect only. You are coming with something else. You are doing a holy job. Just keep on. We love you."

One rabbi brought forward a family from his synagogue who had just recently lost their 19-year-old son to a terrorist bombing. The father told how his family was at the hospital when his son was dying, and the doctor came to him and said, "If you sign this paper then your son's organs can be used to save an eight-year old Palestinian girl. Will you do so?" The father took a moment to pray and then said, "Yes, I want to let my son's life help someone else live." He signed the paper, and this Jewish boy's organs were donated and the Palestinian girl lived.

Dr. Glaubach believes that removing the barriers between the Abrahamic religions also moves the political leaders of Palestine and Israel to build bridges for peace. "The reality is so sad. Your spiritual pilgrimages deeply impact the minds of the politicians and give us real hope for removing barriers of fear and opening people’s hearts. This can end the foundations of religious, national, and ethnic hatreds in the Middle East and elsewhere. "

The time had come for everyone to be in one place with God. One young Jewish woman in the audience kept nudging her friend, saying, "It is happening, it is happening! We are going to have real peace!"

“We’re not coming to try to have a good time or just to do tours,” Rev. Michael Jenkins, co-chair of the Middle East Peace Initiative, said. “We went to the suffering spots of both traditions. The intense realization came upon us that we have to suffer in order to reconcile. Christians have done wrong. Many were weeping and crying that we were coming to the holy city of Jerusalem. We repent today. Jews and Christians affirmed that we love God together, that we love Jesus together, and that we repent together that we haven’t been strong enough as religious leaders to build God’s kingdom on this earth. We can’t build God’s kingdom without our Jewish family leading the way. Amen. But we also discovered here that it will never come without our Muslim family. You cannot bring the Kingdom of God without the sons of Abraham."

In celebration of the joint declaration, African-American ministers began singing gospel songs, and the spirit of God flowed through the room. Then the rabbis stood up and joined in the singing. People of all ages, races, and faiths held hands in a line dance.

Muslims who witnessed the reconciliation were deeply touched. A judge of the Shari’a court said: "I’m full of hope that we can live at the time of Messiah’s coming, as long as we are removing the evil from our own heart. We must strive to bring peace within ourselves, our family, our communities, and the entire world."

See the text of the presentations by Archbishop George Augustus Stallings and Dr. Andrew Wilson.
For a list of Middle East Initiative activities from 2003-2013, click here.

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