NEWSLETTER No: 57 – March 2004


Christian & Jewish

Australian CCJ to hold first ever national conference over the
June Long Weekend

South Australian CCJ co-chair honoured

With arrangements still in the planning stages, the Australian Council of Christians and Jews has confirmed it will hold its first ever major National Conference in Melbourne over the June long weekend from June 12 to 14.

A full program of sessions is being planned to deal with the manifold issues with which the Australian Council and its State branches are concerned and culminating in a major public forum presentation on the Sunday evening.

This will take place in the Slome Hall of Temple Beth Israel, situated in Alma Road 8t Kilda which will be preceded by a cocktail party for delegates and invited guests.

The business sessions will take place on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning and will also be held at Temple Beth Israel. Australian Chairman, Henry Mendelson and CCJ Victoria chairman, Michael Cohen, who was recently elected Vice Chairman of the National Council, are finalising Conference arrangements. While details were not available at press time for this issue of Scene, members will receive notification by mail.

Meanwhile, the Victorian Council is seeking billets from its members. Anyone in a position to offer accommodation is asked to contact the CCJ office in Kew, on Tel/Fax: (03) 9817 3848 or email to:

Anglican primate announces his early retirement

The head of the Anglican Church in Australia, Archbishop Dr Peter Carnley, has announced that he will step down next year. Dr Carnley said he was announcing his retirement early to provide an opportunity for a successor to be appointed and to take up the position with minimal interruption. Dr Carnley's liberal stance on many issues has attracted criticism from church conservatives.

NSW Council holds planning day

A full day was appropriated last month by the NSW Council to examine its programming content and to plan ahead for the remainder of the year.

NSW President, Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen, outlined the need for the Council to outreach further into its constituency with meaningful programs in addition to the staple fare of commemoration services, discussion groups and panel sessions on which it has based its programming philosophy in past years.

A series of working groups were appointed, each to examine new initiatives and programming formats. ?We want to present a more meaningful presence in 2004 and bring the Council more to the forefront of community awareness”, Rabbi Cohen said.

The SA Council?s Co-Chair, Rev. Margaret Polkinghorne received an A.M. (Member of the Order of Australia) in the New Year Honours List. The award was given in part for her services to better inter-faith relations in SA?s Council for Christians and Jews.

Margaret Polkinghorne, South Australia?s second woman to be ordained a minister in the Methodist Church was cited as a role model for women who are leaders in Christian organisations.

Ordained a Methodist minister in 1976, The 69-year-old mother of three has tirelessly contributed to the Uniting Church Adult Fellowship, including a recent two-year stint as president. In addition she is a council member for Prince Alfred College and the incoming president of the SA Council of Churches.

?I believe that this award not only shows how valuable Margaret?s contribution has been to Australia, but also to our own work in the Council. It underlines as well how important our Council?s work is seen to be by the government and to us”, said co-chair, Evan Zuesse who recently also presented a paper on “”Ecology, Biodiversity and the Jewish Tradition” at Flinders University.

From a Christianity perspective, Father Denis Edwards spoke on the application of Trinitarian categories to ecological concerns, and for Islam Dr. Arthur Saniotis of the University of Adelaide, on Islamic attitudes to ecology.

Also during the last few months the south Australian Council of Christians and Jews has held discussion groups on the important Jewish concept of the Noahite laws. Rabbi Yossi Engel, of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation and a CCJ member, delivered an excellent review of this concept.

Victorian Council?s AGM hears from both sides of the table

After the brief Annual General Meeting?s brief business session as promised by its Chairman, Michael Cohen (pictured below) Victorian CCJ was privy to a conversation earlier this month between Mt. Scopus Jewish Studies teacher, Paul Forgasz and North Balwyn Trinity Uniting Church Minister, Paul Tonson, on the place of the other in Jewish and Christian traditions, themed as ?Stranger danger.” After the two conversationalists had dealt with the story of Hagar and Ishmael, the audience was split into small groups and invited to dialogue on the topics.

There ensued some lively exchanges of views and a healthy component of differences laced with commonality from both sides of the table. Consensus at the end of the evening was that this type of exchange makes for positive outcomes and the Council was encouraged to organise similar evenings in the future.


An edited version* of The 2003 Meriol Trevor Lecture presented at the University of Bath by Rev. John T. Pawlikowski, OSM, Ph.D., Professor of Social Ethics, Director, Catholic-Jewish Studies Program Catholic Theological Union Chicago, President, International Council of Christians & Jews

Globalisation”is certainly a term that generates great passion today nearly everywhere. Whether people are supportive or in strong opposition to the reality of globalisation they very often express their viewpoint with great gusto. I personally tend to believe the process has a considerable number of positive features, but I also recognize the profound dislocation and misery it has brought to many.

My perspective in part is based on the recognition that ””globalisation”in one form or another has in fact been taking place for most of human history as people have continued to move out of very confined geographic and cultural settings into ones of increasing diversity. The worlds of Rome and Greece represented such an early form of globalisation in my view. The missionary activity of Christianity in fact represented another period of intense globalisation with all the ambiguities that are evident in the present form of globalisation. And I could cite many later examples. To the extent that the globalisation process enables us to break down cultural, ethnic and religious barriers and brings us into increased human understanding and solidarity it is a good thing. Insofar as it becomes a generator of cultural and economic hegemony by rich and powerful nations over other peoples it deserves strong condemnation. As I look at the process of globalisation today I think it is in fact doing both. The challenge before us is how to erase its shadow side.

Something went terribly wrong

In most cases, globalisation also has resulted in the penetration and expansion of Western food, films, clothing, music, sports, media and many other forms of popular culture into all parts of the world. Personal benefits promised by globalisation include a significant rise in the standard of living on a mass scale and the accumulation of goods combined with rapid transportation and communication.

But clearly something went terribly wrong with such optimistic assurances. Even people directly connected with the globalisation process on the economic level have now spoken to its failures. The 2001 Nobel Prize winner in economics, Joseph Stiglitz, in his much discussed volume Globalisation And Discontents is one who has severely critiqued the Bretton Woods system from within.

The utopian promises proclaimed at the creation of the present global economic system have not on the whole come to realization. Hence for many throughout the world, including many deeply involved with the religious community, “”globalisation”has become a four-letter word. These critics view globalisation as a monster that devours traditional cultures and religious beliefs, condemning millions of people on the globe to a permanent prison of economic depression and political anger. That anger, it is charged with considerable justification, fuels anti-Western terrorist groups and destabilises fragile regimes.

Constructive involvement

Today millions of people in the West are bewildered and even stunned by the strident rejection of globalisation and its rich promises of a new world order. Facing this reality, I would like t to reflect on ways in which religious communities can enter the increasingly strident debate about globalisation in a constructive way. One vital part of this process is the recognition of how religious communities in the past have often been involved in ””dehumanising”others, including people in other religious traditions, and even participating in their actual destruction. The era of missionary expansion by Christianity certainly involved violence against indigenous people even if we view evangelisation as an integral component of Christian self-understanding.

Certainly Pope John Paul II has recognized this dark reality and expressed contrition during the moving liturgy of reconciliation he celebrated on the first Sunday of Lent 2000 as part of Catholicism's millennium observance. And the same holds true for the long history of Christian antisemitism for which John Paul II also apologized in that same ceremony and subsequently during his historic visit to Jerusalem. And we are quite aware of how religion in many cases sustained the vicious Apartheid system in South Africa and how the churches' missionary effort, intentionally or not, was instrumental in establishing a social order in Rwanda, the most Catholic country in Africa, in which the seeds of eventual genocide were planted.

If religious communities fail to cleanse their language and practice of religious violence toward the other they will eliminate themselves as effective agents of humanization and solidarity in the global era. Hans K?ng's often quoted dictum that there cannot be peace in the world without peace among religions remains as true as ever. Religion also has a role to play in ensuring that groups in a society are not “”neutralized”in terms of their fundamental humanity. The Holocaust scholar Henry Friedlander showed some years ago how the neutral language in reporting daily death counts in the Nazi extermination camps paralleled the language used by the United States military in reporting Vietnamese casualties during the Vietnam War. Religion must always fight against such neutralization, even of an enemy. For if neutralization of particular groups in society is allowed a foothold, it exposes these groups to the possibility of more violent attacks which again, in times of social crisis, can turn into genocidal or near-genocidal actions against them.

Impact on reconciliation

The role of religions in international peacemaking and reconciliation is rapidly becoming a central activity of religious communities in our day. Religious communities cannot enter the effort at peacemaking and reconciliation successfully and with integrity unless they first confront the violence they have often promoted in language and action. But having done this, I believe religious communities can have a significant impact on peacemaking and reconciliation. For one, they have the grassroots connections already mentioned.

Secondly, many present conflicts involve conflicting religious beliefs, at least in part. We have seen religiously-based communities operate with considerable success through such organizations as the World Conference of Religions for Peace and the San Egidio community. A number of organizations tied to Asian religions have also made important contributions in this regard. Caritas International, a Catholic based organization with ties to the Vatican, has worked extensively on reconciliation. Caritas recently produced a comprehensive handbook on reconciliation by my colleague at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Professor Robert Schreiter.

As with ecology, there may be significant differences within religious communities on the interpretations of peacemaking and reconciliation. Some religious communities see absolutely no role for the military in this process. Others believe force, whether by an official army or a revolutionary military, can still constitute a legitimate response to gross injustice.

Nelson Mandela, often honoured today as a champion of peace in post-Apartheid South Africa, endorsed the violent activities of the African National Congress, which found religious support in the Kairos Declaration endorsed by many prominent Christian leaders in the country. And some would argue the perspective of the International Criminal Court that any authentic reconciliation must include the trial and punishment of those responsible for gross violations of human rights.

In the Christian-Jewish dialogue I notice a growing disparity of viewpoints on peacemaking and reconciliation, especially with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq. Nonetheless, despite the obstacles, I remain convinced religious communities can make a major contribution on a global level to peacemaking and reconciliation.

* The full text of Fr. Pawlikowski?s speech is available on request


Guidelines for Interfaith Dialogue

The word on everyone?s lips at the moment —unfortunately — is Passion. Passionate as we may be from whatever point of view, the fact remains that what we have on our hands is a film. A piece of entertainment. Were cynicism not to rule the roost any more than at any other time, one might even be inclined to suggest that it is a pure piece of commercial undertaking designed more to make money than maintain the message of a relatively obscure and unreservedly radical form of Catholic conservatism. If Gibson?s exercise in horror and sadism is to follow in the footsteps of its many previous films on the life of Jesus, it will fade into the dust-laden archives of celluloid obscurity within the foreseeable future. That, in the meantime, it has served the cause of bringing the Gospels — in whatever form of interpretation, accurate or otherwise, can well be seen in some church circles as a positive effect. Certainly it has served and will continue to serve well the cause of Bible publishing and Bible sales and if it achieves little more than that, it will be able to lay claim to a positive outcome. On the other hand, it is sad to reflect on the fact that Jewish critics of the film in many parts of the world have made statements which can only be described as alarmist, sensational and sometimes even bordering on the demagogic. Fortunately we live in a society here in Australia which is not threatened by violence of the kind that harks back to the Crusader, the Nazi or the Czarist eras. We do not see our society being undermined or threatened and we serve our cause best by striving to continue the work of dialogue and mutual understanding which has been under way in Australia for the past 30 or so years. Indeed, there is in the phenomenon of this film a challenge as never before. International Council President, John Pawlikowski recognised this when he described the film — however much he may dislike it — as a teaching tool to bolster our efforts at reconciliation and communication between far sighted Christians and Jews. The Reform Judaism Union?s US President, Rabbi Eric Yoffie goes even further. His words should resonate throughout the Council of Christians and Jews? 38 global branches like a clarion call: ?This is the moment for which all those relationships have been built and if we haven?t been building those relationships, we need to start immediately.? A successful response to The Passion of Christ will not be measured by the numbers of speeches we give or the numbers of articles we write but by what our Christian friends say in their churches and schools”, he said.

The editor welcomes letters on any subject relative to the interests of Jewish Christian dialogue. Please address these to ?Scene”

Not yet a member of the Council of Christians and Jews? Why not join today? See here for a membership application for NSW and
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In a world in which Christians have many neighbors, dialogue is not only an activity of meetings and conferences. It is also a way of living out Christian faith in relationship and commitment to those neighbors with whom Christians share towns, cities, nations, and the earth as a whole. This in no way replaces or limits our Christian obligation to witness, as partners enter into dialogue with their respective commitments. Neighbours may be partners in common socio- economic and political crises and quests; companions in intellectual and spiritual exploration; or, literally, the people next door.
In some places, Christians and the church as an institution are in positions of power and influence, and their neighbors are without power. In other places it is the Christians who are powerless.
There are also situations of tension and conflict where dialogue may not be possible or opportunities very limited. In many places people of different living faiths interact not only with each other but also with people of various ideologies. The emergence of new religious groups has brought new dimensions and tensions to interreligious relationships.

  • Churches should seek ways in which Christian communities can enter into dialogue with their neighbors of different faiths and ideologies. They should also discover ways of responding to similar initiatives by their neighbors.

  • Dialogues should normally be planned together. They may well focus on particular issues: theological or religious, political or social.

  • Partners in dialogue should take stock of the religious, cultural and ideological diversity of their local situations. Only by being alert both to the particular areas of tension and discrimination and to the particular opportunities for conversation and cooperation in their own context will Christians and their neighbors be able to create the conditions for dialogue. They should be especially alert to infringements of the basic human rights of religious, cultural, or ideological minority groups.

  • Partners in dialogue should be free to define themselves. One of the functions of dialogue is to allow participants to describe and witness to their faith in their own terms. Self-serving descriptions of other people's faith are one of the roots of prejudice, stereotyping, and condescension. It should be recognized by partners in dialogue that any religion or ideology claiming universality will also have its own interpretations of other religions and ideologies as part of its own self-understanding. Dialogue gives an opportunity for a mutual questioning of the understandings partners have about themselves and others.

  • Dialogue should generate educational efforts in the community. In many cases Christians must take the initiative in education in order to restore the distorted image of neighbours that may already exist in their communities. Even where Christians do not live in close contact with people of various religious traditions, they should take seriously the responsibility to learn.

  • Dialogue should be pursued by sharing in common enterprises in community. In the search for a just community of humankind, Christians and their neighbours will be able to help each other break out of cultural, educational, political, and social isolation in order to realize a more participatory society. It may well be that such common enterprises will generate interreligious committees.

  • Dialogue should be planned and undertaken ecumenically whenever possible. Churches should move forward in planning for dialogue in cooperation with one another.

Abridged from the World Council of Churches, Guidelines on Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies

?Passion? not for the squeamish

Marianne Dacy, NDS

Mel Gibson?s twenty five million dollar saga, The Passion of the Christ is a deeply disturbing film. The focus is on an unrelentlessly brutal portrayal of the sufferings of Jesus. More disturbingly, it reinforces the anti-Semitic stereotypes of the Jews that have been developed in Christianity over the last two thousand years. The tone of the film is one that bypasses the reconciliatory nature of the statements of Vatican II, and the efforts at reconciliation that have followed since that day.


Author, columnist, and former editor-in-chief of The New Republic magazine, Andrew Sullivan, wrote of having seen The Passion of the Christ and being ?deeply moved in parts”. He goes on to say that the very story stirs the emotions and prayers of a lifetime. Seeing it rendered in a believable setting in languages that, however inaccurate (his words), give you an impression of being there, is arresting. He pointedly adds that ?you can see why Passion plays were once performed”. Sullivan continues: ?At the same time the movie to me was deeply disturbing. In a word, it is pornography. By that I mean the reduction of all human thought and feeling to mere flesh. The centerpiece of the movie is an absolutely disgusting and despicable piece of sadism that has no real basis in any of the Gospels. It shows a man being flayed alive—slowly, methodically and with increasing savagery. We see muscled thugs, exhausted from shredding every inch of a man?s body. Yet for Gibson, it is the hors d?oeuvre for his porn movie… some sick combination of the theology of Opus Dei and the film making of Quentin Tarantino.””

Jesus suffered more than any human being ever has
There is nothing in the Gospels that indicates this level of extreme, endless savagery and there is no theological reason for it. Over two hours, about half the movie, is simple wordless sadism on a level and with relentlessness that I have never witnessed in a movie before.

You have to ask yourself: why? The suffering of Christ is bad and gruesome enough without exaggerating it to this insane degree. Theologically, the point is not that Jesus suffered more than any human being ever has on a physical level. It is that his suffering was profound and voluntary and the culmination of a life and a teaching that Gibson essentially omits.

One more example: toward the end, unsatisfied with showing a many flayed alive, nailed gruesomely to a cross, one eye shut from being smashed in, Gibson has a large crow perch on the neighbouring cross and peck another man?s eye out. Why? Because the porn needed another money shot.

Is it antisemitic?
The question has to be placed in the context of the Gospels and it is hard to reproduce the story without risking such inferences. But in my view Gibson goes much further than what might be forgivable. In Caiaphas? first scene he tells Judas how much money he has agreed to hand over for Jesus—the Jew fussing over money again!

There are actors who look like classic hook-nosed Jews of Nazi imagery, hissing and plotting and fulminating against Christ. Gibson has the Jewish priestly elite beat Jesus up before handing him over to the Romans and he has Jesus tell Pilate he is not responsible, the Jewish elite is.

I wouldn?t say the movie is motivated by anti-Semitism. It is motivated by psychotic sadism. Gibson does nothing to mitigate the dangerous anti-semitic elements of the story and goes some way toward exaggerating and highlighting them.

Anti-Semitism is the original sin of Christianity. Far from expiating it, the movie clearly enjoys taunting those Catholics as well as Jews who are determined to confront the legacy.

In that sense alone, it is a deeply immoral work of art.

The Passion of the Christ is, as it were, caught in a time warp. The film strongly reflects Gibson?s fundamentalist stance. Gibson?s embellishments of the gospel stories add touches of melodrama. The devil is personified as a woman who appears at crucial moments dressed in a dark cowl, sometimes with fiendish children. During his agony in the garden, Jesus crushes the head of a snake, recalling in a somewhat bizarre interpretation, the Genesis curse. After Jesus is brutally scourged and reduced to a bleeding mass in a particularly prolonged scene, Pilate?s wife supplies both Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene with a white towel. In a macabre twist, each mops up the pools of Jesus? blood from the stone pavement of the praetorian. The fourteen stations of the cross, a devotion originating in medieval times are interwoven throughout the drama.

This is not a film for the squeamish
The overwhelming emphasis is on the sufferings of Jesus. The atmosphere of the film is dark and heavy, the costumes are sombre, the landscape, filmed round Rome and parts of Italy, is dry and inhospitable. Jesus is shown as a skilled linguist, switching from Aramaic to Latin when conversing with Pilate, and Herod speaks in Greek. After the long drawn out gory depictions of the atrocities enacted against Jesus, one is left completely exhausted. The resurrection scene comes as an anti-climax, a very small ray of light on that overwhelming dark canvas depicted in Gibson?s portrayal.

Fr John Pawlikowski, the current President of the International Council of Christians and Jews has said that rather than spend energy condemning the film, it should be used as an educative tool. It is up to Christian leaders to speak out against the negative stereotypes it portrays and educate Christians on the difficult passages in the New Testament.

Let?s go to work

President of the Union for Reform Judaism in the US, Rabbi Eric Yoffie went to so see The Passion of the Christ in a theatre on Times Square and came out with some insightful conclusions . . .

Our dilemma is this: how do we demonstrate respect for this woman?s feelings and beliefs while guarding against antisemitic seeds that may have been planted by the movie? And the answer is: first, we avoid hysterical and overheated rhetoric. We will speak about the issues sincerely and openly, but in moderate and respectful tones, recognising the sincerity of other people?s religious convictions. And most important: coalition. If the woman in the next seat is going to be comfortable discussing these issues she will be most comfortable with someone who shares her deeply held Christian beliefs and who can understand the film in ways I cannot.
This is where we come in. We need do on a massive scale what so many of our rabbis and congregations have already begun. We need to dialogue with Christian leaders, encouraging them to educate their congregations just as we will educate ours. We need to welcome their input into our congregational courses and suggest they welcome our input into theirs.
This is the moment for which all those relationships have been built and if we haven?t been building these relationships we need to start immediately. A successful response to The Passion of Christ will not b