Four trends that demand Christian and Jewish leaders’ attention

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel meeting in New York with Cardinal Augustine Bea, who shepherded the process of Catholic introspection that led to Nostra Aetate, on March 31, 1963. Photo courtesy of American Jewish Committee

(RNS) — Four powerful and irreversible forces are rapidly transforming the Jewish and Christian worlds.

But many leaders in both communities are unable or unwilling to recognize these new changes. Such leaders, trapped in the past, risk losing real influence and relevancy and face the grim possibility of being tossed into the “dustbin of history.”

The first two forces relentlessly at work are demography and geography.

For centuries, Europe and North America were the centers of Christian and Jewish populations and the sources of religious leadership. However, today most Christians reside in Central and South America, Africa and Asia while Christians in Europe and North America are older, and their numbers are declining or barely holding steady.

Since 2000, the Roman Catholic population grew by 33 percent in Asia, 15.6 percent in Africa and Central America and 10.9 percent in South America, while the increase in Europe and North America during the same period was just 1 percent. One of every 5 Catholic priests today is either Asian or African. As a result, Europe and North America — the longtime spiritual, intellectual and population pillars of Catholicism — are losing dominance and influence. Pope Francis, an Argentinian, will certainly not be the last pontiff from the Global South.

The trend for Catholics is the same for many other Christian denominations, including Mormons and evangelicals: Their growth areas lie to the south.

As for Jews, for 2000 years the overwhelming majority lived in the Diaspora outside of Israel, the biblical homeland. However, a major population change has been underway since the State of Israel achieved independence in 1948. Seventy years later more than half the world’s Jews are in Israel.

Pope Francis meets Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Francis’ friend from when he was a cardinal in his native Argentina, during his visit to the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem’s Old City on May 26, 2014. Photo by Andrew Medichini/Reuters/Pool

Israel’s creation spurred the arrival of nearly 900,000 Jews from Muslim countries in North Africa and the Middle East, and this population is changing the once dominant European identity of modern Israel.

Israel — where Jews are the majority and Christians a minority — can be a significant arena for building strong interreligious relations.

The passage of time is the third reality influencing Christian-Jewish encounters. Since the 1965 Second Vatican Council Nostra Aetate Declaration and major national and international Protestant statements, two generations of Christians and Jews have been born who are often unfamiliar with the positive advances in Christian-Jewish relations achieved during the past half-century.

And the personal eyewitnesses to the victory over Nazism in World War II and the survivors of the horrific Shoah (Holocaust) become fewer with each passing year.

Finally, technology is impacting Christian-Jewish relations. Not too long ago, there were no emails, no internet, no Skype, no social media, no Facebook or texting.

Today, religiously committed Jews and Christians easily communicate with one another outside the boundaries of the traditional church and synagogue, frequently “going global” to explore any issue. Rabbis, pastors and priests are not required in Christian-Jewish cyberspace encounters. A papal declaration, a rabbinical statement, a World Council of Churches pronouncement and a personal blog all appear the same on computer screens.

For centuries, Jews and Christians, as faithful “peoples of God,” conducted worship services in physical church and synagogue buildings, fulfilling the biblical commandment: “Build Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among you” (Exodus 25:8). But the text does not say God dwells IN the sanctuary itself, but rather, God dwells AMONG the people assembled within the sanctuary — or, increasingly today, among those who are linked with one another by a single computer click.

There is now a proliferation of “couch churches” and “sofa synagogues” where Jews and Christians study and pray together in cyberspace without benefit of clergy.

In centuries past, control of land routes, river and sea lanes was vital to gain influence and shape history. Today, command of cyberspace and social networking is paramount, and advocates of positive Christian-Jewish relations must utilize the new technology.

Wake up, rabbis, pastors and priests. Demography, geography, time and technology are changing the ways you see and speak to one another.

(Rabbi A. James Rudin is the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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A. James Rudin


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  • And now again for what matters in religious trends: i.e. honesty !!

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    “The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother’s womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. “

  • I wanna follow up on and know more about this rather curious statement: “The biblical commandment: ‘Build Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among you’ (Exodus 25:8) … does not say God dwells IN the sanctuary itself, but rather, God dwells AMONG the people assembled within the sanctuary — or, increasingly today, among those who are linked with one another by a single computer click.”

    Ah yes, but why predicate all that trendy good stuff on the aforementioned – wait for it – tada! – “sanctuary”? Is it trying to say, By all means, go ahead get “linked with one another by a single computer click”, but make sure you do that while facing your “sanctuary” design-“build” as-is in Mecca (if you’re Muslim), Jerusalem (if Jewish), the Vatican (if Catholic) or Texas (if Christian nationalistic) – or something like that?

    Know what I’m talking about? Well, good for you, because I’m still not getting it. All I know is this verse in the article must surely hold the key to assimilating for God & Jesus the “four trends … demography, geography, time and technology [that] are changing the ways you see and speak to one another.”

    “‘Build [God] a sanctuary that [He] may dwell among you’ (Exodus 25:8)”!

    Question is, What “sanctuary”?

  • I believe it was the Ark of the Covenant. Moses had instructions on how to build it and it had poles so it could be carried. It was kept in the portable tabernacle and only the high priest had access to it. Uzzah was struck dead by God for touching the ark to steady it when transporting it to Zion.

  • Thankfully horrible Roman Catholicism seems to actually be on the decline moreso than not. For instance, if it’s true the population growth rate is about 1.6% per year for Africa and South America, their populations grew roughly 25% since 2000. If their numbers of misguided worshippers of imaginary Biblical deities only grew 16 and 11 percent, that represents something of a decline.

  • That is not the letter G but the symbol for the computer etc. on-button or the Google icon sidewards or the symbol for DISQUS.

  • Tis a public-service commitment to spread the truth to the reading public. One example since you asked:

    The Apostles’ Creed 2018: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus’ story was embellished and “mythicized” by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (references used are available upon request)

  • “When two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there also”…meaning HIS Spirit
    is there and felt by those who are present. Such a place is made Holy or Sacred by the Holy Spirit, and is a place of refuge, a preserve, a protected, undisturbed place where God may be worshiped.

    It may be in a remote, undisturbed natural location, or in a synagogue or temple. Men may “build” such a place by being righteous, holy, keeping His commandments, taking His name upon them, and remembering Him always.

  • Satan has you exactly where he wants you to be, both deceived by your own fake intellectualism, and trying to deceive others. HELL will be your final home, for your blasphemy.

  • You remind me of Sherem, the anti-Christ, who committed the “unpardonable sin
    of lying to GOD” to get the glory of the world.

  • “Nineteenth-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll
    branded Revelation “the insanest of all books”.[30] Thomas Jefferson
    omitted it along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and
    wrote that at one time, he “considered it as merely the ravings of a
    maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our
    own nightly dreams.” [31]

    Martin Luther once “found it an offensive
    piece of work” and John Calvin “had grave doubts about its


    Joe Smith had his Moroni and Satan/Perdition/Lucifer. (As does M. Romney)

    “Latter-day Saints like M. Romney also believe that Michael the Archangel was Adam (the first man) when he was mortal, and Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah.”

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being
    created by God and of course Satan and his demons.

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this “tin-kerbell” got around) and of course the

    Jesus and his family had/has Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern
    day demon of the demented. (As do BO and his family)(As do Biden and Ryan)

    TheAbraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other “no-namers” to
    do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these “pretty
    wingie/ugly/horn-blowing thingies” to the myth pile. We should do the same
    to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals.
    Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders
    and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

  • Actually, one big change at the moment is the growth of unbelief. People of all religious backgrounds are losing their faith and this is challenging believers of all the religions.

  • Thankfully, the internet has given everyone the opportunity to see that problems exist throughout all Eastern & Western Traditions. Also, it is tougher for the older Traditions to hide their problems now with email and the ability for anyone to go online. The BIGGEST tragedy is thinking there is something wrong with Religion. Holy Books, Churches & Shuls do not hurt people. People hurt people. It is sad that people pay no attention to what they were taught.

  • I disagree. A bigger tragedy is people living their lives as though they were immortal, because deity worshippers convinced them so.

  • Whatever. If you had half a brain, you’d take what you know, add two and two together, and have your answer. Instead you pathetically pretend you don’t know. The Buybull was written in another language. You know that. It was translated by humans. You know that. Translating ANY word risks changing the original meaning as translated words sometimes aren’t quite the same. You know that. Thus relying on some random strangers’ such interpretation is foolish. You know that but still play the fool. Why??

  • “One??” Why are you hiding behind erroneously stating “one?” Try sticking with the truth. Try “I,” as in, “As far as “I” know…” Because as far as Joe Blow knows, Moses DID exist. Joe Blow is likely wrong, but that is irrelevant to my point.

  • Michael is Christian instead of Muslim or Hindu because his parents raised him that way, NOT because a deity considers him special, as he’d like you to believe. Yes, had Michael been born in Saudi Arabia, he’d be saying the exact same thing about Islam, from his prayer mat at the Taliban compound.

  • Maybe to “play [you as such, and that’s] Why??”

    Question thus remains, even to such as yourself, What “sanctuary”?

  • WRONG.

    According to my Atheist mentors, Atheists’ own is the “bigger tragedy”!

    “In a move as useful as it was overdue (a few people have tried this, but to my knowledge none nearly as successfully), [Stephen LeDrew in The Evolution of Atheism] demolishes one of the most widely held myths that atheists have about themselves, namely, the belief that atheism is simply a matter of not believing in any gods. Atheism is in fact ‘a complex term with an even more complex history’ and ‘cannot be reduced to one single all-encompassing definition.’ [CJ Werleman in The New Atheist Threat: The Dangerous Rise of Secular Extremists] remarks that ‘on its own,’ atheism ‘is a non-positive assertion.’ Unbelief, however, is rarely ‘on its own.’ As LeDrew points out, with the rise of evolutionary theory, atheism ‘moved from simple negation of religious beliefs to an affirmation of liberalism, scientific rationality, and the legitimacy of the institutions and methodology of modern science—and thus from religious criticism to a complete ideological system.’ Atheism, then, is ‘a form of belief—rather than a lack of belief—shaped by its socio-historical context’ and ‘inextricably bound up with’ a plethora of principles that emerged from the Enlightenment.”

    Source: David Hoelscher, “New Atheism, Worse Than You Think”, CounterPunch, January 29, 2016.

  • In the previous life, some chose to love and worship Christ, and had the option of living where they would have that same choice in mortality. I chose to live where I could become a Christian, again. Enjoy your prayer mat at the Taliban compound, Mr. Uninformed.

  • No fool, that’s not why you play the fool. Try again. And aswer your own foolish question then, if it still remains. Better yet, ask your mother.

  • See? You don’t know what “sanctuary” is being referred to in Exodus 25:8. And that makes you not a “fool” but an Atheist. … Hold on, those 2 words are synonyms my “mother” tells me.

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