Thoroughly modern United Methodists

YarmulkeThis is the time of year when religion-beat specialists scramble to try to cover a liturgical parade of events in both Judaism and in all forms of Christianity. In the past few decades, one of the standard stories around this time of year has focused on the historical links between Passover and Holy Week, between the Passover meal and Holy Communion. The Baltimore Sun found a story this year that took this kind of interfaith communication one step further. In some cases, educational Seders for Christian groups make some Jews nervous. But it appears that United Methodist officials in this region have taken this kind of work to a whole new level. Reporter Liz F. Kay's story begins:

When Methodist clergy and congregations around Baltimore have questions about Jesus' Jewish heritage, they can turn to their conference rabbi.

The Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church appointed Rabbi Joshua Martin Siegel last year to help put the Jewish roots of the Protestant faith in context through Bible study and demonstration. ...

(To) have a local Methodist organization put a rabbi on staff is an uncommon approach, said the Rev. Larry Pickens of the United Methodist Church's General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.

"It's a unique way of approaching spirituality, and I think it also helps Christians understand the relationship we have with the Jewish faith," Pickens said.

The rabbi leads a weekly study session on Bible readings. He also acts as a spiritual adviser for conference employees and writes a column for UM Connection, the conference's newspaper.

methodist symbolThe story raises all kinds of questions and answers most of them. I have also, during my years on the religion beat, heard of all kinds of Christian groups -- evangelical, mainline and Catholic -- working with rabbis and Jewish scholars on issues of this kind. It's an interesting trend.

However, I don't think I've ever read a story that addressed this kind of work that mentioned a rabbi actually assuming a role of spiritual leadership in a Christian organization.

This makes me what to ask: What is this rabbi's opinion of basic Christian doctrines linked to the identity of Jesus, to the role of the Christian Messiah in salvation? While she was at it, the reporter could have asked the same questions to the United Methodist leaders themselves.

I realize that there is a wide spectrum of belief and practice in the United Methodist Church on these issues. There are United Methodist evangelicals and there are United Methodist "Universalists," when it comes to salvation (and lots of United Methodists are parked at doctrinal points in between). I also realize that there is no way a progressive Christian body such as this one would be working with a "Messianic Jew" or "Hebrew Christian" who believes that Jesus is the Messiah. That would be even more controversial.

I know all of that. I simply find it interesting that these topics never came up in this story.

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