The New Paths: Christians Engaging Israel
Steering Committee has completed its inaugural visit to Jerusalem, where the team spent the visit sharpening its groundbreaking project after a review of its first round of test sites.
The group, which has met many times before but was in Israel at the Shalom Hartman Institute for the first time together, spent four days both analyzing and discussing the comments and experiences of beta testers, as well as participating in the Institute’s annual Theology Conference
The response to the initial curriculum has been wildly positive, though that hasn’t stopped the steering committee team of thinking critically about how to improve upon it for future use.
"It seems from the field testing we’ve done, we’ve got a good chunk of it right," said the Very Reverend Peter Eaton
, member of the New Paths steering committee who participated in the Theology Conference. Nonetheless, he said, "we are looking at a fairly radical re-envisioning of the course. Not in the content, but in a new arc."
While the team hopes that the project can eventually overcome the stumbling blocks in conversations about Israel between Jews and Christians, both Eaton and Dr. Marcie Lenk
, co-director of New Paths, stressed the need for the New Paths curriculum to be initially an internal Christian dialogue.
"Because the Christian is worried about being anti-Semitic, he won’t question anything, which is fundamentally infantilizing the whole venture," Eaton said. This, he said, does nothing to get us "unstuck" from the tired Israel narratives found in today’s discourse. New Paths hopes to change this by building an environment for engaged Christians in which any question about Israel or Judaism can be asked.
New Paths: Christians Engaging Israel, which is a version of the iEngage Project for Christian audiences, aims to provide a more dynamic view of Israel to Christians in North America. The project was conceived of in December 2011 and has just completed testing in eight churches across the United States.
Along with their work on the New Paths program, Steering Committee members found the Theology Conference especially exciting.
The theme of this year’s conference, which took place February 17-21, was “Forgiveness” in the three Abrahamic traditions. The participants learned the chosen texts in small hevruta groups composed of participants from different religious backgrounds, wrestling with ideas relating to the theme: how forgiveness and justice often are often in tension with one another, and how forgiveness includes horizontal, vertical, and internal dimensions.
Members of the steering committee served important roles in the Theology Conference as well. Dr. Ellen F. Davis
led a session entitled, "The Bible and Practical Theology: What Good Should Come from Reading Scripture (Critically)?"
Marcie Lenk and the Rev. Peter A. Pettit, co-directors of New Paths, led the year’s Edward Bronfman Family Foundation Annual Lecture on Religious Pluralism. Click here
to view a video of their presentations.
Eaton said he will continue to participate in the Theology Conference and New Paths: Christians Engaging Israel team as long as there is a demand for this nuanced approach to Israel.
People "see the need for precisely this kind of approach,” Eaton said. “They don’t need it to be explained to them."