I have never been opposed to interfaith, but have always found it very fake. It was never genuine. It wasn’t a religious Jew and a religious Christian looking to grow from their interactions, but more a “let’s all love each other and forget we have any differences. I’ll sit through your service if you sit through mine to show each other we aren’t closed-minded.”
That is all well and good for some people, but for me it isn’t.
Then all of a sudden, just three weeks ago I found myself in church on a Sunday morning! I swear that four weeks ago I knew I would never enter a church during worship. Ever! Not because there is anything wrong with churches, but because there is something wrong with a Jew in church. In addition to knowing that traditional Jewish circles generally prohibit it, I always felt that by attending church I was denying my own belief system, I was being a traitor to my God. We “share” a God with the Christians, but we approach Him differently. As a Jew, I viewed the Christian approach as antithetical to my own religion. Actually, I still do. But I still ended up in church. Why?
To start with, I was fortunate to make a new friend who happens to be a religious Christian. (I must admit that for a while I had my doubts that he was secretly trying to convert me, as had been my experience with other Christians on campus. But don’t worry, I’ve put those doubts aside.) Whenever we got together, our conversations always centered largely around religion. We would discuss the foundations of our respective religions and individual faith, the meaning of observance, different approaches to God, and the like. I have learned many things from these discussions, but I think that what has been the most valuable to me is how it has made me question my own Jewish practice. No, it has not made me consider converting to Christianity. The process of questioning has, in fact, brought me closer to my Judaism. I started praying daily six years ago, but had lost that practice. Because of a Christian, I have returned to it. Despite my continued observance I had become slightly cynical to religious circles. Because of a Christian, I have regained my appreciation of them. I had stopped consistent study of Torah. But because of a Christian, I again give myself a daily dose of it. My entire outlook on life has become (or rather returned to being) more religious, more optimistic, more happy…thanks to Christian.
But back to the point: why did I end up in a church?
Perhaps because I believe we can learn from other faiths and cultures. But I would never have gone alone. So perhaps I went to see my friend in his place of worship, to observe it, to experience it, and to learn what I could for my own spiritual life. Perhaps I went because I felt comfortable with my friend but wouldn’t have alone. And perhaps I just went because I didn’t have a good reason not to go. In any case, I’m glad I went.
And since, after three years of searching, I finally have the most unlike chavruta (religious study partner). Never would I have imaged in three years ago, but I formed a Bible study group of two Jews and two Christians where we can actively engage with a text and discuss it openly without feeling constrained from questioning or expressing our opinions. I still don’t buy into wide-scale interfaith activities, but on a personal, friend-to-friend basis, I think a lot can be gained through interfaith friendships rooted in our religious differences but with mutual respect. I for one have certainly gained a lot.