By Beth Katz, Director of Project Interfaith
(This is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the Summer 2007 issue of Creighton Magazine. A link to the entire article is below.)
The Second Vatican Council propelled the modern interfaith movement in the United States when it issued Nostra Aetate in 1965. This groundbreaking document transformed the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish community by repudiating the centuries-old charge that all Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. The document also emphasizes the religious bond shared by Jews and Catholics, reaffirms the eternal covenant between G-d and the People of Israel, and dismisses church interest in trying to baptize Jews. In addition to redefining the Church’s relationship with the Jewish community, Nostra Aetate affirms the Catholic Church’s relationship with the Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim communities and encourages Christians to enter into dialogue with members of these religious traditions: “Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, together with their social life and culture.”
Nostra Aetate provided an unprecedented launching point for interreligious dialogue and debate. Its impact sent a ripple through religious communities around the world and caused some Protestant denominations to reexamine their relationships with other Christian denominations and with non-Christian religions. It also left many people- clergy, scholars, and laity- wondering just what it means to implement such a bold call.
Many of the interfaith initiatives that followed brought people from different faiths, often Christians and Jews together, often emphasizing the commonalities of the traditions sometimes as the expense of some very important differences. For example, a common practice in the 1970s and 1980s for fostering relations between Jews and Christians was to hold a Passover seder, a Jewish ritual meal through which the story of the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt into freedom in Israel is retold and relived. Many Christians, in a desire to show solidarity with the Jewish community or to honor their “Jewish roots” began holding seders on their own and often times overlaid this sacred Jewish ritual with themes corresponding to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Ironically, this phenomena of “Christian seders” has in many cases strained Jewish-Christian relations, as many in the Jewish community view it as disrespectful of their tradition and smacking of supersessionism (meaning that it ends up reinforcing the view that Christians have replaced the Jews as G-d’s chosen people and to this effect Judaism is obsolete or incomplete).
In the 1990s, the interfaith movement in the United States continued to grow, spurred by the increasing plurality of religions present in this country. However, Jewish-Christian dialogues and encounters still dominated the movement. The September 11 terrorist attacks sparked a greater interest in Islam in this country and pointed to the need to work actively to include members from religions other than Judaism and Christianity in interfaith activities. Yet, the call for engagement originally issued through Nostra Aetate still poses a challenge for many clergy, scholars and laity forty years later. In the face of rising Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant attitudes in the United States, engaging people on issues of faith and religious diversity is needed as much now as ever.
To view the full article "Building an Interfaith World" by Project Interfaith founder and director Beth Katz, please go to: http://www.creightonmagazine.org/files/Summer%202007/summer2007.pdf
 Anti-Defamation League (2005). Nostra Aetate: What is it? Available online at http://www.adl.org/main_Interfaith/nostra_aetate_whatisit.htm
 Second Vatican Council (1965). Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. Available online at http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html