Australian church now pro-Jewish

SYDNEY, Australia — Australia's third largest church has apparently shifted to a pro-Israel, pro-Jewish stance.

The Uniting Church, which has 1.3 million followers, agreed at its recent meeting in Perth to use the word "homeland" in reference to the Jewish state.

It also acknowledged that "the Jewish people have a particular historical, cultural, emotional and spiritual bond with the land of Israel, which is a central element of the Jewish faith, and which is inextricably bound to the history of the Jewish people."

This part of the church's official plank was particularly welcomed by Australia's Jewish community.

Relations between the church and the Jewish community reached a crisis in 1991 after the church published a document, Mission Probe, which was hostile to Israel and included what were described as misrepresentations of Judaism.

The statement also presented initiatives aimed at improving interfaith dialogue and education within the church about Judaism.

It notes that despite advances in scholarship and theology, "many Christians are regularly exposed to the interpretations of Scripture which denigrate the Jewish people and Judaism."

The church adopted as official history that "Churches have consistently shaped a negative perception of Jewish people and Judaism" and that "Jews have been prosecuted by Christian authorities in many countries, and have been depicted negatively (indeed, sometimes vilified) in sermons from Christian pulpits."

The church identified key elements for members to recognize in interfaith discussions.

These include:

*"Christians and Jews share a common heritage in the unique testimony of the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures) to the One God, Creator and Redeemer;

*"an anti-Judaism which developed in Christianity created fertile ground for the spread of anti-Semitism, culminating in the Holocaust (the Shoah);

*"just as Jewish faith has been challenged by the Holocaust, so Christian theology is challenged when it takes account of the theological issues raised by this event."

The country's Catholic and Lutheran churches recently adopted similar documents.