Even though Christians and Jews have been divided by history, they need to unite over shared values, participants at an interfaith leadership conference said this week.
"America doesn't accept an established religion," said Sen. Daniel R. Coats, Indiana Republican, evangelical Christian and co-founder of the Center for Jewish and Christian Values, which sponsored the conference. "However, faith in God is essential to society."
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, Orthodox Jew and co-founder of the center, quoted traditional Christian author C.S. Lewis and Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed, then reminded listeners that 94 percent of Americans believe in God.
"This is a source of extraordinary unity in our country we've too often overlooked or disparaged," he said. "Religion at its best gives people a sense of accountability to a higher authority, a sense of right and wrong."
He added, "American people really hunger for a moral leadership" that will talk about faith.
Founded late last year as a common forum for Jews, Catholics and evangelical Protestants, the center aims to provide some of that moral leadership. It is a departure from interfaith groups that linked Jews mostly with mainline Protestants.
The latter were conspicuously missing from this week's gathering, and a much more conservative brand of Christians - ranging from an editor for evangelically minded Christianity Today magazine to the Family Research Council's Gary Bauer - was invited. In recent years conservative Christians have been seen as moving into the spotlight by influencing public policy in the same fashion that mainline Protestants did in the past.
The new mixture created a sharper dialogue on topics such as abortion and euthanasia, no-compromise issues for many evangelicals. During one workshop on the value of human life, moderated by Rabbi Barry Freundel of Kesher Israel Synagogue in Georgetown, several Christian participants said the center's draft position is not strong enough. The statement only criticizes abortion as a means of birth control.
"We need to identify what is a human life," said Paulette Roseboro of the African-American Life Alliance. "It starts at conception . . . with a body, soul and spirit. …