The American Interfaith Institute was created 31 years ago on the foundation that through intellectual honesty, education, and purposeful action, misconceptions that hinder positive relationships between the Abrahamic faiths can be exposed and dismantled. Our founder, Irvin J. Borowsky, focused his initial efforts on the relationship among Christians and Jews after he recognized that elements of the New Testament and teachings from the pulpit, perhaps unintentionally, have generated and fostered anti-Jewish sentiment. With the help of numerous scholars and religious leaders around the world, A.I.I. began shedding light on this issue and, in fact, made significant strides towards encouraging Christian leaders to revise, correct, or reinterpret those New Testament passages that may reinforce, or even introduce, antipathetic attitudes toward Jews and Judaism.
One example of our work was the publication of an internationally recognized newsletter called Explorations. Every issue was filled with original articles supporting our mission written by distinguished scholars, theologians, and religious leaders from the Christian faith. For more than two decades, this newsletter was distributed at no charge to Bible publishers and translators; editors of Sunday school curriculum; professors teaching the next generation of priests and ministers; and Cardinals, Bishops and other influential Christian leaders throughout the world. We later expanded our publishing work by teaming up with major publishing houses to produce nineteen books on contemporary interfaith thinking, authored by the same highly-respected editorial board who contributed to our newsletter.
A.I.I. also disseminated our message on building bridges between faiths by hosting or presenting at seminars and symposiums attended by some of the most respected Christian leaders around the world. We presented at the Mormon Tabernacle in Jerusalem, the Princeton Theological Seminary, the Pontifico Instituto Bilblico in Rome, an annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in Budapest and at the Harvard Divinity School. We were the hosts of a symposium held at the University of Pennsylvania and at interfaith sessions in Norfolk, Virginia and Sarasota, Florida.
One accomplishment A.I.I. is most proud of is our role in helping to create the Contemporary English Version (CEV) Bible published by the American Bible Society in 1996. Mr. Borowsky worked tirelessly with their translators to produce a version of the New Testament which faithfully communicates the meaning of the scriptures from the original Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic texts without referencing “the Jews” in a negative manner in any of its passages. A.I.I. also took vigorous measures to integrate the CEV version into public locations where Bibles are used. Through the generous contributions of our supporters, we were able to provide 25,000 copies free of charge to the Salvation Army and began a dialogue with major hotel chains toward the possibility of replacing the Bibles in their rooms.
A.I.I.’s work to encourage the publication of hate-free Bibles also extended to Children’s Bibles. We contacted the publishers of 110 Children’s Bibles in which we found troubling and easily-misunderstood passages, and a full 104 agreed to revise that wording.
The year 2000 marked an important milestone for A.I.I, as our founder made the decision to expand his mission by opening the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, an institution dedicated to promoting respect and understanding among people of ALL backgrounds and nationalities. Funding for this project came in large measure from the generous individuals who had supported the work of A.I.I. for many years. Thus, the National Liberty Museum became the sister organization to A.I.I. and provided a permanent home for our work. Additionally, the Museum brought a new dimension to our mission as it incorporates artwork, exhibits and interactives into the messages it delivers.
Operating from its new home, A.I.I. continued its work by focusing on issues which were most pressing at the time. In 2004, we broadened our interfaith work to include leaders of the Islamic Faith. Mr. Borowsky became a board member of CSID (The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy) based in Washington, DC; launched an offshoot of our Explorations Newsletter called the Tent of Abraham to represent the voices of Muslim leaders; and constructed an exhibit at the Museum of the same name. In 2005, we teamed up with lay-leaders of the Presbyterian Church USA to challenge –and eventually defeat– their Church’s program to divest its huge financial portfolio from companies that do business with Israel, which many considered blatantly anti-Jewish. We also initiated a major project to defuse the anti-Jewish rhetoric often preached on Good Friday and Easter Sunday by distributing a sermon recorded by a local pastor which refuted –and apologized for– the misguided charges made against the Jewish People in regard to the crucifixion of Jesus.
With the retirement of Mr. Borowsky in 2009, the American Interfaith Institute found itself in a temporary hiatus. During this period we were able to assist in the creation of Sermons Without Prejudice, a site dedicated to offering helpful ideas and resources to clergy so they can avoid the potential anti-Judaism, however unintentional it may be, in the Lectionaries they read during Sunday Services. With that project completed, the American Interfaith Institute is now being reactivated through this comprehensive website to share the writings of past and future participants; provide the latest aggregated news content related to our mission; and develop campaigns around current issues following a similar approach to what A.I.I. has done in the past. Whether you are visiting this site as a scholar, religious leader, or an interested individual, there are many purposeful actions you can take to continue the work Mr. Borowsky started. We invite you to explore the rest of this website and join us in our mission of building bridges between Christians and Jews.