There are countless reasons given for justifying anti-Semitism around the world. I don’t like any of them.
Why this minority population deserves to be consistently demonized defies all reason. There isn’t a century in the last 2000 years where people of different faiths have not despised the Jewish people.
You don’t have to love Israeli policy toward the Palestinian people, or figure out why Jewish loyalty to kin, with its strong emphasis on family and community, is different from your own clan. Nothing justifies the persecution that Jews face nearly every day.
Every year when Holy Week and Easter roll around, I get this quiet, internal ache. It stems from having to read different New Testament passages that have contributed to the long and sad history of anti-Semitism in the Church. Though Christianity would not exist without its roots in Judaism, one would never know this from the atrocities committed against Jews over the ages.
At the heart of anti-Semitic hatred is a first century political matter. Early Christians felt a strong need to blame someone for Jesus’ death. Accusing Rome may have been appropriate, but it was also unwise. To claim that the Romans killed your friend and Lord would have been to invite worse persecution. So, Christians turned to the Jews as the party responsible for conspiring to murder Jesus.
In short order, Christianity cast off much of its Jewish origins. The Gospel of John ends up lumping all Jews together in a corporate guilt sort of way. Today, many Christians believe that, as people of the New Covenant, they have replaced the Jews as God’s chosen people.
I want to get really mad at those who persecute innocent people. But I have come to the important conclusion that there is something far more dangerous and evil than those persecutors are. The forces that drive them – hatred, fear, prejudice, and worship of an ideology – these are the greatest enemies out there. They are superhuman forces that manipulate the mind and warp the human spirit.
Going after these forces, and wrestling them out of our existence, is a project for all of us. It’s not just a bad people’s problem, by the way. Good people are subject to these same forces. Those Oklahoma University frat boys, to note a recent example, look like perfectly fine young men apart from their racist rant. They really do. They may well be kind and gentle spirits. But they are sad victims of some awful forces driving them toward bigotry.
Fighting these demonic forces is why we land in church. What better place to get a grip on the reality of God’s preferred hope for our lives? It takes personal and communal vigilance, not to mention the power of God within us, to beat back the strength of these forces. But that’s why I’m headed to church this week – to seek some fresh humility in reading some painful verses. There I hope to find fresh perspective on the love required of you and me.
Peter W. Marty, senior pastor