Antisemitism. Why some Christians don't repudiate it. And why many Christians do!

Antisemitism. Why some Christians don't repudiate it. And why many Christians do!

Christians only; Jews not allowed sign illustrating Christian antisemitismCan a Jewish blogger avoid writing about antisemitism this week? No, she cannot.

She has written about it before. About antisemitism in her grandfather’s life. In church practice. In her own fearful heart.

Writing is her hobby. She is not a news outlet. She does not have to produce an opinion piece on every newsworthy event.

But antisemitism is not news. If only! Unfortunately, it is olds.

Many American neo-Nazis believe that the Rothschild family controls international politics. Those darned long-lived 19th century activists! Next the antisemites will be telling you that Disraeli tried to block Brexit. That Haym Salomon funds the liberal culture wars. And Asser Levy shouldn’t be allowed to serve in the U.S. army.

Okay, that’s hyperbole. I know they use “the Rothschilds” symbolically. As a historically resonant synonym for “Soros.” You know, the “international global Jewish banking conspiracy.”

Admit it, Jewish friends. You’ve always wondered why you didn’t get your annual dividend from this banking group. Or your warning phone call on September 10, 2001. Maybe there’s a mistake in your email address in the International Jewish Conspirators database?

Yes, that was humour. Which won’t be understood by people who confuse symbol and fact. People whose “knowledge” reduces to “opinion,” as Plato might call it. Opinion not forged with critical thinking, that is.

Look, all of us learn slogans. Jingles. Stories. Chunks of words and images that play in our brains. Become language we talk to ourselves in.

Friends, here’s an Ouch! This antisemitic language is spoken in church. Yes, Christian church. Where Bible is the shared basic vocabulary. The source of slogans, jingles (okay, hymns), and stories. And the Christian Bible talks a lot about the perfidy of the Jews. The harassers. The betrayers. The murderers.

Most Christian denominations have thought critically about this. Obviously, Jesus’ supporters and detractors were Jewish. All of them are dead, so the Jews alive now are different people. The Bible writers were in the thick of a specific dispute and spoke harshly. Hasn’t their rhetoric caused enough death already? God chose to keep Judaism alive, so let’s honour it. And they’ve repudiated antisemitism.

But some denominations have not thought critically. And many individual Christians haven’t either. Individuals who live on both left and right of the political spectrum.

Fellow North American Jews, did you know you are a European colonialist? A settler sent to Israel specifically to staff a European outpost? I thought not. More likely you, your parents or grandparents fled Europe. For your lives. Chased by mobs or government agencies who had decided. Definitively. Unequivocally. You are not European.

But facts are no match for slogans. Slogans are the building blocks of thought. Facts only fill in the blanks.

Let’s be fair. We understand the charges of colonialism. We discuss them every day. Jews are bitterly divided about Israel and Palestine. But we all agree: we need to live safely. Somewhere. But those who see us as malevolent don’t agree. It’s best Jews don’t live at all, they say.

And let’s be fair about something else. We Jews can understand how slogans work. We have them too. Bits of Torah floating in our minds. About our enemies, for example. Philistines. Egyptians. Moabites. Midianites. Assyrians. Babylonians. All bent on exterminating us. Doesn’t matter that these were ancient peoples. Or that angry words were written in the heat of conflict. The self-protective message remains. Even when current events call for coalition. Or stronger self-critique.

Hmmm. Most marching American Nazis are young. Men in their 20s and 30s. They haven’t had the chance yet to think critically. Should I be fair and…?

No. I should not. Because I’ve just described the movement’s strategy. Older instigators bet on its success. Oldsters who could know better, but choose not to. These oldsters teach youngsters. Youngsters get riled up, put their own bodies on the line.

It’s the “lone wolf” terrorism cycle, too. Recycle the hateful themes. Let them become units of thought. Eventually they will reach someone heartbroken. Someone who will use the words to name their chaotic rage. Feel suddenly focused. Act against the targets.

It’s overwhelming, isn’t it? New to me, but familiar to others who have been targets. Now I’m afraid. Angry, too. And focused. I want to do something.

And the first thing I’m going to do is: keep doing what I’m doing. Stay awake. Share information. Show up to protest. Avoid violence. Practice Judaism.

And keep teaching.

At the Vancouver School of Theology — school motto “thoughtful, engaged, and generous” — I facilitate inter-religious learning. And help a new generation of Christian leaders think critically about antisemitism.

I’m ready to go back to school.

  1. I was blessed to teach my first university course at Texas Lutheran University, where Prof. Norm Beck was department chair in Theology. He wrote and spoke widely about antisemitism in the New Testament and Christianity. There were about 30 students in my Judaism class, one of whom was Jewish. I brought a Holocaust survivor to class, and the students, many on the pre-ministerial track, wrote her very touching thank you notes, including some who expressed heartfelt apologies on behalf of the antisemitism of their own denomination’s founder.

    1. Julie, thanks for sharing what was obviously a profound learning experience for the class.

  2. Laura, Our Jews and Christians class that you and Jason Byassee taught at VST last year was one of the best experiences I’ve had in an education/ social/ religious setting. We have so much to learn from each other. Yes. Keep teaching. I commit to continuing to learn. And if I am in a position to teach , I will do so in my family, my community, my church and my country. It is our duty at this point as we do all we can to promote love, compassion and unity and fight hatred and racism: anti- semitism and Islamophobia. I hope to see you at the rally in Vancouver tomorrow.

  3. Thank you Laura for this excellent piece. I echo Lorraine’s comment about our Jews and Christians class. Wonderful life changing learning! How I wish antisemitism WAS old news! Good luck to you and everyone else at the rally, wish I could be there! Here in Kelowna the work is beginning! Blessings to you on this next term! I hope to study with you again soon.

  4. Keep on thinking, protesting, teaching and being a Jew.

  5. Hi Laura,
    You will be pleased to know that a class on anti-Judaism within the Christian story was offered at the National Biblical Storytellers conference that Renee and I atended a few weeks ago. Since then several of the attendees have reached out to me to further discuss the issue and how they can be part of the solution.

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