A few days ago, this post showed up in my email (I subscribe to the blog). In it, the author, Joshua, (who is a non-religious Jewish atheist) makes a strange assertion that took me a while to come to grips with: That the Christian Church has a history of antisemitism, that this antisemitism persists even today in many Christian circles, and that the Church refuses to acknowledge this past and present antisemitism. Finally, Josh asserts that because of this, and because of a continued reluctance on the part of individual Christians (and the Church as a whole) to consciously and deliberately take steps to rectify the past and current wrongs, he finds it very difficult to take the Church seriously as a moral authority. I dialogued briefly with him on his post and felt convicted to write about it.
There are times, I think, to argue about unjust accusations and unfair generalizations. There are times to point out that the Church is, after all, composed of fallen human beings who do their best but often stumble: There are also times to point out that the earthly church has often been hijacked by those who use it for power and to further their own selfish, hateful ends.
But this isn’t one of those times. Antisemitism was not a brief moment in the life of the Church, quickly corrected. It was not a heresy that was recognized and cast out. It was not some kind of splinter movement, or the beliefs of a few radical “Christians.” It started early, around 400 a.d., as influential writers and thinkers began to condemn the Jews and claim that their sufferings were a result of their part in the death of Christ… and then it quickly became “and they wouldn’t hesitate to kill you either!” They were sub-human, mere beasts. Although some popes did, indeed, speak out against the prevalent anti-semitism, many did not. The Jews were villainous beyond belief, and depending on who you asked, they were destined for perpetual slavery, practiced ritual murder, ate Christian children and drank their blood… Jews were railed against in churches and public places, driven from their homes and expelled from countries where they sought refuge, and killed by the hundreds and thousands. And this was done by the general body of the Christian Church, sometimes with the explicit support of church leadership. And this went on, off-and-on again under various popes and in varying degrees of persecution, for over a thousand years.
We don’t like to talk about the mis-steps of the Church. We don’t like to talk about the people the church hurt and killed, the lives the church ruined, the terror and wreckage we let loose on the world when the church went bad. And perhaps that’s the reason that I never knew any of this before I got to Biola. I was never told, not at my private Christian k-8th school, not at my Sunday school, not at my church. There’s this huge, enormous, chunk of church history that we like to pretend never existed, so we don’t talk about it, we don’t acknowledge it in the slightest.
But it did exist. It happened. And while we’ve left the bloody pogroms and accusations of child-sacrifice behind, there remain the blanket-condemnations of the Jews of Jesus’ time as stupid, or greedy, or power-hungry, the ugly stereotypes of the Jewish lawyer, and a general and offensive ignorance of all things Jewish (which we nonetheless like to talk about with authority because hey, Christianity, right?).
I was lucky enough to be raised in an intelligent Christian household where antisemitism held no sway (to the best of my knowledge). I have never driven a Jew from his country, or accused him of eating a child, or blamed him for the death of Christ. I suspect most of you can say the same. The question then becomes, “Why do we need to apologize for something we had no part in? Why do we need to speak out against something that we aren’t doing wrong?”
Because Scripture tells us that we are one body, but many members. And because history, and the personal experience of Jews, tells us that the earthly, visible body of Christ has done great harm in Christ’s name. Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 12 that “if one member suffers, everyone suffers with it.” What happens to one member of the body of Christ happens to all members… and by the same reasoning, what one member of the body commits, all members are responsible for.
We cannot deny responsibility for the harm we have caused and are causing currently to the Jewish people as a whole and individual Jewish people in particular, merely because we did not personally take part. Neither can we deny responsibility to set things right, as much as it is in our power. We are not all pastors, and there is no central evangelical authority that can declare some official stance. But we all have spheres of influence in our lives (mine happens to be this small space right here). Each of us, individually, can take responsibility for the Church’s wrongs, and more importantly, we can take responsibility for setting them right.
That’s the point of this post. If we are to claim that the Church is, in fact, one body, and that the Church means something, then we must claim responsibility. As ambassadors of Christ, we must own our faults and right them: Otherwise, why should the world take us seriously?