A CAREFUL VIEW OF SCRIPTURE with Regard to LGBT Questions
Christian Anti-Semitism - A History
You are probably asking … why discuss anti-Jewish attitudes and beliefs in the church? Wasn’t that in the past?
And the answer is that in the process of looking at Church history … particularly with regards to interpretation and errors of the church, I discovered, much to my surprise, centuries and centuries of anti-Jewish sentiment that was not truly dealt with in a purposeful peaceful way until the early 1960’s. Since we often say that those who don't learn from history are bound to repeat it ... I have decided to take a look at this.
A bit of background…
It’s important to remember that Jesus was Jewish … He entered this world as a child of the Virgin Mary with an (adoptive) father named Joseph. Both were Jewish. He was raised according to Jewish customs including being circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. His teaching was mainly directed towards the Jewish people although He did speak to other people groups such as the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42) and the Roman Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13). The crowds that followed him were mostly Jewish but possibly not all Jewish.
Although it was the Jewish leaders that eventually led him to be crucified under trumped up false charges we as Christians believe (today at least) that Jesus went to the cross as part of God’s plan … that he was there due to all our sin … and had he came in a different time and place to a different people group the same thing would have happened.
However this was not always looked at this way in the history of Christianity. Jesus’ disciples were Jewish and most all of his followers were Jewish. But after his death, and resurrection and the beginning of the church in Acts 2 the good news about Jesus spread to the Gentiles (non-Jewish folks). This … alone … was upsetting to some of the more orthodox Jewish people of the day … even to those who embraced Jesus as the Messiah or Christ. Adding to the controversy was the teaching that … as followers of Christ … many Jewish teachings such as circumcision, the celebration of certain feast days and Sabbath days, and many of the dietary restrictions were no longer viewed as necessary. It should be noted that the early followers of Jesus still followed some/many of these practices. The only concern they had was that such practices be voluntary … and not preached or taught as necessary for someone to be a Christian.
The Apostle Paul … himself a Pharisee (which in those days likely meant ‘interpreter’) converted to Judaism but continued to make many appeals to his fellow countrymen the Jews. He wished he could himself be cut off from Christ if it would have helped them to recognize Christ (Romans 9:1-5). I should note here that while Christians today often view the Pharisees as stiff-necked and hard-hearted and perhaps even hypocrites they were actually a very valuable part of Judaism … defending it from outside influences and keeping it from failing when the temple was destroyed in about A.D. 70. Jesus, in fact, agreed with the Pharisees on many points.
Christianity and Judaism … A Parting of the Ways
As the Christianity grew in the first and second centuries Christians found themselves to be less and less welcome in Jewish synagogues … Part of the problem was the non-Jewish teachings of Christianity which disregarded parts of Jewish law (at least the more ceremonial aspects of it). Another problem was the new teaching’s claims that Jesus had established a new covenant rendering the old one obsolete. The welcoming of Gentiles would also likely have been an issue. Additionally the Jewish people of the day had a somewhat dysfunctional but workable relationship with the occupying Roman power in which they could still worship God and pray *for* the emperor of Rome rather than pray *to* the emperor of Rome (something that was normally required for all who were under Rome). Christians wanted the same protection that the Jewish people had but talked of the kingdom of God in which Christ was/ is king.
Due to these fundamental differences in beliefs / doctrine / religious requirements and perhaps political protection reasons there was a slow but inevitable parting of the ways. This parting eventually led to resentment between the Jewish people and Christians even though ...as I said earlier … the early disciples were Jewish … Paul was Jewish … and their original writings tried to encourage the coming together of Jewish and non-Jewish peoples through Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22).
Eventually, certain passages would be taken out of context such as these:
Matthew 27:25 ... the crowd crying for Jesus’ crucifixion says“his blood be on us and on our children" which was misunderstood to imply Jewish people of all time.
John 8:44Jesus said this to certain Jews of his day:“You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”For centuries in Christendom, that text was taken to mean that Jews as a people were the children of Satan and shared their diabolical father’s characteristic behaviors, such as murder and lying. Acts 7 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do.Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”For centuries in Christendom, this last speech from Stephen before he was martyred was taken to mean that the entire history of the Jewish people has been a story of rebellion against God. This was called the “trail of crimes.” (see link). This list of alleged crimes went far beyond what happened to Jesus and attempted to portray the entire Jewish history as rebellious and disobedient. In the second century policies concerning the Jewish people helped to widen the schism … policies based on beliefs such as….
the promises of blessing to Israel in the Hebrew scriptures are now the exclusive property of the Church
God has cursed and rejected Israel, and now the Church is the "true" or "new" Israel; and
the Jews killed Jesus; all Jews everywhere forever are responsible for his death.
The writings of the church fathers helped to widen the schism even further …
"On account of their unbelief and other insults which they heaped upon Jesus, the Jews will not only suffer more than others in the judgment which is believed to impend over the world, but have even already endured such sufferings. For what nation is in exile from their own metropolis, and from the place sacred to the worship of their fathers, save the Jews alone? And the calamities they have suffered because they were a most wicked nation, which although guilty of many other sins, yet has been punished so severely for none as for those that were committed against our Jesus."
( Quoted in Bratton, 80. "Against Celcus." In The Anti-Nicene Fathers, edited by Alexander and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956), Vol. IV, 433.)
But now that the Jewish festivals are close by and at the very door, if I should fail to cure those who are sick with the Judaizing disease. I am afraid that, because of their ill-suited association and deep ignorance, some Christians may partake in the Jews' transgressions; once they have done so, I fear my homilies on these transgressions will be in vain.
But do not be surprised that I called the Jews pitiable. They really are pitiable and miserable. When so many blessings from heaven came into their hands, they thrust them aside and were at great pains to reject them. The morning Sun of Justice arose for them, but they thrust aside its rays and still sit in darkness.
But at any rate the Jews say that they, too, adore God. God forbid that I say that. No Jew adores God! Who say so? The Son of God say so. For he said: "If you were to know my Father, you would also know me. But you neither know me nor do you know my Father". Could I produce a witness more trustworthy than the Son of God?
Tell me this. If a man were to have slain your son, would you endure to look upon him, or accept his greeting? Would you not shun him as a wicked demon, as the devil himself? They slew the Son of your Lord; do you have the boldness to enter with them under the same roof?
Augustine (354-430), was also guilty of anti-Jewish sentiment. In a sermon on Catechumens, he says:
"The Jews hold him, the Jews insult him, the Jews bind him, crown him with thorns, dishonor him with spitting, scourge him, overwhelm with revilings, hang him upon the tree, pierce him with a spear...The Jews killed him."
"But when the Jews killed Christ, though they knew it not, they prepared the supper for us."
In another sermon he characterized the Jews as "willfully blind to Holy Scripture," "lacking in understanding" and "haters of truth."
Decrees by the Early Catholic Church (partial list)
Synod of Elvira (306)_prohibited intermarriage and sexual intercourse between Christians and Jews, and prohibited them from eating together.
Councils of Orleans (533-541)_prohibited marriages between Christians and Jews and forbade the conversion to Judaism by Christians.
Trulanic Synod (692)_prohibited Christians from being treated by Jewish doctors.
Synod of Narbonne (1050)_prohibited Christians from living in Jewish homes.
Synod of Gerona (1078)_required Jews to pay taxes to support the Church.
Third Lateran Council (1179)_prohibited certain medical care to be provided by Christians to Jews.
Fourth Lateran Council (1215)_required Jews to wear special clothing to distinguish them from Christians.
Council of Basel (1431-1443)_forbade Jews to attend universities, them from acting as agents in the conclusion of contracts between Christians, and required that they attend church sermons.
The Crusades (1096-1272) …
The Catholic Church launched a series of nine holy wars from 1096-1272. The purpose of these wars was to march to the Holy Land of Palestine and liberate it from Moslem "infidels." Along the way, the crusaders massacred all "infidels" in their path who refused to be baptized on the spot to Christianity. Thousands of Jews were massacred in Germany and France. While the Catholic Church did not direct such things the over-zealous crusaders often did these things
A myth began around this time that Jewish people murdered Christian children for the preparation of unleavened bread for the Passover. This was … of course … completely false but this myth continued for centuries.
One would hope that the reformers would not have followed suit with anti-Jewish sentiment ... Unfortunately this was not the case. See below...
Martin Luther and hiswritings of 1543 called “On the Jews and Their Lies.”
Some excerpts … (emphasis mine)
"I had made up my mind to write no more either about the Jews or against them. But since I learned that these miserable and accursed people do not cease to lure to themselves even us, that is, the Christians, I have published this little book, so that I might be found among those who opposed such poisonous activities of the Jews who warned the Christians to be on their guard against them. I would not have believed that a Christian could be duped by the Jews into taking their exile and wretchedness upon himself. However, the devil is the god of the world, and wherever God's word is absent he has an easy task, not only with the weak but also with the strong. May God help us. Amen.
He did not call them Abraham's children, but a "brood of vipers" [Matt. 3:7]. Oh, that was too insulting for the noble blood and race of Israel, and they declared, "He has a demon' [Matt 11:18]. Our Lord also calls them a "brood of vipers"; furthermore in John 8 [:39,44] he states: "If you were Abraham's children ye would do what Abraham did.... You are of your father the devil. It was intolerable to them to hear that they were not Abraham's but the devil's children, nor can they bear to hear this today.
Therefore the blind Jews are truly stupid fools...
Now just behold these miserable, blind, and senseless people ... their blindness and arrogance are as solid as an iron mountain.
Learn from this, dear Christian, what you are doing if you permit the blind Jews to mislead you. Then the saying will truly apply, "When a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into the pit" [cf. Luke 6:39]. You cannot learn anything from them except how to misunderstand the divine commandments...
Therefore be on your guard against the Jews, knowing that wherever they have their synagogues, nothing is found but a den of devils in which sheer self glory, conceit, lies, blasphemy, and defaming of God and men are practiced most maliciously and veheming his eyes on them."
Some may question whether it is appropriate to link the holocaust to Christian Church history and its anti-Jewish attitudes. However … various denominations have already formally recognized this dangerous potential link. See below...
What follows now are several Christian responses post WWII as a result of intense Jewish / Church interfaith talks.
Catholic declaration in 1965 Nostra Aetate Proclaimed By His Holiness Pope Paul VI On October 28, 1965
Partial quotes below …
"4. As the sacred synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham's stock.
Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God's saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ-Abraham's sons according to faith (6)-are included in the same Patriarch's call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people's exodus from the land of bondage. The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles.(7) Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles. making both one in Himself.(8)
The Church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle about his kinsmen: "theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:4-5), the Son of the Virgin Mary. She also recalls that the Apostles, the Church's main-stay and pillars, as well as most of the early disciples who proclaimed Christ's Gospel to the world, sprang from the Jewish people.
As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation,(9) nor did the Jews in large number, accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading.(10) Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues-such is the witness of the Apostle.(11) In company with the Prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and "serve him shoulder to shoulder" (Soph. 3:9).(12)
Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.
True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ;(13) still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.
Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.
Besides, as the Church has always held and holds now, Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church's preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God's all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.
5. We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man's relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: "He who does not love does not know God" (1 John 4:8).
No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination between man and man or people and people, so far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are concerned.
The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to "maintain good fellowship among the nations" (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men,(14) so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven.(15)"
________________________________________________________________ Declaration of ECLA with regard to earlier anti-Jewish teachings… (emphasis mine)
The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on April 18, 1994, adopted the following document as a statement on Lutheran-Jewish relations: In the long history of Christianity there exists no more tragic development than the treatment accorded the Jewish people on the part of Christian believers. Very few Christian communities of faith were able to escape the contagion of anti-Judaism and its modern successor, antiSemitism. Lutherans belonging to the Lutheran World Federation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America feel a special burden in this regard because of certain elements in the legacy of the reformer Martin Luther and the catastrophes, including the Holocaust of the twentieth century, suffered by Jews in places where the Lutheran churches were strongly represented. The Lutheran communion of faith is linked by name and heritage to the memory of Martin Luther, teacher and reformer. Honoring his name in our own, we recall his bold stand for truth, his earthy and sublime words of wisdom, and above all his witness to God's saving Word. Luther proclaimed a gospel for people as we really are, bidding us to trust a grace sufficient to reach our deepest shames and address the most tragic truths. In the spirit of that truth-telling, we who bear his name and heritage must with pain acknowledge also Luther's anti-Judaic diatribes and the violent recommendations of his later writings against the Jews. As did many of Luther's own companions in the sixteenth century, we reject this violent invective, and yet more do we express our deep and abiding sorrow over its tragic effects on subsequent generations. In concert with the Lutheran World Federation, we particularly deplore the appropriation of Luther's words by modern anti-Semites for the teaching of hatred toward Judaism or toward the Jewish people in our day. Grieving the complicity of our own tradition within this history of hatred, moreover, we express our urgent desire to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people. We recognize in anti-Semitism a contradiction and an affront to the Gospel, a violation of our hope and calling, and we pledge this church to oppose the deadly working of such bigotry, both within our own circles and in the society around us. Finally, we pray for the continued blessing of the Blessed One upon the increasing cooperation and understanding between Lutheran Christians and the Jewish community. ( http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Declaration_Of_The_ELCA_To_The_Jewish_Community.pdf?_ga=1.241051914.820079562.1427019590 )
Statement on Jewish Christian Relations from the Alliance of Baptists April 25, 2003 (emphasis mine)
As Baptist Christians we are the inheritors of and, in our turn, have been the transmitters of a theology which lays the blame for the death of Jesus at the feet of the Jews; a theology which has taken the anti-Jewish polemic of the Christian Scriptures out of its first century context and has usurped for the Church the biblical promises and prerogatives given by God to the Jews; a theology which ignores nineteen centuries of Jewish development by viewing contemporary Jews as modern versions of their first century co-religionists; a theology which views the Jewish people and Jewish nationhood merely as pieces in an eschatological chess game; a theology which has valued conversion over dialogue, invective over understanding, and prejudice over knowledge; a theology which does not acknowledge the vibrancy, vitality, and efficacy of the Jewish faith. The madness, the hatred, the dehumanizing attitudes which led to the events known collectively as the Holocaust did not occur overnight or within the span of a few years, but were the culmination of centuries of such Christian theology, teaching and church-sanctioned action directed against the Jews simply because they were Jews. In spite of the evidence of humankinds inhumanity to its own bolstered by religious prejudice, most Christians have done little or nothing to correct the theology which nurtures such hatred or develop avenues of understanding which counter the centuries of prejudice. While some notable strides have been made in post-holocaust theology which provide new ways of reading the biblical text, especially the Johannine and Pauline texts, we have done little to utilize those understandings in the preaching and teaching ministries of our churches. It is in recognition of a past and present among Baptists that are complicit in perpetuating negative stereotypes and myths concerning Jews, that we, the Alliance of Baptists, meeting in convocation on April 25, 2003, at Vienna, VA, adopt as an Institutional Understanding for Jewish-Christian Relations the following confessions and affirmations which were first adopted as a Resolution by those meeting in convocation at Vienna Baptist Church, Vienna, Virginia March 4, 1995: As individual members and churches of the Alliance of Baptists, we:
Confess our sin of complicity;
Confess our sin of silence;
Confess our sin of interpreting our sacred writings in such a way that we have created enemies of the Jewish people;
Confess our sins of indifference and inaction to the horrors of the Holocaust.
Confess our sin against the Jewish people; and Offer this confession with humility and with hope for reconciliation between Christians and Jews towards which end we will work.
As the Alliance of Baptists, institutionally, and as individual members and churches, we:
Affirm the teaching of the Christian Scriptures that God has not rejected the community of Israel, Gods covenant people (Romans 11:1-2), since the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29);
Renounce interpretations of Scripture which foster religious stereotyping and prejudice against the Jewish people and their faith;
Seek genuine dialogue with the broader Jewish community, a dialogue built on mutual respect and the integrity of each others’ faith;
Lift our voices quickly and boldly against all expressions of anti-Semitism;
Educate ourselves and others on the history of Jewish-Christian relations from the first century to the present, so as to understand our present by learning from our past; and
Commit ourselves to rigorous consideration of appropriate forms of Christian witness for our time. Adopted April 25, 2003 Vienna, Virginia.
I was quite surprised to find all of this … and had been unaware of 1900 plus years of anti-Jewish sentiment in the church. Doubtless one could go back and find some positives statements from churches towards the Jews in the midst of all of this but the overwhelming consensus is that certain teachings of contempt put out by the church helped set the stage for what followed in Nazis Germany. It would be a mistake to put all of the blame on the church but it would also be a mistake to ignore the church’s unfortunate historic contribution to the anti-Semitism in the world and the violence and denial of rights that it brought to God’s people the Jews. I would add that more than one Jewish reference tells of how poor of a witness we have been to Jesus as Messiah. I include one reference : http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4366-christianity-in-its-relation-to-judaism
So … as we have asked before … what can we learn from our past? What caused this to happen?
A literal distorted view of scripture
A decision that God had decreed certain groups of people … in this case … the Jews to a lesser status.
A lack of compassion for fellow human beings.
A decision that the church had the right to deny rights to another group of people based on their own sense of privilege and rightness with God. (This included religious freedom … medical care … marriage … and many other restrictions of rights)
Some solutions to the above ... to prevent it from ever happening again ... based on the research presented and my own conclusions are:
To have a more complex overarching view of scripture avoiding proof texting.
To strive to recognize the worth of all people ... that they are all precious and valued in God's sight.
To have compassion for all human beings as they are all made in God's image.
To support equal rights for all people ... even those with whom we might theologically disagree.
May the Lord help us to be faithful stewards to the principles of Christ ...may he help us to learn from our errors and follow the path he gives us into light and life extending His love, mercy, and compassion to all people.
Various references both included above and other references