Christendom has dissolved, but the seeds of anti-Semitism remain, as evidenced by the burning of synagogues in Marseilles and the anti-Semitic attacks in Montpellier and Paris at the beginning of April.
Of course, you’ve heard that the church has been forced to accept the culture’s anti-Semitism, especially during the Nazi regime. So, it is claimed, anti-Semitism is not a natural outcome of the church’s theology or life.
Yet the results of a 2000 study by Dutch sociologists indicate otherwise: traditional Christian religion (Protestant and Catholic) is still one of the determinants of secular anti-Semitism. Anti-Jewish sentiment, the study found, was as prevalent among churchgoers as in Dutch society at large.
The Lutheran Church of Bavaria was courageous enough to look at the implications of its teaching and its effect on society. It recently declared that the church shared guilt in the atrocities of the Shoah due to the church’s implicitly anti-Semitic theology.
In an official declaration, it admitted that anti-Semitism was embedded in Luther’s own teaching. However, Luther does not bear the blame alone. The Western church has a long history of violent anti-Semitism and suppression of the rights of Jews.
One may recall that the first pogroms performed by the church in the fourth century gained the support of St. Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan.
Through the four traditional Doctors of the Latin Church (Saints Jerome, Augustine, Gregory and Ambrose), anti-Semitism infected the Catholic, and later Protestant, posture toward the Jews. The record only gets worse with the Crusades, Inquisition, Jewish ghettoes in medieval towns and the Shoah of the 20th century.
Richard Hays, in The Moral Vision of the New Testament, discusses Christians’ distorted vision of Jews and Judaism that has led to tragic results in Christian history. Respect for Jews (and for any others, for that matter) is the ethical barometer of any Christian theological system. The current conflict in Palestine makes the issue of anti-Semitism all the more acute.
What about Baptists in Europe? Historically, they have not done much better than the culture at large. They have tried different ways to find a place for the Jews in their theology.
One approach viewed them as a mission field, a group like any other to be evangelized. Another approach served millenarians and dispensationalists, who used the Jewish nation as a means to achieve their own eschatological vision. Another view simply followed the culture in its disdain of the Jews.
We can learn something from Bulgaria. The leadership of its Orthodox Church has respected and stood for Jews in times of danger. The country’s political realm has embraced Jews as well.
For example, a national Bulgarian newspaper, 24 Chasa, reported on a recent visit of the country’s minister of foreign affairs to Washington, D.C. While there, he participated in a meeting of Orthodox rabbis. The minister was allowed to address the group for one minute, and this is what he said:
“Shalom. I am Solomon Pasi, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria. As you know, this country is known for its respect for the Jews. It is also known for the fact that it saved 50,000 Jews from the genocide during the Second World War. Moreover, Bulgaria has not only respected and saved its Jews, but elects them as Ministers of Foreign Affairs.”
So is a different way of relating to the Jews possible for Baptists? Can we learn to respect Jewish faith and culture?
First, we must repent for past misdeeds, as some Christian bodies have been courageous enough to do. Yet that alone is not sufficient. The prophetic voice of the church, condemning all ethnic or religious suppression, including anti-Semitism, is also needed and is still largely missing.
Yet even this will not be enough. The church should embark on the apostolic mission of educating itself and society of another way of living together.
And finally, we should be ready to embrace and care for those abused because of their race, ethnicity or faith.
Parush Parushev is director of applied theology at the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, Czech Republic.