Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 45: Further Reflections on Anti-Semitism
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 45: Further Reflections on Anti-Semitism

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

I would like to comment further on anti-Semitism, for several reasons. Although Christians are called to follow Jesus’ example of love, compassion, and forgiveness, Christians have engaged in many episodes of scapegoating violence in which the victims were Jews. Of course, Jews are not alone among those who have been ostracized or killed in Christ’s name, other victims including people of color, Christians whose theology differs from that of the dominant culture, and homosexuals. I think such scapegoating is incompatible with a notion of a just and loving God. Unless we can show that scapegoating represents a perversion of Christianity, one must seriously question the value and validity of the faith.

I should add that I have a personal interest in anti-Semitism, because I am of Jewish heritage. Had I been living in Nazi Germany (an overwhelmingly Protestant Christian country), I would have been killed (despite my current Christian identity), my wife (raised Christian) and children would have been killed. While I may feel more vulnerable than most people, nobody is safe in a world in which anyone may become a victim of the scapegoating mechanism.

Anti-Semitism has always been a manifestation of scapegoating violence. Whether or not Christianity encourages anti-Semitism, then, is a good barometer of whether or not Christianity encourages scapegoating in general. Since the beginning of human civilization, people have maintained communal peace by scapegoating innocent victims, justified their violence as the will of their god or gods. Is Christianity like other religions in this respect, or does it reveal a way to avoid scapegoating? An encouraging sign is that leading social reformers, including many animal advocates, have been inspired by their Christian faith. Is Christianity part of the problem or part of the solution?

I turn to two passages that have often been used to justify anti-Semitism. As Jesus carried the cross on his back, he said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never gave suck!’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:28b-31) Some have interpreted this as a curse, but I think it is a prediction. Jesus predicted violence, destructiveness, and misery for those who failed to follow him. And, their children would experience even greater misery, because they would not have the benefit of a living Jesus to guide them towards a path of peace and love.

In the other passage, the high priest admonished the disciples, “‘you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s [Jesus’] blood on us.’ But Peter and the other apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.’” (Acts 5:28-31) The first part sounds like blaming – it appears that the disciples have accused the priests of murder. But, Peter answers that Jesus’ resurrection has been designed to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. In other words, the campaign is not to shift guilt from Jesus to the priests, but rather to demonstrate that Jesus’ ministry is about repentance and forgiveness.

We, not Jesus or the 12 apostles, are the ones who obsess over blame. Consequently, we scapegoat by either killing the innocent or attributing far more guilt to scapegoats than they deserve, thus absolving ourselves of any blame. This is why forgiveness is so central to Christian faith and why Jesus prayed, “Forgive them, father, for they know not what they do” rather than, “Give these killers the punishment they deserve.” Blaming the Jews for Jesus’ death is antithetical to Jesus saying, “Forgiven them father.”

The resurrection is a central event in the revelation of how people may become new creations in Christ. I will turn to this next.

Go on to: Part 46: The Resurrection, part 1: Jesus’ Innocence
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