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“[T]he old covenant has been fulfilled and ended and a new and better way of relating to God is now available to us.” – Andy Stanley, Christianity Today, October 19, 2018

Christian Guilty Conscience

Liberal Christians—my tribe—have the kind of complex and loving relationship with Jews and Judaism that prompts us to grieve and to show up in solidarity when something like the Pittsburgh shooting happens. We’ve studied the grisly history of Christian anti-Judaism. We see the connection between, say, the Gospels’ collective blaming of Jews for the death of Christ and the deep stain of anti-Semitism running through the entire history of European Christianity. We quote our Martin Niemoeller’s “First they came for…” poem with abandon, even though it’s not clear that Niemoeller actually said what is commonly attributed to him.

At this moment being "correct" on the history and theology—and feeling guilty about Christianity's role in supporting Jew hatred—will not suffice.

We do not believe in supersessionism—the belief that Christians have replaced Jews as God’s people, a belief so widely understood as a major contributor to anti-Semitism that numerous Christian denominations rejected it after the Holocaust—and we complain about the vast majority of our fellow Christians who do, as articulated in the epigraph above from the most prestigious evangelical publication in the US.

And then what?

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This moment of terror for American Jews calls for a little more soul searching and a lot more action. Being “correct” on the history and theology—and feeling guilty about Christianity’s central role in supporting Jew hatred—will not suffice.

We might ponder this paradox: How is it that Judaism is both the most admired major faith and the most reviled? Is there a a deep and dangerous sibling rivalry at work here—a weird resentment that lurks even in the hearts of those of us who think we’ve completely uprooted all traces of anti-Semitism from our consciousness?

Further, in thinking about the resurgence of white nationalism, do we see clearly how it’s an insistence on white Christian supremacy that most accurately characterizes the powerful poison in the body politic? That was true in the KKK’s revival during the 1920s, and it’s still true now. The haters have a very specific idea about who is entitled to be “white,” and in their minds Jews will never qualify.

On the action tip, what are we prepared to do beyond the statements and the solidarity vigils now taking place? If ever there were a moment to rededicate ourselves to working for radical inclusion, this would be that moment. Those of us who have pulpits or other platforms should say clearly, Yes, we are internationalists—and here is what that means. No, we will not tolerate a politics that treats anyone as “lesser than” or less deserving of justice and dignity. And every single time we see marginalization and injustice happening we will speak up and show up. 

What has been a long-running culture war is rapidly morphing into what looks to be, effectively, even without the gunfire, actual civil war—or at the very least the moral equivalent. That’s deeply sobering, of course, and it should make us deeply sad. But if that is indeed our situation, we have no choice but to commit everything we’ve got to prevailing.

peter laarman 2018

Peter Laarman
Religion Dispatches