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How Christians Can Support the Jewish Community as Antisemitism Spreads

How Christians Can Support the Jewish Community as Antisemitism Spreads

Antisemitism, defined as “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic or racial group,” has regained momentum in the 21st century. Recently, the Director of the FBI flagged antisemitism as “a pervasive and present fact,” and promised to combat the many recent threats of violent extremism. Overcoming this darkness involves all of us.

For those of us committed to oppose bigotry as followers of Jesus, fighting antisemitism will require a willingness to face ourselves in the history of Church antisemitism. It is a journey of recognizing that prejudice and arrogance against Jewish people is antithetical to the biblical reflection of God’s faithfulness to them. This understanding can empower a renewed commitment to be inclusive of all people as recipients of Christian compassion, with careful attention toward not excluding the Jewish people.

What many believers today may not realize is that Christianity has a long history of engaging in antisemitic perceptions, theology and persecutions. Anti-Jewish sentiment can be seen in the writings and teachings of some of the Church Fathers, and by the medieval period it was mainstream to denigrate and attack the Jews of Christian Europe. By the Reformation period, promotion of Christian-based persecution created fertile ground for the virulent anti-Jewish teachings of Martin Luther. During the Holocaust, there were Christians like Corrie Ten Boom who fought antisemitism through saving Jews at great personal cost. Unfortunately, however, the vast majority of Christendom in Europe was complicit with the Nazi drive to exterminate the Jews. Both church leaders and laypeople were collaborators or enablers of the horrific murder of millions.

These past offenses don’t have to remain a part of the Christian narrative moving forward. As believers, we have an opportunity today to change the story. We can live out the Gospel by recognizing the hurt that bearers of the name of Christ have caused in the past and step into a space of humility. And we can be transformed through the practice of solidarity with our Jewish communities. Education on the true nature and extent of antisemitism can help Christians stop the cycle of hate and build relationships with our Jewish neighbors.

Recently, the organization I work for took a delegation of Christian college students and young professionals to Pittsburgh soon after the four-year anniversary of the Tree of Life shooting, the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the United States. Because education begins with listening well, we were present with those who survived and the leaders who are helping the community to recover from the trauma caused by this violent attack.

We heard from Rabbi Myers, who was in the synagogue at the time of the shooting. We listened to four survivors of the shooting about what they went through that day. They spoke not only of the terror, but also of the overwhelming love and support they received from Christians all over the country, including the survivors of the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston, North Carolina. We had a discussion with the Holocaust Center about the realities of Christian antisemitism throughout our history, and we heard the facilitator’s gentle yet forthright answers to participants’ questions.

These experiences enabled us to walk in the shoes of the people who feel threatened and unsafe to be Jewish in America. As our participants learned more, they also began to wrestle with what tackling antisemitism on their campuses and at their workplaces looks like and made plans to engage with their local Jewish communities when they returned home.

This trip was a microcosm of the model Christians should follow to be a voice against antisemitism. Education is the first step we can take to learn how we can repair past breaches of trust. We learn by studying our past and by building relationships with the Jewish community in the present.

History doesn’t have to repeat itself. We have the opportunity to step into the flow of redemption and bring hope and healing. Engage with your local Jewish community. Come alongside them in your neighborhood, and ask them if they’ll share their stories, their heritage and their experiences of antisemitism with you. Listen well. Call out negative stereotypes of Jewish people at church if you encounter them. Refuse to believe conspiracy theories. As Christians, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to step into this space as we write a new story. Turning the page starts with us, and it starts today.

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