Monday, October 22, 2012

A Letter Of Betrayal

Christian-Jewish Relations

Christian-Jewish relations took another setback when 15 leaders of Christian churches sent a letter to the U.S. Congress to ask them "to reconsider giving aid to Israel because of accusations of human rights violations," the New York Times reports. The Times adds: "The signers, besides the Presbyterians, included leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker agency) and the Mennonite Central Committee. Two Catholic leaders also signed, one with the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, an umbrella group of men’s religious orders."
The Christian leaders say their intention was to put the Palestinian plight and the stalled peace negotiations back in the spotlight at a time when all of the attention to Middle East policy seems to be focused on Syria, the Arab Spring and the Iranian nuclear threat. “We asked Congress to treat Israel like it would any other country,” said the Rev. Gradye Parsons, the top official of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), “to make sure our military aid is going to a country espousing the values we would as Americans — that it’s not being used to continually violate the human rights of other people.”
The Jewish leaders responded to the action as a momentous betrayal and announced their withdrawal from a regularly scheduled Jewish-Christian dialogue meeting planned for Monday. In a statement, the Jewish leaders called the letter by the Christian groups “a step too far” and an indication of “the vicious anti-Zionism that has gone virtually unchecked in several of these denominations.”
“Something is deeply broken, badly broken,” said Ethan Felson, vice president and general counsel of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group that helped to convene the meeting. “We’re certainly not getting anywhere now.”
Such is as true a statement you'll ever hear. Although such political moves might not represent the majority of the people in the pews, it is nevertheless disturbing. Betrayal is the right word to describe such actions, but then again the problem likely lies in the New Testament's narrative of the Jews, colouring the ability of many of its followers to recognize the church's complicity in their long tortured history of persecution of the Jewish People. For example, it was only in 1994 that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America officially rejected Martin Luther's anti-Semitic writings, with its 1994 “Declaration to the Jewish Community.”

It was a good start, as was what the Catholic Church did in 1965, led in its efforts by Augustin Bea, a Jesuit priest from Baden, Germany, and who was head of the Secretariat for Christian Unity. But even a conservative Catholic as Paul Johnson, the noted historian, admits that the document, "Declarations of the Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions," hasn't gone as fair as it should. Johnson writes in A History of the Jews (1987):
It was a grudging document, less forthright than Bea had hoped, making no apology for the church's persecution of the Jews, and inadequate acknowledgement of the contribution of Judaism to Christianity. The key passage read: "True the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in his passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, not against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be represented as rejected of God or accursed, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures." This was not much. But it was something. In view of the fierce opposition it aroused, it might even be considered a great deal. (517)
Since then, many Protestant churches and some Catholic orders have turned their attention to liberation theology, human rights and social issues, in their general drift "Left," which has left them over the years with a steeply declining membership. Some astute church commentators attribute their loss in members to a straying from original goals, or mission, if you will, including the necessity of improving and repairing relations with the Jewish People.

Is this not the expected outcome of having short memories and unrealistic short-term goals? [Note: The evangelicals, on the other hand, have been exemplary and unwavering in their support for Israel; they are also increasing in numbers.] So, the letter has been sent; and, as far as the outcome is concerned, it will only worsen relations between Christians and Jews, which took decades to build. That's not a thing to cheer about.

You can read the rest of the article at [New York Times]