Antisemitism and Anti-Israel Mainline Christian Resolutions

I wrote the email below in response to a Jewish leader.

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I certainly do not have all the answers to this.  But I still believe that we cannot underestimate historical prejudices against Jews, both inside and outside of Christianity.  Anti-Semitism may not be the best term, but it’s the only one we have that has any real meaning to people (anti-Judaism is a soft term that renders hate academic and gets people off the hook).  Anti-Semitism is embedded in Christian consciousness and does not disappear just because we all get together in dialogue groups and feel good about our broad-mindedness.  Nor do scholarly discussions of the Jewishness of early Christianity substantially change the way large numbers of ordinary people still think and live.  And the problem exists just as much among evangelicals and fundamentalists.  Their agenda happens for a moment to align with the mainstream Jewish agenda.  That can change in the blink of an eye, however.  Considering the Jewishness of Jesus (and even Paul), this fact still amazes me, but it is what it is.

William Nicholls has written an excellent book on this subject (with a discussion of left-wing anti-Semitism as well) and offers some possible intellectual solutions:  Christian Antisemitism:  A History of Hate (Northvale, NJ:  Jason Aronson, 1995).  I highly recommend it to you (especially chapters 10-13).  In the meantime, we have to develop relationships with Christians (especially key leaders) in mainline denominations that are based on human connections and intimate friendships where we interact with one another in day-to-day life (not just in professional meetings or dialogue groups).  This is the key.  I believe that a divestment resolution was not proposed at the General Assembly in part because of the relationships I have with certain Disciples, my willingness to take time out to work with them behind the scenes, and their consequent willingness to put themselves on the line by standing up against some of their friends (as well as long-term allies) and opposing the resolution against the barrier.  This required tremendous courage on their part that none of us should underestimate.  We need to acknowledge them and thank them (and others like them) profusely.  Each one of them is a mensch.  The supporters of the resolution knew they had a fight on their hands and made a tactical decision to postpone divestment until another day.  They also were surprised by the number of people voting against the resolution (about one-third).  Bonds among people often transcend prejudices and ideologies by establishing a mutual basis for trust.  There were other factors at the Disciples’ General Assembly, but this one was fundamental.

If Jewish leaders can establish closer ties to certain Christians, this will have a profound effect.  Such a process may involve going to a church service as a Jew or discussing a Christian topic or going to hear lectures on Christian theology.  These are necessary steps to effect mutual respect and healing.  When I teach or write on a Christian topic, the response is always more positive than I anticipate, and it changes the way Christians view my presentations and publications on Jewish subjects (including political ones).  At the same time, one always maintains one’s Jewish identity and does not back down when presented with anti-Semitic attitudes and beliefs.  Developing personal relationships allows for honest and frank conversation and exchange in a way that professional posturing does not.  The practical effect is the development of trust that can trump ideology. This may be difficult and uncomfortable, but it can work.  What we’re doing now does not. Admittedly, in Nazi-occupied Europe and (more recently) in the former Yugoslavia, friends and neighbors turned on one another in vicious ways.  So there are certainly no guarantees.  In that type of situation, the persecuted can only flee, resist, or hope to rely on the truly righteous (i.e. Righteous Gentiles).  I do not think that we now face such a predicament.  In the present circumstances, personal connections still offer us the best opportunities and the most hope.

Of course, we have to continue outlining the arguments (which I very much enjoy doing), but people tend to listen more attentively and openly when there is fundamental trust.  Obviously, the more of us engaged in building such relationships, the more effective we will be.  That’s my two cents, for what it’s worth.

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DR. LAURENCE H. KANT (LARRY KANT), MYSTIC SCHOLAR: Engaged Mysticism and Scholarship in the Pursuit of Wisdom; Discovering meaning in every issue and facet of life; Integrating scholarship, spirituality, mysticism, poetry, community, economics, and politics seamlessly. Historian of Religion: Ph.D., Yale University, 1993 (Department of Religious Studies); Exchange Scholar, Harvard University, Rabbinics, 1983-84; M.A., 1982, Yale, 1982 (Department of Religious Studies); M.T.S., Harvard Divinity School, 1981; B.A., Classics (Greek and Latin), Tufts University, 1978; Wayland High School (Wayland, MA), 1974. Served on the faculty of Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), York University (Toronto), and Lexington Theological Seminary (Lexington, KY). Works in many languages: Ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, English, French, Italian, German, Modern Greek (some Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish). Holder of numerous honors and awards, including The Rome Prize in Classics (Prix de Rome) and Fellow of the American Academy of Rome.
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