A letter to our churches about anti-Semitism

Apr. 27, 1999
CPT Steering Committee: A letter to our churches about anti-Semitism*

[The following letter on Christian anti-Semitism was developed at a CPT
Steering Committee meeting in response to CPT Hebron's concern that our
work with Jewish partners have integrety. The letter is now being
delivered to various church institutions by Steering Committee members to
stimulate discussion and action.]

Recently we have been reminded of the persistence and pervasiveness of
anti-Jewish bias in our denominations. In our peacemaking work in Israel
and the West Bank we work cooperatively with Jews and Moslems; we are
working with people who are taking significant risks for peace. They reach
out, beyond their fears, in the hope that people of different faiths can
respect each other enough to live as neighbors. Our relationships with
Jews are threatened when expressions of Christian anti-Semitism rekindle
their fears and memories of the role of Christianity in fostering hate and
violence towards Jews.

Some of our churches are doing significant anti-racism work. Thankfully,
there is no longer any credible theology undergirding racism. In contrast,
we still have many adherents who use theological arguments to support their
anti-Semitism. We have encountered simplistic characterizations of the
Hebrew Bible as vengeful and ungraceful, beliefs that Jesus' criticisms of
some Jewish leaders of his day apply to all Jews then and now, and
Christian Zionism, in which Jews become pawns with magical power in an
end-times drama.

It is our sense that we need to undertake strong denominational educational
efforts to understand how our theological assumptions have been shaped by
an anti-Semitic ideology. We can begin by acknowledging that ignorance of
the history of Christian anti-Semitism is a problem, our problem. Whether
we like it or not, even whether we know it or not, we are the spiritual
heirs of the Crusaders, of those who expelled the Jews from medieval Spain,
of those who refused asylum to Jews fleeing the Holocaust; others remember
even if we don't. We suggest, as one starting point, that the following
questions be addressed by our denominational educational and publishing

* Where in our school curricula are our students taught about the history
of Christian anti-Semitism? Are they exposed to modern Judaism as a
living faith?

* Where in our seminaries are future church leaders given the tools to
confront anti-Semitism in congregations they may pastor, in church
conferences, or in ministerial associations?

* In our congregations and meetings, does the theology in our Sunday or
First Day School curricula prepare our members for respectful encounters
with Jews?

Many CPTers have made a commitment to confront anti-Semitism wherever they
encounter it, whether on the street, in sermons or in jokes. We ask you to
join us in this commitment, knowing that it will be neither easy nor
comfortable. We encourage you to raise this concern in your communications
with conference and congregational/meeting leadership. We look forward to
your response to the above questions, and to further discussion.

Christian Peacemaker Teams Steering Committee

Dale Aukerman, Union Bridge, MD; Bob Bartel, Waldheim, SK Canada; Anne
Blackwood, Philadelphia, PA; Pat Hostetter Martin, Harrisonburg, VA;
Cliff Kindy, North Manchester, IN; Retha McCutchen, Richmond, IN; Trayce
Petersen, Richmond, IN; Doug Pritchard, Toronto, ON Canada; Orlando
Redekopp, Chicago, IL; Hedy Sawadsky, Vineland, ON Canada; Muriel
Stackley, Pawneee Rock, KS
John Stoner, Akron, PA

*(We use the term "anti-Semitism" in its popular sense, recognizing that
this causes a problem for our Arab friends, who are also a Semitic people.
For them, using "anti-Semitic" to mean "anti-Jewish" seems to be a way to
render them invisible. We do not equate criticism of Israeli government
policies with anti-Semitism.)