Three monotheisms

Christian-Jewish reconciliation a model of hope

Mar 2, 2015 by

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The Catholic theologian Hans Küng has said, “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions.” Current tension between Islam and Christianity illustrates the truth of that statement. Peace seems far away, yet there is a precedent for hope. Historic change in Christian-Jewish relations over the past half century makes it possible to see a more peaceful future for the world’s three great monotheisms.

To repair relations with Jews, Christians have had to repent of prejudice and persecution. For centuries, Christians built their self-image partly in contrast to the perceived sins of Judaism. Jews were reviled as “Christ killers” whom God rejected and replaced with a new Israel, the church. The third-century church leader Origen declared, “The blood of Jesus falls on Jews not only then but on all generations until the end of the world.” From such ideas flowed centuries of persecution and eventually the Holocaust.

The mass murder of European Jews awakened Christians to the need to repent of evil acts and correct false beliefs. In 1965 the Roman Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council issued a “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.” It condemned the concept of Jews as rejected by God and as bearing collective guilt for Jesus’ death.

Today, some Christian writers are raising awareness that Jesus was a Jew who preached a Jewish message. “The disciples rallied to Jesus,” James Carroll writes in Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age (Viking, 2014), “not because he represented a transcendent break, or mutation, with a moribund, corrupt Jewish tradition, but because he so fully lived up to the vital and creative function that had been at the center of Jewish hope for most of two centuries.”

Nor did the Apostle Paul break with Judaism as he proclaimed Christ to the Gentiles: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). Carroll observes that Paul is saying that those who believe in Jesus are not replacing Israel but are being brought into Israel. They, too, are Abraham’s offspring. They, too, are Jews.

Today, anti-Semitism is not dead. But it is not socially acceptable, and we are not likely to hear someone in church call Jews “Christ killers.” Regarding Muslims, however, misinformation thrives openly. One might, in fact, hear a fellow Christian claim that Muslims worship Satan.

At a time when many people are anxious about Islamist militants but know little of the actual religion, Christians have a duty to take a stand against Islamophobia. Suspicion of other faiths has deep roots in American Christianity. The real threat to the integrity of our Christian witness comes from inside ourselves — from a failure to respect the humanity of those whose beliefs differ from our own.

Terrorists claiming the mantle of Islam are committing some of the most publicized crimes in the world today. Their distortion of the Islamic faith is well known; our Muslim neighbors do not need to apologize for them. Being a religious minority in America is hard enough already. Christians need to openly reject anti-Islamic prejudice and falsehoods in the same way that most have relegated anti-Semitism to the shameful past.

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