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When has the Church acted the most shamefully?
A small news item caught my eye as I was first researching this material. It concerned the then Bishop of Durham's reaction to a small addition to the Church of England's prayer book at Easter-time. The prayer in question was written as God speaking to His Church, saying "I grafted you into the tree of my chosen Israel and you turned on them with persecution and mass murder. I made you joint heirs with them of my covenants, but you made them scapegoats for your own guilt."
"This is turning the Church into a scapegoat for anti-Semitism", he said, adding that he interpreted the prayer as God accusing the Christians of persecution and of inducing an anti-Semitic culling of the Jews. He said that this prayer made several statements that were "biblically and theologically unjustifiable" and also remarked that the thrust of the prayer has, "never been mainstream Church of England teaching."
Perhaps he's right. Perhaps the sentiments of the prayer are going a little too far and it's all a bit unfair on our State Church. Words mean nothing unless backed with facts, so we must explore these facts ourselves to see whether the Bishop of Durham is justified in his righteous anger.
In a previous article we met Rabbi Akiva, who felt real joy and certainty that, just as it said in the Book of Zechariah, one day in the future there would be peace in Jerusalem. He was a man of great faith and was willing to stand up and be counted when it mattered. He was the latest in a long line of Jewish martyrs, who died performing Kiddush HaShem, the highest calling for any Jew. He was tortured and killed by the Romans and it is said that he suffered no pain until the red-hot iron combs they were using to peel the skin from his flesh reached the place on his forehead where his tefillin would rest, and it was then that he screamed "Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohaynu, Adonai, Echad." Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one". (Deuteronomy 6:4).
Kiddush HaShem, Sanctification of the Name, is to give up one's life rather than submit to the betrayal of one's belief in God and abandonment of Judaism for another religion. Akiva died a martyr, a tradition of the Jews way before the Christians came along. It is a sad and tragic fact that Kiddush HaShem has resulted more from Christian persecution than by any other. How on earth can that be?
If anti-Semitism is defined as hatred of the Jews, so how then would we define Christian anti-Semitism. That's surely an oxymoron, two words that couldn't possibly inhabit the same sentence, let alone joined together as a phrase! That's true, which is why we'll instead be using the phrase "Christian" anti-Semitism. A subtle change, but a necessary one because there is absolutely, definitely nothing Christian about anti-Semitism, yet more anti-Semitic acts have been committed by "Christians" than by any other. Witness the following:
On July 15th, 1099, the First Crusade arrived in Jerusalem and proceeded to slaughter every Jew they could find, many burnt alive in the synagogue. After this monstrous act they went on a procession to church, singing hymns on the way and wading ankle deep in the blood of their victims. Tens of thousands of Jews and Muslims were massacred at the hands of the "Christians". An eyewitness, William, Archbishop of Tyre, said, "They cut down with the sword every one whom they found in Jerusalem, and spared no one. The victors were covered with blood from head to foot. It was a most affecting sight which filled the heart with holy joy to see the people tread the holy places in the fervor of an excellent devotion."
Needless to say, Kiddush HaShem became commonplace during the Crusades. The Crusaders created the first experience of large numbers of Jews dying for Kiddush HaShem. Thousands of Jewish women, fearing rape and violation, chose to die for Kiddush HaShem. They died as martyrs to the very same God that their persecutors claimed to worship. It was an unbelievable tragedy and, human sensibilities aside, can you imagine what this did to the heart of God?
Is it not surprising that Jews through the ages, witnessing these and other acts by "Christians" have said, "If this is Christianity then you can keep it!" We must turn the remark into a question and ask, "Is this Christianity and, if so, what went wrong because it's surely not the faith in a risen Jesus Christ?" So what went wrong?
What went wrong was that the early Gentile Church made a decision, based on a questionable interpretation of the Bible, that the Jews were no longer God's chosen people and certainly not a kingdom of priests. They took it further by declaring that not only had the Jews lost their privileged position, but that they were eternally cursed by a fickle God, for whom love had now turned to hate. Now this was not the God who had said, 'I have loved you with an everlasting love' (Jeremiah 31:3), it was not the God of the Bible, but it was a convenient "man-made" God of the "Christians", who were looking for justifications for their acts of hatred, greed and depravity.
More next week.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Outcast Nation )