The Church’s Original Sin – Baptist News Global
Last week we observed the Shoah, or Holocaust, on Remembrance Day. It is therefore good to consider the original sin of the Church. If America’s original sin is slavery, the church’s original sin is anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism.
Before the New Testament was fully written. we see the proof. In the middle of the first century, the synagogue and the church were going through a painful divorce, and things were being said that are often said in such times. It went both ways. The tragedy is that the church took those early writings and made them normative, turned them into anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism.
If you look at the passion accounts in the four gospels in chronological order, you see that Rome is less and less the villain of Jesus’ death and the Jews more and more the villain. By the time you get to John, the term “the Jews” is often used with negative associations.
Fast forward to the Middle Ages in Europe where virulent anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism were taught in churches, which helped set the stage for the Holocaust. Centuries of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism have flourished in the churches – Martin Luther, tragically, is no exception.
In the Passion plays, the Jews were portrayed as the wicked “Christ killers”. Sometimes a Jew would be dragged onto the stage and his beard whisked out. The Mel Gibson movie The passion of Christimitates the anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism of this tradition.
When I was in Charlotte, the Chief Rabbi of Temple Beth-el, Judy Schindler, and I took our two congregations to see a film as an opportunity to talk about Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Watching it was very painful for our Jewish friends. There was apprehension and tension after the film – before we followed the viewing with a fruitful and healing discussion in the synagogue.
In the early years of our nation, European anti-Jewish bigotry continued in full swing. When Roger Williams, father of the Baptist movement in America, founded Rhode Island as a colony of religious tolerance and religious freedom, the charter stated that the colony would be open to “Protestants, Papists (Catholics), Turks (Muslims), and Jews.” The first Jewish synagogue in America was established there. Rhode Island became a laboratory for the doctrines of religious liberty and religious tolerance later enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution.
“In the early years of our nation, European anti-Jewish fanaticism continued at full blast.”
But anti-Jewish hatred persists. New York Times Writer Michele Goldberg wrote last week about the alarming rise in anti-Semitism in recent times. The Anti-Defamation League reported last week that there were more anti-Semitic incidents reported in 2021 than in any year since it began tracking them more than 40 years ago. Anti-Semitism rose under President Donald Trump, she wrote — and has only gotten worse since.
The white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 paraded vicious anti-Jewish signs and shouted anti-Jewish slogans, some straight out of Third Reich Nazism. Such activity has continued increasingly since. Anti-Semitism is part of the deadly brew of white supremacy.
The church took a long time to rise his hated, slower anti-Jewish voice to examine his 2,000 years of complicity in violence against Jews and Judaism. I am convinced that every Ash Wednesday, the first of the sins to be confessed by the church and Christians should be the public confession of the original sin of the church, anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism.
Martin Niemoller, a German pastor and theologian and prominent leader of the Confessing Church movement that opposed the Nazification of the German Church, is best known for these words: “They came first for the socialists, and I didn’t speak — because I wasn’t a socialist. Then they were for trade unionists, and I didn’t speak — because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t say anything — because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me”
These are still alarming words, most relevant in our time when the scapegoating of different and vulnerable people becomes a political pillar of our culture, a virtual guarantee of votes and money. But there is one important and hopeful thing to know about Niemoller: he was once a Nazi and he has changed. Every day we can choose for Christ, truth and love.
Stephen Shoemaker serves as pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Statesville, NC He previously served as pastor of Myers Park Baptist in Charlotte, NC; Broadway Baptist in Fort Worth, Texas, and Crescent Hill Baptist in Louisville, Ky.