thoughts about the peace train - part five...

NOTE:  For the next week, I am going to post my thoughts, reflections, concerns as well as an alternative action to the current BDS strategy of boycotting, divesting and sanctioning all of Israel in pursuit of Palestinian justice Not only does the BDS shotgun approach denigrate the whole of Israeli society rather than focus upon the ugly actions within the Occupied Territories, I believe the movement's ambiguous goals can all too easily be manipulated to advance genuinely antisemitic objectives.  Further, as a Christian contemplative, I have been persuaded that a bold people-to-people strategy - along with prayer, creative economic incentives and real political pressure directed towards US legislators - introduces effective, albeit costly nonviolent strategies geared towards long-term change rather than symbolic actions that create the illusion of righteousness without significant results. Let me state at the outset, however, that I don't pretend to have a monopoly upon wisdom. I also recognize that people of good will are likely to disagree with my conclusions. I welcome your insights but ask that you share them in the spirit and tone of peace and respect.(This is part five of a six part series.)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Vatican II's landmark papal proclamation: Nostra Aetate (In Our Time.) Acknowledging the historical linkage between Christian anti-Semitism and the Shoah (Holocaust), this document removed from the liturgy prayers that blamed Jews for the death of Christ and initiated a relationship with Judaism built upon repentance and reconciliation. It is important to note that the first draft of In Our Time was entitled, Decretum de Iudaeis" ("Decree on the Jews.") Vatican II's final draft spoke to other religions, too - but the impetus was the Church's age old sin of  anti-Semitism.: "What happened in His (Christ's) passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today."

The Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ. Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

Anti-Semitism - Christian or otherwise - is yet another concern that inhibits my support of the BDS. Dr. Amy-Jill Levine makes this important observation in her new book, Short Stories by Jesus, about the pernicious and all-pervasive nature of anti-Semitism.  "I am not suggesting that preachers who deliver anti-Jewish messages from the pulpit or academics who wind up inculcating them in the classrooms are bigots. Lack of education is not the same thing as hatred; misinformation is not the same thing as slander."(p. 22) My hunch is that she hits the nails squarely on the head with this noting that much of our (and I include myself in this) applied anti-Semitism is born of both ignorance and training within the Church. And it is up to us both as individuals and as an institution to address it head on.

+ I did not know that after the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed in 70 CE, "for the centuries that Christians controlled Jerusalem, especially during the stretch between Constantine's revalorizing of the city in 335 and the Muslim conquest in 638, the Temple Mount served as a trumpeted sacrament of Jewish defeat: that is, the Temple Mount served as the city's garbage dump." (Carroll, Christ Actually, p. 299)

+ I did not know the extent of the intra-Jewish theological debates during the first 50 years of Christianity that, in time, became anti-Semitic ammunition rather than points in a spiritual argument among Judaism. I did not grasp the depth of terror and violence unleashed against the Jews of the Roman Empire. "It is hard for the Christian imagination to accommodate (that) in Palestine (between 69-81 CE) blood had run in the gutters of Jerusalem and the carrion stench of thousands of Jewish corpses had fouled the air for years." (Carroll, p. 204)

Across the vast stretch of the Roman Empire, citizens and colonized alike carried tokens - literally - of this expressly Jewish ground of imperial grandeur. Begginning in 71, by order of Vespasian, coins were struck with the engraving JUDEA CAPTA, above the female personification of the Jewish people, a beaten woman in mourning under a palm tree, the symbol of Jerusalem. The ancient phrases Judea Capta has resonance with the paradigmatically modern word juderien - clean of Jews in the Nazi argot. And for the next twenty-five years, Judea Capta coins were minted in every denomination, in dozens of separate casts (for) the wealth of Rome was literally the vanquished Jew.
(Carroll, p. 205)

And on and on it goes. Dr. Levine goes on to note that in the contemporary liberal seminaries the historical context of our Scriptures has become de-emphasized in favor of "newer approaches - including pretty much anything beginning with "post," as in post-modern, post-colonial, post-critical and so on." (Levine, p. 22)

These various approaches arose in part as a response to earlier forms of historical work, in which the historian claimed to be doing objective work, when instead he (it usually was a "he") was projecting his own cultural values and theological views on the ancient materials... some of today's generation, however, have tossed out all historical work: they prefer to find meanings from their own perspective. What the text might have meant to Jesus or to his first followers becomes either an impossible or irrelevant question. The more the parables (and other texts) become detached from their own setting, the more the demons of anti-Jewish readings easily enter.

At this moment in time, therefore, with a stalemate in existence between Israel and Palestine concerning peace and justice, I find it extremely valuable to be careful about reading our ancient biases and ignorance into the contemporary context. Without such care, nothing creative will break the impasse and transform the moment. Again, my analysis of the BDS movement suggests strategies and actions born from profound and righteous frustration. But such anguish is all the more reason to be careful to counter the real, imagined, perceived or hidden anti-Semitism that lurks around the edges of this movement. Not all of it, and perhaps not most, but it is a reality to be considered.

I recently watched a short YouTube presentation on “the Palestinian problem” aired by the Friends of Sabeel – an ecumenical liberation theology center in Jerusalem - in which the presenter made the case that Jesus was a Palestinian. “He was from Galilee – that’s in Palestine – that makes Jesus a Palestinian!”  Such sophistry is manipulative and dishonest: Jesus was a Jew. A first century Jew who practiced a spirituality deeply rooted in the Law and the Prophets.  As James Carroll has written in his Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age:

Jesus must not be imagined… as a pretend Jew, any more than he can be regarded as having been a pretend human being. If he preached the good news of love; of the trustworthiness of God, who is like a father, of the Kingdom of God present here and now, he did so from within Judaism, not against. He preached not a New Testament God (of love) in opposition to an Old Testament God (of judgment), but one God: the God of Israel, pure and simple.

For 2,000 years there has been a vicious and premeditated effort to deny and obscure this truth. And while there are varying theological and historical reasons for our  continued anti-Semitism, to deny that it still infects Christianity from Roman Catholicism and Protestant Reformed faith to those practicing the Eastern Orthodox tradition is naive and ill-informed at best – and more often than not a manipulative lie. I see strains of this lie in some of Sabeel’s efforts to question contemporary Israel as they work in solidarity with Palestine. Given this brutal legacy, it is irresponsible and dangerous to confuse the first century Judaism of Jesus with modern day Palestine.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, an historic peace activist and critic of Israel who has worked closely with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others in clarifying and refining any apartheid/crucifixion parallels, put it like this: “Whether Sabeel understands it or not, this attacks the sense of Israelis and Jews elsewhere in the world of what it means to have a two-state solution altogether. As people have said, “What’s the point of having two Palestinian states alongside each other?
So, if there is to be a state which in fact has a special relationship to Jewish history and to the Jewish people and to an attempt to generate out of Jewish values what statehood means then it isn’t going to be a state flooded with and whose majority ends up being people who don’t share those values.” He continued:

Then there's another aspect of Sabeel's view of the world which I think is even more scary to many, many, many Jews and that is something I understand very well coming out of a Christian view of liberation theology. I have both taught and met with and so on leaders of Christian liberation theology in Latin America and when Latin American Christian liberation theologians and folks appeal to the history of what became Christianity under the thumb of the Roman empire and talk about the crucifixion of Jesus by the roman empire ... and from their viewpoint of course the resurrection of  the Christ as teaching of what it means to transcend imperial power, in the Latin American context it's clear that the empire you're talking about is America and it makes sense. 

I understand that to Sabeel to talk about the crucifixion of Jesus seems on the surface like that’s the same thing, but when you are doing it in the context of a Jewish state, when you're doing it in the context of 2000 years of Jewish suffering from the Christian dogma of deicide that the Jews killed God and the violence that has been visited on the Jewish community by people upholding that theology, to hear that strikes a nerve that has 2000 years of pain behind it and that has to be heard.

The pain has to be heard. And if Jews can't explain it to Sabeel because it will look like and maybe it is self-defensive for me even to say it, then I think that Christians have to try to say it that there needs to be in that situation there needs to be a different metaphor a different language a different way of drawing on Christian liberation theology.

I connect with Rabbi Waskow in my heart, in my mind and in my flesh.  As a Christian, we must search for and articulate new metaphors for oppression. This is vital for any healthy and honest discussion of what takes place in contemporary Israel. It is also a requirement "of our time." I know that over the course of my ministry I, too, have spoken in ignorance and bias - not intentionally, of course - but because of the deep rooted anti-Semitism embedded in my tradition, my education and the culture of my Church. I have also been challenged, encouraged and corrected by compassionate and wise colleagues from other faith traditions. In this I think once again of Dr. Levine who has written that 21st century people of faith are not responsible for what took place in the past, but we must deal with it. We need not ask for forgiveness for things done in the name of Christianity (or Islam or Judaism) in the past – that is not our calling - but we must work through the consequences of that past that still infects the present.


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