Sometimes the day’s headlines bump right into my Bible reading, headlines like “Hate Groups Invade the Capitol Building.”
I prepare my weekly column “The Preacher and the Word” for the Tideland News by using the lectionary, an interdenominational list of scriptures that, over a three-year cycle, provides a comprehensive study of the entire Bible. There are weekly passages from the Christian Gospels, Epistles and Jewish scriptures. This includes a thorough study of the Torah, Prophets, Wisdom literature and history. It is a great personal joy to read these books. My Christian faith is simply incomplete without studying our Hebrew/Jewish roots. “The Preacher and the Word” is Biblical meditation. Today’s events prompt me to writing an essay.
Which leads me again to the headlines. The Anti-Defamation League reports that incidents of extremism and anti-Semitism went up 32 percent nationwide in 2019; 65 such incidents occurred in North Carolina. There are 32 hate groups in our state, at least one of which participated in the January Insurrection. Some identify themselves as Christian. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, many of these anti-Semitic organizations have circulated white-supremacist propaganda, vandalized synagogues and cemeteries and assaulted Jews in the state. In our area, this has meant extra security at Temple B’nai Sholem in New Bern where there was vandalism a year ago.
Only in shame can we in the Christian tradition be held accountable for a major share of anti-Semitism. Beginning with the early church fathers, there has been a continual history of persecution and violence against Jews, notably including – with much shame – the venomous statements of Martin Luther, whose words were used by Hitler to justify the Holocaust.
The Christian relationship with Jews is complicated, in part, because of the way we read the Bible.
Some Christians denigrate the Old Testament in contrast to the New Testament because it is called “old,” I guess out of date or not as useful. Of course, Christians favor the gospels and epistles, but should resist the temptation to lessen the importance of the Jewish scripture. Hebrew/Jewish stories of the Creation and almost 2,000 years of Holy History are absolutely important primary documents in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Before Christian scripture was written, the only text the early church used was the Torah. The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible begins with this title, “The Hebrew Scriptures commonly called the Old Testament.”
Christians sometimes feel there is a different concept of God in the Jewish scriptures over/against the Divine they find in the New Testament. Pitting the authenticity of the Old against the New Testaments is questionable. In most cases such an evaluation is incorrect. The same God who inspired the Hebrew patriarchs as well as Jesus, his band of disciples and the infant church.
Christians have identified Jesus Christ and the church as the New Covenant, believing theirs supersedes the Old Covenant which had been made with the Jewish people. Therefore, early Christians concluded that God abandoned the Jews, an attitude that led to centuries of anti-Semitism and persecution. Finally, we have an important correction---statements from the Roman Catholic and United Methodist (2012) churches affirm that the original covenant between God and the Israelites is still in effect. “God’s covenant with Israel by God’s faithfulness is not broken.”
Christians acknowledge that, through Jesus, Christians are family members of the Abrahamic tradition. We seek atonement for our centuries of abuse and need to show respect, appreciation and love to our Jewish sisters and brothers.
The intimate bond that Christians and Jews share originates in the scriptures. The primary belief of Judaism is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he responded, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Now we have a special mandate to disavow ourselves from any group or belief that advocates white supremacy, bias and prejudice against Jews. Likewise, it is necessary to seek justice for any group or person responsible for vandalism or assault against Jews.
The same God inspires Christians today. The same God inspires Jews today. Time to celebrate!
Jim Brewster is a retired minister. He writes a weekly column for the Tideland News.