To build bridges and to bring healing, we must diagnose the disease. Jews have suffered at the hands of Christians for two thousand years. Modern Christians often retreat into claims of, “Those weren’t true Christians,” or “I support the Jews and Israel,” or even “My church are not Nazis.” Such defensive claims fail to grasp the role Christian theology played in the atrocities of the past. They also refuse to see how such theology remains within most branches of Christianity today.
So how do we build bridges?
We begin with ourselves. We learn. Jesus belonged to the world of ancient Judaism. He did not seek to create a new religion. What does it mean that He was a Jew? We do not need to be. But He was not like us. We acknowledge. We investigate the history of Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. We do not simply learn the facts. We discover their penetration into our theologies. Before we can build, we must properly understand the depths of these roots within Christian movements.
We hold ourselves accountable. Preaching and teaching need to reflect the reality of the ancient Jewish identity of Jesus and His early followers, including Paul. Separating them from their Jewish identities impacts how Christians relate to Jews and Judaism. It influences, even in subtle ways, the fermentation of Christian anti-Judaism. When we have done these things, we equip ourselves to listen and communicate with Jewish people.
To date, the Catholic Church is the only branch of Christianity to address the questions of Jews, Judaism, and Israel in a post-Holocaust world. They did this in the Second Vatican Council. Protestant Christianity has not. But even more significant, Protestantism has not confronted the anti-Judaism at the heart of its theology. To perform such a surgery may be impossible.
We cannot pass by the deep scars Jewish people bear because of Christianity. We cannot pass over them with trite affirmations. We must recognize we confront two thousand years of history and doctrine when we do this. But when the Jesus of history becomes the Christ of the Church, then Christians will know how to speak to Jews. When we hear Jesus’ words within the world of ancient Judaism, we can convey His solidarity with His people, to His people. We can lend our voices intelligently to call out and challenge anti-Semitism within our world. We can see Jews as more than the object of conversion and mission.
We cannot condemn the Holocaust and continue to blame the Jews for the death of Jesus in our Easter services. We cannot claim the crusaders who murdered Jews in the Rhineland as “not Christian” and continue to use the term “Pharisee” as a pejorative term for who and whatever we do not like in the Church. If we truly want to build bridges, healing bridges, between Christians and the Jewish people, we need to understand the questions to ask of ourselves before we try to listen to the voices of others.
Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.