Today is Holocaust Memorial Day in which we remember those, particularly Jewish people, whose lives were most brutally cut short by the Nazi regime. In recent years we recall also those other victims of that regime – the Roma, gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses and who were also caught up in the concentration cmaps, as well as victims of other genocides in Rwanda and Burundi, Bosnia and Croatia and so on.
It is a sad fact that, for most of its history, the Christian church has been implicated in antisemitism. In it early days, the increasingly Gentile church found itself in dispute with Jewish communities around the Mediterranean. Gradually, these disputes became more and more physical, while the power balance bewteen the two communites shifted in favour of the (now almot exclusively gentile) Christians.
Since then, the tide of antisemitismin the church has ebbed and flowed, but it is an inconvenient truth that the churches, both Catholic and Protestant, did their bit to foster the atmosphere that found its ultimate expression in the Nazi death camps. The “teachings of contempt”, which used the New Testament writings to “prove” that God had not only abandoned but has now cursed the Jewish people, may have initially been an abstract theological point. But it didn’t take too long for those teachings to translate in the popular imagination into a justification for all kinds of atrocities.
This goes to demonstrate the importance of the language we use, especially those of us with a teaching ministry within the church. We may understand the nuances of what we say, but how will others perceive it? How does a gospel of love and forgiveness, that teaches us to treat others as we would wish to be treated ourselves, that commands us not only to pray for enemies but actively to do good for them, become perverted into antisemitism?
We have a lot to be forgiven. Lord, have mercy.