As I describe in this essay, Christians have mistreated and oppressed Jews almost since the beginning of Christianity.
Today, however, things are different. Not perfect. Not by a long shot. But better. Evidence of that can be seen in remarks made here in Kansas City a few days ago by Zion Evrony (pictured here), Israel's ambassador to the Vatican. He spoke to Christian and Jewish clergy gathered at Rockhurst University. And his recounting of Vatican-Jewish relations starting in 1904 was telling:
"(I)f we want to set a date of when the political relations have started, it is in 1904: the meeting between the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, and Pope Pius X.
"In his meeting with the pope, Herzl tries to convince him to support the idea of a Jewish state and give Jerusalem and the holy sites special international status. The pope rejected the idea outright, claiming that the Jewish people did not accept Jesus, therefore the Catholic Church cannot recognize the Jewish people and their right to territorial and national sovereignty over the Holy Land.
"The pope’s response was rooted in the Christian theological view at the time that the destruction of the ancient Jewish state was a proof of the wrath of God who had established Christians as the universal substitute of the Jewish people and for worship in the temple. The church was perceived as the True Israel. . ."So there is a very long way between the meeting of Theodor Herzl, representing the Jewish people, a stateless minority, second-class citizens persecuted everywhere, and my meetings with Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis as a representative of the state of Israel. My meetings were positive and warm. I thanked both popes for their friendship to Israel and the Jewish people.
"I met Pope Francis the first time when he received the diplomatic corps he greeted me warmly saying 'Shalom' in Hebrew and asked me to pray for him.
"The relations today between Israel and the Holy See are good and based on mutual trust, and the relations between the Jewish people and the Catholic Church may be the best in 2,000 years."
Evrony offered a quite brief history of Jewish-Christian relations, but he is right that those connections have rarely been as friendly and warm as they are today, though of course one still finds anti-Judaism (a theological construct) in Christian pulpits and modern antisemitism (a racial or ethnic position) in lots of places. Most of the latter these days is coming from certain militant segments of Islam.
There are many books that deal with the history and current status of Christian-Jewish relations. I will recommend three. The first is from the 1970s: The Pope's Jews, by Sam Waagenaar. The second is much more recent (2011) and focuses on theological matters: Christ Jesus and the Jewish People Today: New Explorations of Theological Interrelationships, edited by Philip A. Cunningham and others. Finally, I suggest Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives, edited by Alvin H. Rosenfeld.
Christian history is stained with anti-Judaism. The Jewish people have long been waiting for the better relationship that is emerging today, though as Rosenfeld's book demonstrates, modern antisemitism across the globe is on the rise again.
* * *
SPONG WRONG? HE DOESN'T THINK SO
Religion News Service has done this interesting interview with former Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, who thinks many of the issues he has raised that used to drive more conservative Christians crazy have pretty much been settled the way Spong would have settled them.
* * *
P.S.: From 7 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 6, I'll be teaching a Communiversity class on essay writing in the Witherspoon room of Second Presbyterian Church, 318 E. 55th St. To sign up, click here for the Communiversity online catalog and scroll down to page 14. Or for a direct link to register, click here. But do it today. The class size is limited.