How faith communities can support public education: 11-19/20-16
Give 7 days to stand against bigotry: 11-22-16

A German church stops trying to convert Jews: 11-21-16

As I write in this essay about anti-Judaism in Christian history, Christianity has a long, sad history of treating Jews as scum and vermin. It started early as the Jesus Movement eventually broke away from Judaism to establish itself as a separate religion.

Jewish-Ch-cupAnd in the 19th century it provided the seeds for modern antisemitism, which is racial and ethnic in nature, compared to anti-Judaism, which is theological in nature.

Beginning after the Holocaust, various Christian groups began reexamining their relationship to Judaism and their treatment of Jews. In 1965, for instance, as part of the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church issued a document called Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), which for the first time in Catholic history absolved Jews of deicide, or being killers of Christ.

More recently there have been various efforts by different branches of Christianity to create more hospitable working relationships with Judaism and its various branches, even while antisemitism has been resurgent, especially across Europe in recent years.

But now, on the cusp of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, the main Protestant church in Germany, where the Holocaust was hatched by Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime, has backed away from any further effort to convert Jews to Christianity.

"In practice," the story to which I've just linked you reports, "the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), made up of 20 regional Lutheran, Reformed and United churches, mostly gave up efforts to convert Jews in the decades after the Holocaust, and closing that chapter should have been a formality." But things were more complicated than that, and there was -- and continues to be -- opposition to the move to leave Jews alone.

Supporters of efforts to convert Jews point especially to a passage in the final chapter of the gospel of Matthew known as the "Great Commission." In the New Revised Standard Version, it reports that Jesus told his disciples this: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

The Greek term, panta ta ethne, which usually gets translated "nations," generally refers to non-Jewish peoples, or Gentiles. In fact, a footnote in the Jewish Annotated New Testament, edited by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, notes that those Greek words "also can be translated as 'all the Gentiles,' though the note adds that "the mission to Israel is never abrogated."

Still, I liked the way the EKD resolution worded it: “All efforts to convert Jews contradict our commitment to the faithfulness of God and the election of Israel.” The story to which I've linked you then reports this: "That Christians see Jesus as their savior and Jews don’t is 'a fact we leave up to God,' it said."

What a concept -- leaving the destiny of others up to God and not presuming to know who will be "saved" and who won't be.

In any case, the German church finally and formally has done the right thing. Jews, of course, are welcome to convert to Christianity (and fairly often in Christian history have been forced to do so). But the most hospitable and modest, non-arrogant thing for Christians to do is to leave it up to God, as the German resolution suggests.

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Pope Francis, in a ceremony, has closed the Catholic Church's "Year of Mercy." It's been a worthy effort. And the good news is that to balance it out what comes next is not the "Year of Harsh Justice and Revenge."


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