Things may be getting a bit better for Catholic women
American Christian Nationalism has Mainline Protestant roots

Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas can't be serious, can he?

Although I'm often disappointed in the religious literacy of many Americans, I'm only occasionally shocked, gob-smacked, startled by evidence of religious ignorance and bigotry coming from elected officials with high offices who should know better. Much better.

AntisemitismBut that was my reaction when I read this story about a Republican U.S. senator from Kansas that begins this way: "Sen. Roger Marshall on Thursday claimed a Congressional push to combat antisemitism violates Christian scripture."

That intrigued me, so I kept reading to find out what Marshall might have been talking about. The story continued: "A bill that overwhelmingly passed the House by a 320-91 vote Wednesday evening would require the Department of Education’s division of civil rights to consider the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism when investigating discrimination claims on campuses that receive federal funding. That definition cites 'claims of Jews killing Jesus' as an example of 'classic antisemitism,' which sparked opposition from some conservative Republicans."

Let's be clear about this: Charging Jews with deicide by killing Jesus Christ has, across 2,000 years of history, been right at the root of Christianity's long-taught anti-Judaism and at the base of modern antisemitism, as I explain in this essay.

It's stunning to me that Marshall seems not to know that. Here's what he said: “Religious leaders back home are very concerned about some of the language in that bill, that it pushes against what the scripture said. Obviously as a born-again Christian I believe that the Holy Bible is the word of God. I think that we’re not supposed to alter the word. So I’m just guessing the House overlooked something.”

I acknowledge that I'm making some assumptions here about what Marshall meant. But I can find no other way to read his words than to say he believes the Bible makes clear that Jews murdered Jesus and should always be held accountable for that heinous act. And, beyond that, such a belief should not be considered antisemitic.

Roger-MarshallMost Christian leaders and denominations have backed away from that calumny, particularly after the Holocaust. And Christians who take the Bible seriously (and not literally) know that there are passages -- especially in the Gospel of John -- that have been used to justify antisemitism today and anti-Judaism in the early years of Christian history. Does Marshall (pictured here) now want to protect and reaffirm those passages and renew the charge that the Jews killed Christ? That's how I read his words. Which is why I was so appalled.

There are several things wrong with Marshall's apparent approach. First is the fact that it was the Romans, not the Jews, who killed Jesus, who was, of course, also a Jew. Yes, some Jewish leaders at the time wanted him dead and asked the Romans who ruled the Holy Land then to accomplish the deed. But literally no Jewish person murdered Jesus.

In fact, some Christian leaders today add to that story by saying that their theology teaches them that Jesus died to save all humanity from their sins, so the sort-of-anachronistic conclusion for each Christian is that it was our sins that put Jesus on the cross. Thus Christians today can be considered guilty of deicide.

I mentioned that various branches of Christianity have dug deeply into their bloody history of persecuting Jewish people and have repented and apologized (as if that fixes things). Perhaps the most famous example is the 1965 (I know, why not until then?) document from the Roman Catholic Church called Nostra Aetate, which says that no Jew today and no Jew throughout history should be thought of as having killed Christ. Here's how that document words the thought:

"True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.

"Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone."

The document is not a perfect confession of Christianity's miserable history of anti-Judaism, but many Jewish people welcomed that 1965 statement. And, for sure, it was a pretty good beginning. Perhaps Roger Marshall and others have never heard of the document or of the many other statements from many other branches of Christianity decrying anti-Judaism and modern antisemitism. (The former is more theological in nature; the latter more racial, ethnic and economic.)

What I'm writing about here today is, of course, happening in the context of the Hamas-Israel war and of the many protests roiling college campuses across the U.S. and elsewhere today. Like the protests in the 1960s against the damnable Vietnam War, these protests also take a complicated subject and oversimplify it. That just encourages more protests -- which students have a perfect right to do up until they cross a line and break laws. But that's what the concept of civil disobedience is designed to cover -- people who protest and who know (and accept) that it may lead to their arrest and punishment.

In any case, Roger Marshall has dragged out of the closet an ancient distortion of truth that much of the world rejected long ago -- that Jewish people killed Jesus. And if that's what he's really saying he needs to apologize and engage in some deep study about why that idea is so abhorrent.

(And, still on this same subject, here is a Christian Post column in which the author argues that everyone -- Jews, Romans, you, me, all of us -- killed Jesus. I agree with almost nothing in the piece but thought I'd let you see how some others come at this matter. The theology expressed in the piece is the author's own and has almost nothing to do with mine.)

* * *


Diana Eck, who has taught at the Harvard Divinity School for decades and has been in inspiration for interfaith dialogue and understanding in many places, including Kansas City, is retiring, this RNS story reports. When she was asked about the hardest things she's faced in life, she said, "I think the hardest thing has been the realization that though we have — I have and my students have — been very involved in trying to lift up the ways in which people in our society are coming together — in interfaith initiatives, interfaith councils, interfaith projects, literally all across America, but to realize that despite our vision of how important this is, there are many people today who are still very surprised that all of these strangers are here with us, and, basically, would like them all to go home.” RNS also did this interview with Eck. I'm not sure where we find new Diana Ecks, but we need them.


The comments to this entry are closed.