At the end of 2019, as anti-Semitic violence was threatening the safety of our Jewish neighbors and kin across the nation, the Massachusetts Council of Churches partnered with Boston-area pastors to release a “Letter from Christian Leaders decrying violence against Jews.” When I posted the letter on December 31, 2019, I thought maybe a few hundred pastors might co-sign. These have been wearying days. I know how tired I am and I know how hard you have been working through Christmas to care for your people and celebrate God’s in-breaking love in Jesus Christ.
But instead, over 1,055 pastors and church leaders signed on (as of this writing). This swift and broad witness has been balm to our Jewish siblings. Our colleagues at Jewish Community Relations Council told me of watching their computers with tears in their eyes as the names of pastors and church leaders fill the spreadsheet in solidarity. Church, you need to know I have received cards and letters from rabbis and Jewish leaders thanking us for seeing their pain. Hear my gratitude: Thank you for signing on and speaking out.
And, it is very clear that one sign-on letter will not roll back the waves of anti-Semitic violence in this country. There is much work to be done. And we Christians have a particular responsibility to clean up our own house. I welcome your feedback. I want to suggest the following plan for those of us in Massachusetts:
1. Read, share, and audit: I have co-authored with Rev. Dr. Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski a new essay on our particular Christian obligation to “audit” our own words, worship and practices for the ways we may inadvertently use Judaism to bolster a case for Christianity. Please consider reading this essay, sharing it in your church, and undertaking a review of how we speak about Jews, Israelites, Judaism, the Hebrew Scriptures, and God’s covenant with Israel
2. Raise money for continuing education: Candidly, this work around anti-Semitism was neither in our staff work plan or budget for 2020. And so, if we are to do this work, we need to raise money. If you care about a broad range of Christians engaging in self-reflection on our own role in anti-Semitism, if you care about the safety of our Jewish neighbors and if you think the Massachusetts Council of Churches is well positioned to do this work, I ask you to please give money. We cannot bring in an educator or staff this work without additional funding. https://www.masscouncilofchurches.org/donate/
3. Read: Three books to begin: First, Professor Amy-Jill Levine’s “The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus.” For thinking more about worship, consider Mary Salmon’s “Preaching without Contempt: Overcoming Unintended Anti-Judaism.” Finally, for a broadly accessible and quick read that could make for a good resource in your congregation, look to “Jesus Was Not Killed By the Jews: reflections for Christians in Lent” edited by Jon Sweeney. Orbis Books has an online discussion guide for congregational use.
4. Continuing Education: If we can raise enough funds, I’d like to bring Rev. Dr. Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski to Massachusetts for a series of workshops on Christian anti-Semitism. A professor of Christian history at the Seminary of the Southwest in Texas with a focus area on Christian-Jewish relationships and an Episcopal priest, Rev. Dr. Joslyn-Siemiatkoski was raised near Springfield, MA, did his undergrad at Gordon College and his PhD at Boston College. He knows Massachusetts well! Dan and I also studied together at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. We’re hoping for a series of workshops for pastors and Christian leaders in March, learning some of the history of Christian anti-Semitism and then work shopping the practicalities of worship, preaching, and curricula. Again, if this is compelling to you, and something that would enrich your ministry and better equip your church, please give: https://www.masscouncilofchurches.org/donate/
Church, I think we can do this work together, in a way that increases the integrity of our Christian witness and the safety of our Jewish neighbors. After you all signed the letter, Rabbi Marc Baker of Combined Jewish Philanthropies wrote movingly about what it meant to him to hear Christian kin speak of “our Jewish siblings.” Kin in the Body of Christ, our witness matters. Let us strengthen it together, Church.
PS- I want to especially thank those of you who have already become monthly individual supporters of the Massachusetts Council of Churches. It’s the pre-existing, steady relationships that sustain allow for wise and skilled work in a time of crisis. If you are proud of this witness, if you have been shaped by multiple Christian traditions, if you long for reconciliation and justice rather than division, join.