Doodles, May 2019
In the last few months, we have seen an alarming rise in anti-semitic attacks, and while the roots of some of them are difficult to trace, the most recent is blatant, and self explanatory, and I feel it deserves some pastoral comment. The perpetrator of the most recent shooting in a synagogue in Poway, California is a young Christian man, a member of one of our Presbyterian affiliate denominations, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church broke away from the PCUSA in the 30’s in response to a reorganization of Princeton Seminary which was felt by some to be excessively liberal. The overall theology of the OPC is conservative, woman are not ordained to any office in the church, and in many ways the theology of the OPC has served as a theological model for modern evangelical thought, especially in its embrace of latter Calvinistic tendencies of the Council of Dordt (TULIP) and the Westminster Confessions. While our denomination, the PCUSA, is in communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ, among others, we are not in communion with the OPC, which speaks to the depth of differences between our denominations.On April 27th, John Earnest, the 19 year old son of an OPC Elder, entered the synagogue in Poway on the last day of the Passover feast, and opened fire, killing one and wounding several others. In preparation for this act of terror, he had written a multi page manifesto, incorporating the sort of white supremacy writings one finds in the darkest holes of the internet with a more mainstream understanding of the role of the Jews in Jesus’ death and their relationship with God, including salvation.This screed has sparked a (probably all too brief) conversation among evangelicals about how some of the rhetoric surrounding Christian and Jewish relationships has been interpreted to portray Jews as beyond the reach of God’s protective love, that Jews throughout all time bear the burden for Jesus’ death, and that Jews are not in any way related in faith to Christians. Just a couple of rebuttals from a humble small town pastor in West Texas:No-one is beyond the loving embrace of God.If there is any eternal guilt to be endured for the death of Jesus, it is shared equally by Gentiles and Jews alike. The Jewish people did not have a provision for a death penalty. That power was reserved to the Romans. Over and over and over, the Apostle Paul speaks of the Jewish faith as being the root and branches of the Christian faith. Jesus was Jewish. Paul was Jewish. The Disciples were Jews. Most of the early followers of Christ were Jewish, in fact, in the early church, in order to be a follower of Christ, one had to first convert to the Jewish faith. Poor interpretations of the Bible have been used throughout the last 2000 years to kill and harass our Jewish ancestors. To our very great shame, our own Christian brothers in faith (and let’s face it, for 1960 years, only brothers had this sort of power) used the words of the Bible to kidnap Jewish babies and baptize them, to persecute Jewish members of the community, and in the biggest sin of all time, to attempt to wipe them off the map during the holocaust. In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul agonizes over the fate of his Jewish brothers and sisters, seemingly trapped between his conviction that we are saved in Christ alone and the eternal promises made to the Hebrew people by their God. In the end, he confesses his belief in the mysterian desire of God to save who he will, for his own reasons, and we are not to say who is condemned and who is saved. My favorite, and to my mind, conversation ending scripture verse regarding the covenant between God and his people is this: “...the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29) After all, if the Jewish people cannot trust God to keep the promises God made to them, why should we trust the promises God makes to us?We have to be very careful when we read certain parts of the Bible regarding the Jewish people, especially in the Gospel of John. We have to remember that the Gospel of John was written toward the last part of the first century, during a time when Christians were under attack from all sides, and their natural tendency was to develop a bunker mentality, one that is reflected in their version of the Gospel. Broad, sweeping indictments of the Jews are more reflective of the context of their time, rather than an eternal condemnation of the Jewish people for all time. We live in a different era, in which Christians are not a persecuted minority, but rather are in the seat of power; and the Jewish people are, as they have been throughout their history, a persecuted minority. We, as Christians, would do well to remember our roots and temper our language when it comes to the salvation of the Jews (or anybody, for that matter), and look for ways to reinforce the relationship between our faiths, rather than seeking to exploit the differences. We all are Children of God, and like siblings everywhere, we squabble, we fight, we taunt and call each other names. But in the end, we are brothers and sisters, heirs of the covenant, and if we are to honor that relationship, we must do everything in our power to support the Jewish community against the hate and theologically supported bigotry that seems to be on the rise. May God be with us all during this troubling time.