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New book seeks to repair the harm done to Jewish people

21 November 2019

Church’s complicity in anti-Semitism is acknowledged


The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi tend the eternal flame in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Israel in 2017

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi tend the eternal flame in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Israel in 2017

CHRISTIANS have been guilty of “promoting and fostering negative stereotypes of Jewish people that have contributed to grave suffering and injustice”, a landmark teaching document from the Church of England admits.

The document, God’s Unfailing Word, published on Thursday, is the first authoritative publication on Jewish-Christian relations produced by the Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission.

Speaking on Monday, the National Inter-Religious Affairs Adviser, the Revd Dr Richard Sudworth, said that it was aimed at bringing “up to date some of the theology”, as well as acknowledging the Church’s own complicity in anti-Jewish sentiment.

The document argues from the premise that the Christian-Jewish relationship is a “gift of God to the Church”, and that it has “unique significance”.

It accepts that anti-Judaism in the Church over the centuries fostered “the passive acquiescence if not positive support of many Christians in actions that led to the Holocaust”.

It continues: “Recognition on the part of the Church that it bears a considerable measure of responsibility for the spread of antisemitism demands a response from the Church. . .

“There is a continuing theological task for the Church in its response to the reality of antisemitism and in seeking to build good relationships with Jewish people today.”

Dr Sudworth said: “We need to give special attention to that encounter between Christianity and Judaism. . . This is for the Church to build on locally and nationally; this is a resource for the long-term, not a one-hit wonder.”

The Secretary of the Faith and Order Commission, Jeremy Worthen, said on Monday: “We are in a climate where anti-Semitism has grown again. . . The complacency which we would like to guard against is something that needs due attention.”

Speaking on Tuesday, the Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Michael Ipgrave, who chaired the working group for the document, said: “It does represent the range of views and the consensus on the issue. It is a positive statement, which particularly urges building positive relations with the Jewish people.”

He continued: “We started this project . . . aware that anti-Semitism is very much a problem in our society, and churches should be part of the process working against it.”

Dr Jane Clements, a former director of the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), who also worked on the report, said on Monday: “This document deals with hundreds of years of church traditions and teachings: it is not written for a particular moment in the political week.”

In a foreword to the document, the Archbishop of Canterbury writes that this “teaching document should spur us towards more and deeper encounters where we can hear and understand each other”.

He argues that understanding the Christian-Jewish relationship is “not an optional extra, but a vital component of Christian formation and discipleship”.

The Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, wrote the afterword to the document. He welcomes it, and the fact that it is “sensitive and unequivocal in owning the legacy of Christianity’s role in the bitter saga of Jewish persecution. . . I commend, indeed thank, the Church of England for its willingness to engage in this moving act of self-reflection.”

He recollects the “symbolic importance of an Archbishop of Canterbury and Chief Rabbi praying alongside each other in kinship before the remnants of the Holy Temple” in 2017.

But he describes a “substantial misgiving” that the document does not do more to criticise the evangelism of Jewish people. “The enduring existence within the Anglican Church of a theological approach that is permissive of this behaviour does considerable damage to the relationship between our faith traditions.”

Last year, the College of Bishops voted to formally adopt the definition of anti-Semitism produced by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (News, 14 September 2018).

In 2015, Archbishop Welby apologised to the Jewish community in Britain for anti-Semitic behaviour and comments emanating from the Anglican Communion (News, 8 May 2015). 

The director of the CCJ, Elizabeth Harris-Sawczenko, said on Thursday: “Our work in bringing Christian and Jewish communities together to learn about one another, to talk to one another, even when those conversations are difficult, has never been more important, and we look forward to the ‘deeper encounters’ envisaged by this document.”

Read extracts from the teaching documents here

20% OFF God’s Unfailing Word is published by Church House Publishing online and in print (£12.99). Special CT Bookshop price for one week: £11.40

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