Mennonites, Jews and Antisemitism, Part 2posted by Tim Nafziger on 08/13/07 at 11:41 AM
Writing the second half of my piece on Mennonites and Antisemitism has turned out to be a lot harder than I'd hoped. On Friday night I spent 3 hours staring at the screen trying to put my thoughts together unsuccessfully. The experience brought home to me the complexity of this issue and my inadequacy in tackling it. Nonetheless I want to present a few small reflections on what the history of antisemitism in the Christian church and the Mennonite church means for us today.
First of all, I don't believe, as "PA Mennonite" suggested (in a comment on my first post) that looking at this part of our history is simply an opportunity to feel guilty and wallow in self-derision. On the contrary, looking honestly and openly at our whole history is an opportunity to joyfully repent as Jesus called us and move forward. In this case it is an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with our Jewish brothers and sisters. As a people with some persecution and marginalization in our history, we are well positioned to understand the Jewish story in Christendom of 1700 years of marginalization, exclusion and extermination. But in order to begin that journey we need to recognize our complicity in the that long and ugly part of Christian history and educate ourselves about it.
In looking at the Epp dissertation I summarized in the first half of this piece we can see some clear patterns in the beliefs of the Mennonite writers in Der Bote:
- Jews behind Communism in the USSR
- Jews as and immoral and corrupting influence in society
- Jews as power hungry plotters trying to take over the world
These themes are consistent with the long thread of Christian antisemitism. Today, there are still a few in the Mennonite church making the same claims listed above. However, a more common theme is probably the one mentioned by Everett in a comment on my first post. He said:
I recall a major Mennonite leader coming to our MYF at Neffsville (Pa.) Mennnonite Church to talk about Judaism. He told us point-blank that the Holocaust was God's will because the Jews killed Jesus. This was in 1966!
The idea that Jews as an ethnic or religious group are responsible for the death of Jesus has been at the core of Christian antisemitism through most of history and most recently made the headlines with Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ. The "Judaism and Jews" article in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia On-line does a good job of explaining how Mennonites have refuted this idea over the last 50 years, but perhaps it is worth discussing in our churches more regularly.
What can we personally do about all this? I opened this piece emphasizing that this is not a call to guilt or hand wringing. Instead, I believe it is the opportunity to listen to our Jewish neighbors. What is their experience living in your community? What are the stories that they learned as children about the experience of their people? You might learning these stories through reading Jewish publications, browsing an internet site or reading a book. Or perhaps you'll have a conversation with a Jewish person in your neighborhood or town.
Once we've taken the time to listen and learn, you can begin to challenge patterns of antisemitism in your community when we see them. And perhaps we can begin to build stronger relationships between the broader Mennonite and Jewish communities.
- Current Events
- Anabaptism in the UK
- Anabaptism in Australia
- Living Water Community Church
- Mennonites and Jews
- Mennonites and Pop Culture
- Christian Peacemaker Teams
- Why I love Chicago
- The institutions of Mennonite Church USA
- Anabaptist Camp Followers