Rev Canon Jenny Chalmers, co-chair of UCANZ and deputy chair of the Australian Council of Christians and Jews. Jenny serves in the Waiapu Cathedral as Canon precentor and Vicar General of the Waiapu Diocese.
Last Monday I saw the movie, Belfast. It’s a very good film which tells the story of parts of director Kenneth Branagh’s childhood. One of the themes is the ‘troubles’ between the Catholics and the Protestants. I’ve always wondered why two groups who believed in pretty much the same thing, with variations, found it so difficult to live side by side, in the same neighbourhood.
The sad fact is that the ‘othering’ portrayed in this conflict, occurs in many other places around the world. Another example is the Tutsis and Hutus of (Christian) Rwanda, where the Belgian colonisers invented arbitrary racial characteristics and set friends, neighbours and relatives against each other. It ended with an estimated 800,000 deaths.
As we approach Lent and Easter, we should pay attention to the ‘othering’ that is peculiar to Christians, that is Christian anti-Judaism, which is defined as ‘things Christian’ that work against the interests of Jewish people, or seek to undermine Jewish culture or religion, and/or seek to promote Christianity as a ‘new Judaism’.
This ‘othering,’ also known as Christian anti-Semitism, has resulted in countless forced Jewish conversions, pogroms, expulsions and deaths down the ages, the most recent of course, being the between five and six million deaths of the Shoah. Even so, Christians have a great deal of trouble recognising the particularity of Christian anti-Semitism, even in its most obvious forms.
The roots of Christian anti-Semitism lie in the passion, that is the story of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, from the Gospel of John. We retell this story every year, every Lent, Holy week and Easter. The readings on Good Friday, when we concentrate on the torture and death of Jesus Christ, are the climax of six weeks of thinking, praying and reading about Christ’s humiliation and death.
The Gospel tells us of a group of people called “the Jews” who are responsible for the death of Jesus (who was, of course, a Jew). “The Jews” are responsible for the death of the one whom the Johannine community, the group for whom this gospel is a statement of belief, and later, all who follow Christ, called the Messiah. Uncritical readings of this passage, have led Christians to the view that Jews, then, and somehow now, are responsible for Jesus the Messiah’s death.
The truth of who is responsible for the death of Christ is something quite different. Simply put, the Romans did it. It was a common enough death for young Jewish men, crucified on a tree. Pilate was clearly quite indifferent to the fate of Jesus or the many other young Jewish men killed during the Roman occupation of Palestine. One of the sins of this story is the indifference of Pilate.
For two millennia, the untruth, the falsehood, the propaganda has been, that Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus our Messiah.
Thoughtful Christians know the untruth of this and seek to compare the fiction of the perpetrators of Jesus’ death with an understanding of the ‘othering’ that occurs in our world. Avoiding ‘othering’ of those not like us is a life-long pursuit. ‘Othering’ is buried deep in our culture. But let’s begin to consciously identify it, and work against it, this Easter.