After all the rhetoric and all the Jewish-Christian seminars and all the Holocaust theology generated in the ninety years since the Nazis came to power, when it comes to facing antisemitism the Christian church at large doesn’t seem to have learned a thing. People all over the world are rejoicing in the death of Jewish babies, the kidnap of Jewish fathers and soldiers, the rape of Jewish young women. Where are the Christian leaders speaking up to denounce without equivocation the pro-Palestinian college students who support such atrocities, the floods of Hamas-defenders around the world? Where is the horror, the solidarity with Jews? With atrocities this clear and this barbaric, I naively assumed that even my social justice-y Christian friends would finally condemn the whole ‘river to the sea’ slogan which seeks to eliminate a Jewish state and the people in it. Young Jewish women assaulted and dragged off into captivity by a pack of baying Hamas terrorists who proudly filmed evil so we all could see it? Eyes of parents gouged out while they were sitting across from their children? How bad does it have to be for the average Christian publicly to protest the death of Jews?
The newly founded Coalition of Catholics Against Antisemitism has made an excellent start. Protestant Christians, not so much. With the notable exception of many Southern Baptists and Pentecostals, a handful of evangelicals, and some of the longstanding Christian organizations that work on behalf of Jews and Israel, Protestant leaders are being awfully silent. Or awfully unwilling to name Hamas as evil without adding an equivocating “but” which essentially blames Jews for their own murders. Or flat out siding with the terrorists on the grounds that they are the oppressed ones. The Archbishop of Canterbury was so mealy mouthed in discussing the atrocities I was ashamed to be an Anglican. Pastors in some churches call for prayers for the suffering “Palestinians and Jews” as if there were no moral difference between those who attack and those who fight back when attacked. Some who call themselves Christian are actually attending pro-Palestinian rallies that are blatant cauldrons of sheer Jew hatred, complete with swastikas. Many theologically conservative denominations whose members do tend to support Israel simply don’t make statements about politics, whatever their opinion. I understand the general wisdom of churches staying out of the political tinderbox. But there is a level of atrocity that calls out for acknowledgement, condemnation, public protest.
A Jewish heritage friend of mine who is married to a Christian last week emailed me: “How many times when a church person has found out I’m Jewish, they say something like ‘I love Jewish people.’ It makes me want to vomit. They say they love us but would send us to the gas chamber without a second thought.”
Despite my despair over the response of official Protestant Christendom, I feel certain that my friend is wrong about this. Church leaders may be damningly silent, but there are many many Christians who support Jews and support Israel—because it’s a democratic state, because they are fond of the Old Testament, because they are Christian Zionists, or just because they admire their Jewish friends. In a recent speech at a Jewish London synagogue, British author Douglas Murray (who is not, as far as I know, a Christian) said that by good fortune or “the wild grace of God” he had been blessed to know Jewish people who have enriched his life immeasurably; he fervently defended Israel’s right to defend her citizens. There may be far too many Christians who do not seem to care very much about the lives of Jews. But there are many of us who identify with Murray’s sentiments: On twitter, Gentiles asking Jews if it would be appropriate to put mezuzahs on their doors to show solidarity. On Facebook, ordinary Christians asking the best places to give money to support Israel. The makers of a film and miniseries called Hope in the Holy Land aimed at Christians which seeks to clarify misconceptions about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The Philos Project, a Christian pro-Israel think tank that making concrete suggestions for its members to support and defend Jewish people. The editor of Christianity Today magazine, who wrote a strong editorial defending Jewish people in this conflict (not all of the magazine’s news articles have followed suit).
The moral void created by the current silence of most Christian leaders (if not their actual verbal complicity) in the late intensifying round of Jew hatred is cause for grief. So terrible has the antisemitism become that scholars are starting to debate comparisons to the Holocaust. Pitifully few within the German Protestant church in the 1930s were able to overcome social and religious antisemitism in order to oppose the Nazis and stand up for Jewish people. The current wave of pro-Palestinian Jew hatred is a different brand of antisemitism, arising from radical Islamism and misguided social justice theory. But the strands of indifference, antisemitism, and cowardice seem terribly familiar.
Caspar ten boom, the father of Righteous Gentile of the Holocaust Corrie ten Boom, helped to hide Jews in his skinny Dutch townhouse. When asked if he knew he could die for helping Jews, he replied, “I would consider that the greatest honour that could come to my family.” When the police came and the elderly ten Boom, a Dutch Protestant, refused to stop opening his door to Jews, he was arrested and thrown into the back of a truck. After nine days in prison, the 84-year-old died alone in a hallway.
Tragically, there weren’t many ten Booms during the Nazi era. Faced with another round of evil people who seek the destruction of Jews, Christians with moral sense need to use their voices on behalf of Jewish people. It is not enough to quietly support Israel, or to “like” a post on X (twitter). Right now, Jews could use public statements of solidarity. I encourage my Jewish friends to ask any pro-Israel or pro-Jewish Christians they know to put that solidarity into action. I rarely wear T shirts with slogans, but I’m ordering one in support of the Jewish people. This is a time for public courage. Even little things count.