Anti-Semitism Is on the Rise, So Our Lights Must Be Too
Dear all, a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours!
So, arg. No Christmas blog. Sheepish apologies.
That said, as awkward as it is to be a public theologian without a Christmas blog, it’s mitigated, at least a bit, with the delight of privately celebrating the holidays with my extended family, my sister and her husband and sons, with whom we so rarely get together.
They live in Alaska, and it is both expensive and tricky, given schedules and wheelchairs, to reunite on any regular basis. So instead of sitting in front of my iPad, I sat around the table and in front of my fire with my family, which, all told, is as it should be.
Technically it is still Christmas: per usual, we put up our tree up December 23. It’s still fresh and green—in fact, I think tonight that Else, Karl, and I will light the candles (yes, real ones!) that we didn’t quite get to lighting on Christmas Eve, as is customary at our home.
This, complete with the dog kiester by the fireplace, is my present moment.
So given all of the family and festivities (and dishes and snow and attempts to learn how to ski), the moment of those Christmas texts has passed—maybe a year from now, I’ll recall what I wanted to write!
And Christmas is a moment, is it not?
I cannot sing Silent Night, for I choke up every time.
This year with all of the rising disdain, hostility, and hate toward the very least of these for whom God has especially come, and the unwillingness of the powerful to hear the Good News that their power is lost and their worth anyway is not found in wealth and privilege, I found it all the more difficult to sing Silent Night: sitting in the pews with the darkened lights and the shining hand-held candles (a prudent glow-stick for Karl), shared by tipping an unlit candle to a lit one, I simply decided to let the Communion of the Saints sing the carol while I reveled in the moment of the tune’s gentleness, and tried to harvest its quiet protest and quiet hope and quiet light to steward throughout the year.
Still, that moment is gone, as is the momentary peace that surrounds a person when surrounded by candlelight and lilting choruses.
Tragically, in its place, just a few days after Christmas, came yet again attacks on the extended family of all Christians, the Jews.
Several horrific assaults occurred in New York City alone.
With this news, since my sister and her family left just yesterday, I’ve been curled up on the couch reading Hannah Arendt, and her The Origins of Totalitarianism and Eichmann in Jerusalem, Dorothee Sölle’s Suffering, Political Theology, and Revolutionary Patience, and Norbert Lohfink’s The Covenant Never Revoked.
I’ve also been doing some research on anti-Semitic hate crimes.
I was curious, for example, about the hike in attacks; I knew that there was one, but I was curious about how significant.
Admittedly, I haven’t put the research into it that it deserves, but this distinction still is significant: according to the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) in the three years preceding Donald Trump’s inauguration, namely from 2013-16, there were 1,267 hate crimes deemed to be anti-Semitic.
In the three years since his inauguration, namely from 2016 until today, there have been 5,212.
That’s an increase of 3,945 incidents of hate against Jews from one side of Trump’s inauguration to another.
That’s 6,479 since 2013.
I am mystified by the relative collective silence of it, not least of all from the pulpits, or on the social media pages of pastors or Christians in general.
Jews are going into hiding, these days, and yet Christians might not even be noticing, maybe because they aren’t yet affected, and maybe because hate has become normal.
Hannah Arendt is famous for many things: her political insights, her philosophical savvy, her literary skills leave a person pretty much slack-jawed.
But she is perhaps best known for a phrase, a phrase that she coined during the trial of Adolf Eichmann: the banality of evil.
We don’t use the word ‘banal’ very often, so it might be worth a definition: it means trite, routine, unoriginal, dull.
When Arendt used the term, she was referring to Eichmann’s ordinariness.
He was almost boring.
And yet this banal Eichmann played a crucial role in the Nazi system, masterminding and supervising the methods for terrifying, arresting, tormenting, and killing the Jews.
This bland man created evil.
It was this insight of hers, that evil came about through a man who might have just as easily put a person to sleep at a dinner party, that captures the insidious horror of evil: it happens, and we don’t see it for what it is.
It doesn’t mean that we don’t see it.
We do, but we metabolize it as normal.
To be expected.
To be not worthy of rebuke, revolt, or resistance.
The rise of anti-Semitism is occurring concurrent to the rise of nationalism, and consistent with the rise of Trump.
It is aided by a longstanding tradition of Christian hostility toward our Jewish sisters and brothers.
Certain passages in the New Testament hardly help, with many deeply unfortunate instances of overt and latent anti-Jewish rhetoric within them and sloppy or bigoted interpretations spun from them, (countless books have been written about the matter, and various sites—some more questionable than others—address the matter, but many of the links in this Wikipedia article are helpful springboards to learning more about the Bible’s own contributions, coupled with unwelcome interpretations, to the presence of anti-Semitism).
Far less known than it should be in Lutheran circles is Martin Luther’s own disdain of and bigotry toward Jews.
And far too many German Lutherans were far more willing, both by active complicity and silence, to aid and abet Hitler’s regime than is comfortable to name.
We are grateful for the likes of Lutheran pastors and theologians Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Kaj Munk, and those who were inspired by them, people who found their theological allegiance to be stronger than the pull to hateful political personalities and powers.
Christian sisters and brothers, we are in an age where we must recognize that we are being asked—no, really, we are really being asked—whether we believe in Jesus or evil.
Silence in any night, particularly in these days and nights, reflects only complacency, deference, privilege, and urbane politeness, all of which were, not coincidentally, tools of the age of Eichmann.
They are tools of our age too.
They are tools and also reflections of allegiance to any number of gods which are not the God whom we praise on Christmas Eve, or any other day, if we call ourselves Christians.
If your Christian faith means anything, then, anything at all, then now is the time to realize that the Advent texts where John calls out the privileged; the Christmas texts where the poor, hungry, and hurting are promised relief, and where the powerful, the wealthy, and the wielders of harm are told of their defeat; the Epiphany texts which promise that God will be made known even if we’d rather that God not be, all of these texts mean that which they speak.
There is no caveat, no asterisk, that goes with them.
God has no time, no time at all, for hate, for white supremacy, for nationalism, for walls, for privilege, for wealth, and for Anti-Semitism, and if you are a Christian and don’t believe me you aren’t listening to the texts you claim to be yours.
Seriously, there could not be more a time when the phrase “Let those who have ears to hear and eyes to see” could be more apt.
As it turns out, people of Christian faith, we are called to reject anything that foments or creates harm.
Unfortunately, there’s a huge spike of all of that these days
Indeed, especially leading up to and since Trump, and with his blessing, there have been countless groups which have suffered under him and because of his supporters: the poor, women, people of color, immigrants, the ill, the refugees, the disabled, the earth, and the Jews.
In many and various ways, these are all the Chosen People of God.
Jesus is not happy about any of this hateful nonsense, and will have more than a chit-chat with those who support and foster any of it.
But particularly because of the longstanding complicity of Christians in the suffering of the Jews, and because of the historical relationship between the hate toward Jews and hate toward other groups, and of rising attacks on Jews and the rise of nationalism, all of which we are seeing in real time now (and all the more since Trump was elected), Christians have an increased obligation to notice, to condemn, and, for those who are called to preach, to proclaim our renunciation of any of it precisely because of Jesus.
Who was born a Jew.
And who lived as a Jew.
And who died as a Jew.
3,945 incidents against our sisters and brothers since Trump’s inauguration is 3,945 too many.
Any is too many.
It is a lovely happening that the Christmas Season for Christians coincides with that of Hanukkah for Jews.
Hanukkah recalls the faithfulness of God after the Jews reclaimed and restored the holy temple in Jerusalem. The dreadful king Antiochus Epiphanes had desecrated the Jewish place of worship in powerfully offensive ways, but a revolt initiated by a Jewish priest and his five sons recaptured the temple and, therefore, the traditions and the future of their faith. One of the sons, Judas, became known as Yehuda HaMakabi, namely Judah the Hammer. Some might recognize the name, then, “Maccabees,” which is the series of biblical books retelling the story. A fun fact, by the way, is that the word ‘macabre’ comes from the gruesome violence that the Jews suffered in their fight against Antiochus’ forces.
The celebration of Hanukkah stems from the purification of the temple, a ritual that demanded the purest of oils for the menorah, the sacred candelabra. Only one vessel of holy oil could be found, however, containing only enough oil for one night. Miraculously that singular vial was sufficient to keep all the candles burning for eight nights, long enough for more undefiled oil to be prepared.
A festival to commemorate the miracle of the lights was then instituted, and became Hanukkah.
It is the season of light.
That Hanukkah and Christmas fall near one another, and near the Winter Solstice when the light begins to break in again, may not be all coincidence.
In the last few days, the Anti-Defamation League asks that we protest the rise of Anti-Semitic violence, and that we #ShareTheLight so that we #StandUpToHate.
I invite you to search those hashtags.
I invite you to rebuke evil, to rebuke its normalized banality, and instead to light a candle, to light several candles, to become enlightened about anti-Semitism, to shine a light on it, and then to share the light of love to banish the banality of hate.
Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s statement about the rise of Anti-Semitism.
The World Council of Church’s Statement on the recent attacks.
A letter from Rev Dr. Chuck Currie, Director of the Center for Peace and Spirituality, University Chaplain, and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Pacific University, to students, faculty, and staff expressing solidarity with the Jewish community and safe haven if they feel threatened.
Please feel free to send me more statements from faith communities or leaders, and/or post them in the comments on the blog.