Would I want a Jewish friend to join me at a worship service at my church? In truth? No. There is a likely chance I might feel ashamed and an equally likely chance that my Jewish friend might be offended.
On 50 to 60 Sundays in the three-year cycle of readings, most Christian congregations hear passages taken from the New Testament -- primarily from the Gospels and Acts -- that discredit Jews or Judaism. But this does more than insult a friend’s faith. Many Christians have acknowledged that, heard year by year over the centuries, readings such as these might have helped to lay the groundwork for the Holocaust, and continue to help fuel anti-Semitism even today. In a time when inter-faith relations matter more than ever, this petition asks those responsible for the cycle of readings to eliminate defamatory passages from the lectionary.
* A strong, true faith does not need to build itself up by putting another down; Christianity gains no luster by making an invidious comparison to another faith;
* Integrity demands that we not affirm one teaching, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and then affirm our antipathy toward a neighboring faith;
* Modern, critical Christian scholarship has shown us for a generation and more that the Gospels and Acts present a distorted picture of first century Judaism -- see The Jewish Annotated New Testament for examples;
* The ordinary person in the pew is not trained in biblical scholarship, and may take the anti-Judaic passages proclaimed from the pulpit as literal historical and theological truth when that is not the case;
* Even if no direct connection can be proven between a particular reading and an act of anti-Semitism, it is still likely that the cumulative effect of the readings creates a permissive social context for prejudice against Jews;
* When a passage from scripture is read and then proclaimed to be “the Word of God,” a halo effect is created around what amount to damaging assertions.
John 18:36 gives an example: “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews’.”
Often the Gospel of John says, “the Jews,” not meaning the Jewish community of Jesus’ day, which actually was very diverse, but as a stereotype denoting Jesus’ enemies. It makes no sense to have Jesus talking about “being handed over to the Jews,” when he himself was Jew, as were his parents, his family, his disciples and most of his followers.
The RCL has asserted: “In particular, the Revised Common Lectionary has paid attention to the tragic history of the abuse of biblical materials to support Christian anti-Semitism. The need to avoid such abuse is one of the basic principles of this lectionary.” (RCL, p.78-79; emphasis added).
Members of the Consultation on Common Texts, believing we share a vision for a world that reflects a larger measure of peace and justice for all, I urge you to help Christian churches strengthen their witness to Jesus’ teachings by removing, as far as possible, passages from the RCL that denigrate his own people as well as people of our own day.