|The Jews and Their Lies - Martin Luther|
There have been times when I have cried because I am a Christian, and all of those days were times of great joy. Today wasn't a good day, and for the first time in my life I cried because I am a Christian as one among those whose inequities I have been studying today.
You may remember that I visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Institute in Jerusalem about two years ago. As part of that we went to learn about the Holocaust and its causes, and with a specific view of playing a part in educating others in its causes. As part of that, I have written a paper that takes the statement of John Roth that devastatingly claims:
‘Christianity was not a sufficient condition for the Holocaust, nevertheless, it was a necessary condition for that disaster.’
How can this be, of a faith group that proclaims God as love, in the wake of a devastating murder on the Golgotha? Surely we abhor violence and its causes, more especially violence towards brothers and sisters of the Book? You may well think so. Someone once wrote the following:
They know only one thing … to satisfy their stomachs, to get drunk, to kill [Eight Oratories Against the Jews]
and another this:
they [the Jews] are children of the devil ... real liars and bloodhounds ... murderers and whores, thieves and scoundrels ... evil men ... etc [The Jews and their Lies]
The first commentator was St John Chrysostom, the Golden Mouthed and the latter Martin Luther, reformer and Protestant poster-boy.
In reading about the many contributory causes behind the Holocaust, I have learned the hard and painful lesson that Christianity and the church hold a large share of the blame. Of course there were other causes of the Holocaust, but it was nonetheless a war waged in the light of inspiring sentiments of the German hero of Hitler (and Luther's proposals for the treatment of the Jews in the sixteenth century resembles the Nazi manifesto is an all too alarming way).
In some ways I can understand a reaction against Jews in the light of the death of Christ. At very few opportunities do we place the blame for his execution on the shoulders of his executioners, but instead on those who conspired for it to happen. In the mind of many early Christians, the Jews became guilty of deicide - a sentiment that took root, grew and flourished into the early 1930s and the catastrophic events that saw the cruel murder of six million Jews - because the Nazis wanted their land or possessions, to usurp their power? No - because they were Jews. The Holocaust was a unique ideological genocide rooted in an ideology of some of those who faces adorn the stained glass of our churches.
This is so well supported by documentary evidence that I have to accept it as fact. I cannot therefore change it - but I can change the world I live in in the infinitesimal ways that I can manage - and here is as good a way as anywhere.
I hear from time to time the heartfelt and well-meaning sentiments of some Christians who regard members of other faiths as 'the enemy'. They cite the words of the Book of the Acts to furnish a faith supremacism which is compelling and biblical. In enlightened loafer-wearing British church life, such sentiment is in line with the growing sense of evangelistic zeal that many see as the great hope of our church. Converting all people is the only way to be.
The cost of that perspective is to say to the Jews and others that what they hold dear (and after all they believe in the same God as I do) is not sufficient, that it just won't do. They require salvation only through Jesus Christ to enjoy the fruits of their heavenly home. I have oft been suspicious of this approach to forcing a world to a gracious gospel conformity and have felt a niggling suspicion that God never stopped valuing Jews (or anyone else), for being Jews. Indeed, without the machinations of the Jews and the betrayal of Judas would Jesus ever have found the Tree of Shame?
In simple terms, my message is this: if you think or truly believe that through your Christian faith you are better than those who are not or do not share your faith, the lessons of the Holocaust have never truly been learned. And why would I come here and attack my own in this way? The simple answer is that we need to see what has happened in our name and in the name of our children - to look in horror at the theologies that went a long way towards justifying mass-murder, so that we may see and never let such sentiment grow again.