4 observations about anti-Semitism

April 30, 2019

“All Jews must die,” he shouted. The police officers responding to a Pittsburgh synagogue on a Saturday in October found 11 Jews dead. The victims, mostly elderly, had gathered that morning for Sabbath worship. The terrorist had complained about immigrants as “invaders that kill our people” on social media.

Marching under the light of tiki-torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, self-identified alt-right, neo-Nazi, and Ku Klux Klan members protested the removal of a confederate statue. Violent clashes between rally participants and counter protesters caused the death of one person and injuries to 19 others.

A freshman Democrat in the U.S. Congress found herself in hot political water after perpetuating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Twitter. Within weeks, the House of Representatives awkwardly passed a resolution decrying a laundry list of hate expressions.

And just this week, a 19-year-old white supremacist attacked a California synagogue on the Sabbath, shooting a 60-year-old Jewish lady who reportedly jumped in front of a rabbi to protect him. Others injured include a 9-year-old Israeli girl whose family moved to the States for a quieter, safer life. 

The day after this act of domestic terrorism, The New York Times published a clearly anti-Semitic cartoon among some international editions of its Sunday paper. The “newspaper of record” later apologized and deleted it from web editions.

Behind those moments making national headlines—one each from the past three years—anti-Semitic incidents are increasing dramatically in the United States. According to FBI data, crimes linked to anti-Semitism spiked 37 percent in 2017. That followed a 50 percent increase from 2014 to 2015. Approximately half of all anti-religious crimes are anti-Semitic in nature, though Jews are less than 2% of the population.

Anti-Semitic trends are so bad in Europe many Jews consider emigrating, according to a survey by the Pew Forum. Murderous attacks in recent years include shootings at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, a kosher supermarket in Paris, and the Jewish Museum of Belgium. The Pew survey indicated 29% of Jews in the European Union had considered emigrating at some point during the five years prior to the survey. The results from French and Hungarian Jews were, respectively, 46% and 48%.

From the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach to the live-streamed shooting of 50 worshipping Muslims in a New Zealand mosque, no faith community is left untouched by persecution somewhere on the globe. We might be tempted to view anti-Semitism as a problem only for Jews, but anti-Semitism is a unique enough expression of hate that it’s worth considering on its own.

One of the most powerful witnesses Christians can exhibit in the public square is to love and defend our neighbors of another religion, particularly in a moment when we have no immediate self-interest to do so. Four observations follow to help us shame anti-Semitism out of our own communities.

1. Defining anti-Semitism

Though consensus on a definition is elusive, it is worthwhile to enunciate what we are talking about. The U.S. Department of State uses this working definition:

“[Anti-Semitism is] a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”[1]

We are not talking about critiquing policies of Israel’s government. As people who affirm free speech and democratic government, criticism of particular policies of a sovereign nation are fair game. Conspiracy theories, however, such as those about Jews secretly controlling politics, are anti-Semitic.

Most of us recognize that overt calls for or attempts at genocide or other mass atrocities against the Jews, like the Holocaust, are anti-Semitic. But expressions of hatred occur at a personal and community level, in whispers and rumors, long before violence.

2. Anti-Semitism is anti-Bible

Genesis 1:27 tells us, “God created man in His own image, He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.” “In the image of God” is a distinction given only to humanity amidst a vast and diverse creation. It is not that humans are at the top of a creation hierarchy; we are in a different category altogether. Dehumanizing human beings—a hallmark of anti-Semitism—is anti-Bible.

Anti-Semitism is also contrary to—as the Baptist Faith & Message puts it—“God’s gift” of freedom of thought and religion. God created us as autonomous creatures and gave us the responsibility of choosing our eternal allegiance. Persecuting another on the basis of religious belief is anti-Bible.

The best of American values harmonize with these truths. As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo explained, “[Anti-Semitism] is an affront to religious liberty. It denies the rights of Jews to worship their God.”

3. Anti-Semitism breeds more intolerance

Where anti-Semitism exists, we also find persecution of other ethnic and religious groups. Samantha Power (former U.S. Ambassador under President Obama) observed anti-Semitism “is often the canary in the coal mine for the degradation of human rights more broadly. When the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Jews are repressed, the rights and freedoms of other minorities and other sectors are often not far behind.”

Power’s assertion is backed up by a report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom that shows anti-Semitism corresponds with persecution of other minority groups. In Egypt, where anti-Semitism is commonplace, the Coptic Orthodox Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Baha’is are also persecuted. In Iran, where leaders often deny the Holocaust or call for the destruction of the state of Israel, Christian converts are imprisoned and tortured, along with Baha'i, and minority expressions of the Muslim faith. In Belarus, Baptist churches have been raided by the government.[2]

By any measure, the countries mentioned above are not healthy, thriving societies. Their governments collude with non-state actors to blame the Jewish people for poverty, violence, and instability. They persecute their own citizens or look the other way, permitting social hostilities against Jews. Hate permitted toward one group fans the flames of hate toward others.

4. Church history shows us where we were wrong

During the rise of Hitler and National Socialism there was little in the way of protest from the organized church in Germany and Europe. Instead, following the Holocaust that slaughtered six million Jews, the Evangelical Church in Germany and the Baptist Union of Germany could do nothing but issue statements of remorse, confessing they shared in the guilt through their “omission and silence.”

Regrettably, Southern Baptists were not exempt from this guilt. In 1936, Southern Baptist leaders visited Berlin to attend the Baptist World Alliance Congress. Historian Timothy George writes, “They met under the banner of the swastika, received greetings from Hitler, and returned to America with glowing reports on the great things happening in Germany. They specifically minimized the totalitarianism and glaring anti-Semitism which was obvious even in 1936.”[3]

Southern Baptists must—with God’s grace, and hopefully a broad spectrum of Christianity—stand up in our own communities and yell, “stop” on behalf of our Jewish neighbors.

During recent remarks in Warsaw, Poland, Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom under President Trump, urged action among his international peers: “[Anti-Semitism], is not a relic of the past but a present reality” and “taking responsibility means taking action.”

Anti-Semitism is not merely a Jewish problem. May we not be guilty of omission and silence.

This article is an updated and revised version of an article originally published in 2016.


  1. ^ The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism.” http://fra.europa.eu/en/publication/2011/working-definition-antisemitism Retrieved February 2013, since removed from the EU web site. Nevertheless, the definition remains in use by the U.S. Department of State https://www.state.gov/s/rga/resources/267538.htm, Retrieved March 2019.
  2. ^ Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. March 2012.
  3. ^ George, T. “Southern Baptist Heritage of Life.” March 1993. Address given to ERLC 26th Annual Seminar, “Life at Risk: Crises in Medical Ethics.” Available at https://erlc.com/article/southern-baptist-heritage-of-life/.

Matthew T. Hawkins

Matthew T. Hawkins is a former policy director of the  ERLC. He is presently pursuing a Ph.D. in public theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and serves as chair of The One America Movement, a nonprofit that desires to build a united American society by eliminating toxic polarization. More information … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24