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How the church should respond to the rise of anti-Semitism in America

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May 19, 2022

Simmering beneath the surface of so much of our unhelpful national rhetoric is a deep-seated suspicion of those we view as “other” than us. When that suspicion goes uncorrected, it seethes and grows until, eventually, it morphs into hate. Unchecked, hate finally lashes out in the form of nasty words or, as we’re seeing, violent actions. And in many cases, religious and ethnic minorities are the ones who bear the brunt of it.

A documented rise in anti-Semitism

Though we could point to a number of groups experiencing a rise in harmful mistreatment, a report recently published by the Anti-Defamation League revealed that in 2021 Jewish Americans were subjected to a shocking amount of antisemitic “incidents,” a term the report uses to capture a combination of harassment, vandalism, and/or assault. According to the report, “antisemitic incidents in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2021.”

The report outlines, “In 2021, [the] ADL tabulated 2,717 antisemitic incidents across the United States,” which “represents a 34% increase from the 2,026 incidents recorded in 2020 and is the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.” Some additional findings from the report include:

Furthermore, corroborating the findings of the ADL, a report produced by the American Jewish Committee and published in November 2021 “found that about 25% of Jewish people in America have experienced some form of antisemitism.” To put that number into perspective, that’s almost two million Jewish Americans (a conservative estimate) who have encountered discrimination and/or cruelty due to their religious or ethnic identity. 

The Jewish community, both here and abroad, is no stranger to injustice. For centuries they have endured some of the most abominable and inhumane treatment on record. And these statistics—what The New York Times has called “an outbreak of antisemitism“—indicate that Jewish Americans face life in a culture that is increasingly antagonistic toward them. So, what ought Christians to do for our Jewish neighbors?

Blessed are the peacemakers

In the first several lines of Jesus’s well-known Sermon on the Mount, it opens with a series of pithy statements known as the “Beatitudes” (Matthew 5:1-12). After ascending a mountain, Jesus sat down with a crowd of his followers and began his teaching, pronouncing a series of blessings upon some unlikely recipients. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (v. 3), he says, and “Blessed are those who mourn” (v. 4). These Beatitudes make plain what living as a citizen of God’s kingdom looks like here and now. 

And Jesus goes on, eventually uttering a statement that, for Christians in America, is pertinent for our response to the rising antisemitism in our country: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (v. 9). An ethic of peacemaking, Jesus says, is central to belonging to the family of God. So, I ask again: what ought Christians to do for our Jewish neighbors? We are called by Jesus to make peace.

What does it mean to be a peacemaker? It means to be an active agent in bringing the peace of God to bear in the context where we live; actively looking for opportunities to introduce God’s shalom to the people and places that we encounter every day. Making peace is a way that we love our neighbors, a way that we “seek the welfare of [our cities]” (Jer. 29:7), and a way that we mimic our Father in heaven, who is the Lord of peace (2 Thess. 3:16; Rom. 15:33). 

Making peace practically

According to the statistics above, we are surrounded by Jewish Americans who have personally experienced antisemitism, regardless of what state we reside in. So, there are ample opportunities for the church to act as peacemakers to our neighbors. Here are a few ideas:

As Christians, we recognize that our mission is to see “God and sinners reconciled,” as the old Christmas hymn says. We are called to be agents of divine reconciliation, establishing peace between God and sinners through the person and work of Christ and by the power of his Spirit. But we might never gain the audience of our Jewish American neighbors to share that good news until we take seriously Jesus’ call in the Beatitudes to take up our post as peacemakers. Until Jewish Americans see us working to undo the injustice perpetrated against them, they may never lend us their ears and, therefore, never receive the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15). 

So, let us practice the work of making peace on behalf of our Jewish American neighbors. “After all,” as Drew Griffin has written, “if one Jew was willing to give his life to save humanity, surely those of us who claim his name can stand up for the people to whom he came, and through whom the gospel came to us.”

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned his Master of Arts in Theological Studies. Jordan is married to Juliana, and they have three children. Read More by this Author