Six reasons why Christians should reject anti-Semitism

September 26, 2016

The vote in was 418 to zero in the U.S. House of Representatives. Last year, in an age of hyperpolarized American politics, what could possibly have attracted this kind of bipartisan agreement? Almost 70 years after the Nuremberg trials—which, in part, adjudicated the Holocaust and other atrocities—a House resolution declared “anti-Semitic rhetoric and acts, including violent attacks on people and places of faith, have increased in frequency, variety, and severity in many countries in Europe.”

A survey by the Pew Forum reported harassment of Jews worldwide reached a seven-year high in 2013. Murderous attacks in recent years include shootings at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, the Jewish Museum of Belgium, and a kosher supermarket in Paris. Thus, it may not come as a surprise that many Jews are reconsidering their presence in Europe.

In a survey of almost 6,000 self-identified Jews across eight nations of the European Union, this question was asked, “In the past five years, have you considered emigrating from [this country] because you don’t feel safe living there as a Jew?” The average response across the European Union was 29 percent answering yes. In France and Hungary, respectively, 46 percent and 48 percent said they had considered emigrating in the face of their anti-Semitic experiences.

Ira Forman serves as the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism at the U.S. Department of State. Mr. Forman says there is a “shocking” complexity to anti-Semitism around the globe and that it reveals itself in multiple forms. There is the “classic” xenophobic/nationalist anti-Semitism; there is a kind of leftist variety that is sometimes evident in anti-globalization, anti-colonial movements. Of course there is the anti-Semitism often on seen in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, among others. And there is a populist anti-Semitism evident in some soccer hooliganism. According to Forman’s observations all four forms are evident, at some level in all European nations.

Lest we think this is only a European problem, violent anti-Semitic assaults in the U.S. saw an increase of over 50 percent in 2015. Anti-Semitic incidents on American college campuses alone doubled in 2015. Those numbers eclipse 2014, which was already a disturbingly high year for such incidents. That was the year the FBI reported that 56 percent of all anti-religious hate crimes were anti-Semitic in nature, though Jews make up a mere 1.8 percent of the population. That year also included the murder of three people by a white-supremacist gunman who opened fire at two Jewish institutions in Kansas, a day before Passover.

We might also be tempted to view anti-Semitism as a problem only for Jews. But a theologically diverse roster of witnesses tells a different story. Protestants joined friends in Catholic and Islamic communities to denounce anti-Semitism. As we’ll soon see, anti-Semitism is a problem for every person of every faith and of no faith. Anti-Semitism is an enemy of peaceful pluralism and of civil democracy around the world.

Six observations follow about anti-Semitism that give ample reasons for American Christians to vocally reject anti-Semitism wherever it may be found, be it in their own communities or as a factor in U.S. foreign policy.

1. Anti-Semitism is hatred of the Jewish people

A human rights agency of the European Union once attempted to craft a working definition of anti-Semitism:

“[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]

This working definition was later pulled, possibly due political pressure and accusations that it limited critique of the state of Israel. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of State continue to cite this definition on its own fact sheet. Though we may continue to quibble with a definition that will sustain global agreement, the exercise remains worthwhile in identifying what we are and are not discussing.

In honing a definition, we can rule out what we are not talking about. We are not talking about critiquing policies of Israel’s government. As people who affirm free speech and democratic government, we can affirm that disagreements with and criticism of particular policies of a sovereign nation are fair game. Thus, one can critique a policy decision of the nation of Israel without being anti-Semitic. This is not what we speak of when we speak of anti-Semitism. Further, we can recognize that a definition of anti-Semitism does not require overt calls for genocide or other mass atrocities. After all, expressions of hatred occur at a personal or community level and need not invoke mass terror to be rooted in a hatred of the Jews.

With a rough definition and these parameters in hand, we can consider why Christians—particularly those of us in the United States and in foreign policy circles—have an interest in actively denouncing anti-Semitic rhetoric and actors.

2. Anti-Semitism is contrary to Imago Dei

As confessing Christians, we learn from the very beginning of the biblical narrative that anti-Semitism is contrary to the biblical teachings of the Imago Dei. Specifically, 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.” This is a distinction given only to humanity amidst a vast and diverse creation. It is not merely that humans are at the top of a creation hierarchy. It is that we are in a different category altogether.

To speak, therefore, of any fellow human being as equivalent to—or lesser than—an animal is anti-human and, ultimately, unbiblical. Yet this is exactly what we find in anti-Semitism: the dehumanizing of human beings. Along with other forms of racism and xenophobia, anti-Semitism dehumanizes a very special member of God’s creation, a creature who bears the Imago Dei.

3. Anti-Semitism is an indicator of ethnic and religious intolerance

Where anti-Semitism is found, we also find intolerance of and persecution of other ethnic and religious groups. Anti-Semitic attitudes, rhetoric and actions mark the least free and most oppressive societies on our globe. U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power observed that 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.”

An account by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, (USCIRF) shows clear evidence anti-Semitism often corresponds with persecution and targeting of other minority groups. For example:

That is but a glimpse of the data, but the point is clear. Where anti-Semitism remains unchecked, persecution of other ethnic and religious groups also persists. Anti-Semitism is a problem for all human beings, not just Jews. It warns of other existing or future human rights abuses. Anti-Semitism is a worldview of thugs and despots.

4. Anti-Semitism is contrary to the behavior of a civilized people

Anti-Semitism is contrary to the behavior of a civilized people. By any measure, the countries mentioned above are not healthy, thriving societies. Instead, their governments aggressively antagonize and persecute their own citizens. Their governments collude with non-state actors to blame the Jewish people for their own self-imposed poverty, violence, and instability. Or, the government looks the other way and permits social hostilities to abuse Jews. A nation marked by rampant anti-Semitism is not a country entitled to normalized relations with the United States. Those complicit in either propagating or excusing anti-Semitism are no friends of freedom and, therefore, no friends of the United States of America.

5. Anti-Semitism is contrary to God’s gifts of freedom of thought and religion

Jewish identity is not limited to religious expression, of course. But to the extent religious expression is part of what it means to be Jewish, hatred of the Jews qualifies as hatred of a religious people and their beliefs. Thus, anti-Semitism is contrary to God’s gift[3] of freedom of thought and religion. God created humans as autonomous creatures. His instructions in the Garden gave us the responsibility of choosing our eternal allegiance. Even God did not pre-program us to blindly believe in and worship him. If the Creator granted individuals with a responsibility and freedom for belief, certainly it is wholly inappropriate for another human or temporal institution to persecute another on the basis of religious belief.

6. A lesson from history

Protestant Christianity learned our lesson on anti-Semitism the hard way in the 20th Century. As historian Timothy George accounts, aside from the Barmen Declaration of 1934 there was little in the way of protest from the organized church in Germany and Europe during the rise of Hitler and National Socialism. Instead, following the Holocaust that slaughtered 6 million Jews, the Evangelical Church in Germany and the Baptist Union of Germany could do nothing but issue statements of remorse, confessing they themselves shared in the guilt through their own “omission and silence.”

Regrettably, our own Convention was not exempt from this guilt. In 1936, Southern Baptist leaders visited Berlin to attend the Baptist World Alliance Congress:

“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.”[4]

Those who either fostered or ignored anti-Semitic attitudes were not merely on the wrong side of history. They were, as Russell Moore might put it, on the wrong side of Christ. Millions of our fellow human beings paid for our indifferent attitudes with their lives. Therefore, Southern Baptists have since resolved to no longer stand idly by when anti-Semitism rears its evil head. As we continue to witness new and virulent forms of anti-Semitism here and around the globe, Southern Baptists will–with God’s grace, and hopefully the broad spectrum of evangelical Christianity–stand up and yell, “stop” on behalf of Jewish people.

Notwithstanding the above dark history, Southern Baptists have otherwise commonly expressed solidarity with either the Jewish people or the state of Israel for nearly 100 years. A 1919 resolution called on the U.S. government to provide relief for displaced Jews. A resolution in 1947 called for the U.S. to admit 400,000 displaced Europeans in the aftermath of World War II, including Jewish populations. In this spirit, the following are excerpts from the Southern Baptist Convention’s most recent Resolution On Anti-Semitism, worth quoting at length:

WHEREAS, Southern Baptists deplore all forms of hatred or bigotry toward any person or people group; and

WHEREAS, Scripture speaks of God’s love for the Jewish people, through whom God has blessed the world with His Word and with His Messiah, our Lord Jesus; and

WHEREAS, There is a rising tide of anti-Semitism across the globe, which manifests itself in despicable acts of violence and harassment against the Jewish people; and …

WHEREAS, Populist expressions of anti-Semitism are becoming widespread in some     European countries to a degree that has not been seen since World War II; and

WHEREAS, The bloody history of the twentieth century reminds us of the unspeakably evil legacy of anti-Semitism; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention… denounce all forms of anti-Semitism as contrary to the teachings of our Messiah and an assault on the revelation of Holy Scripture; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we affirm to Jewish people around the world that we stand with them against any harassment that violates our historic commitments to religious liberty and human dignity; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we call on governmental and religious leaders across the world to stand against all forms of bigotry, hatred, or persecution.

Christians of course disagree with our Jewish friends a great deal on issues of theology, including the nature of eternal salvation and the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet we share status as creatures formed in the image of God. We share a great deal in our understandings of human flourishing, morality and ethics. We have shared in persecution for conscience sake. Domestically, Christian and Jewish parents increasingly share in the pressures of educating our children: the pervasiveness of the sexual revolution in public schools and the rising costs of private religious education.

Today we share our full opposition to anti-Semitism in any and every form. It is not merely a Jewish problem. It is a threat to all human beings, of any faith or no faith, in every corner of the globe.

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