Pandemics and Interdependency

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 2 December 2010 0 Comments
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You wrote in one of your columns recently "One reads the writings of some of the figures of history like Irenaeus, Polycarp, John Chrysostom and even Martin Luther for documentation of the deep anti–Semitism that has marked Christianity over the centuries." In those writings, Jews were described as "vermin" and "unfit for life." How do you think those writers reconciled the fact that Jesus is a Jew?


Dear Peggy,

Prejudice is never rational. I grew up in a southern Christian church, Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I was taught that segregation was the will of God, that women were by nature inferior to men, that homosexuals were either mentally sick or morally depraved and that Jews were all Christ killers. Interestingly enough, the Bible was quoted to justify each of these prejudices.

Most of my anti–Semitism I actually learned in that church through my Sunday school material. I never met a good Jew in Sunday school. Jews were always pictured as dark, sinister figures who had names I was taught to dislike, such as Annas, Caiaphas, Sadducees, Pharisees and Judas Iscariot. Jews were only portrayed as the enemies of Jesus and of Paul and the ones who brought about the crucifixion of Jesus and the persecution of Paul.

No one in my Sunday school ever told me that Jesus was a Jew. When I looked at pictures of him, he did not look like my image of what Jews were supposed to look like. He had blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin. I thought he might have been a Swede!

No one also ever told me that all of Jesus' disciples were Jews, that Joseph and Mary were Jews, that Paul and Magdalene were Jews or that all of the authors of the various books in the Bible were Jews either by birth or in the case of Luke alone, by conversion.

So it is easy for me to understand how it was that Christians through the centuries, out of a deep, rampant and uninformed hatred, simply repressed the Jewishness of Jesus in order to continue their persecution of the Jewish people. It is also embarrassing and regrettable to realize that so much of our cultural anti–Semitism has been nothing less than the gift of the followers of Jesus to the world.

Once we raise history to consciousness, it is imperative that we act to dismantle it. That is the only way I know to be faithful to the Jewish Jesus.

~John Shelby Spong




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