The National Jewish-Christian Dialogue, convened by the National Council of Churches and the National Council of Synagogues, meets regularly to discuss pastoral issues that affect the Jewish and Christian communities in the United States and globally. Participants of the dialogue gathered on December 3-4, 2019, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the heartbreaking shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, which took place on October 27, 2018. This hate crime, in which eleven worshippers from three congregations meeting at Tree of Life were killed, and seven others were injured, was the largest mass slaying of Jews in American history. We mourned with community leaders, learned of the community’s efforts to heal, and were inspired by the hope that has arisen from this tragedy.
In light of this horrific assault and other incidents of anti-Semitism in the US and around the world, the Christian participants, representing NCC member and affiliated churches, express our grief and sorrow, as well as abhorrence and condemnation, over the rising tide of anti-Semitism, religious-based bigotry of all forms, racism, and white supremacy that mars our nation and world. Indeed, even in the past few days, other anti-Semitic incidents have occurred in France, Germany, the US and elsewhere. We again pledge to raise our collective voice to confront such hatred and to continue to work for an end of intolerance and related violence.
In this Advent season as we prepare to mark the birth of the Prince of Peace, himself a Jewish carpenter and rabbi, we lift up the words of an NCC statement from 2017, “Anti-Semitism has no place in our society. Eradicating it requires keeping constant vigil.” Reflecting on this reminder, we also remember the words of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: “In the face of anti-Semitism, we are called to speak out – as an expression of our love of neighbor and as our faithful response to the love of God in Jesus. In doing so, we become ambassadors of hope in the face of despair, imitators of Christ.”
We also reaffirm the words of an NCC policy statement adopted earlier this year: “We have seen and strongly condemned violence and terrorism, and the resultant rise of religious bigotry and extremism… Public and sometimes violent acts of racism, white Christian nationalism, anti-immigrant attitudes, and xenophobia, along with rising incidents of anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and other forms of religious bigotry sometimes committed in the name of Christianity, have created an urgency for the churches and the broader culture to recognize the imperative of interreligious engagement for peace-making locally, nationally, and globally.”
Indeed, as stated by Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary of the NCC and present at the Jewish-Christian Dialogue, “We have heard clearly from our Jewish colleagues the need for our collective voice to be raised loudly and consistently against the increasing number of anti-Semitic acts taking place in our nation and world. We have been called for such a time as this.”
As this statement was being prepared, President Trump, ostensibly to quash criticism of Israeli policy and anti-Semitism on college campuses, issued a new Executive Order identifying Judaism as a nationality. This is problematic on many levels, not least of which is whether or not the definition goes beyond a religious designation, and beyond a social designation of peoplehood, into a legal designation of nationhood. This is especially concerning when added to recent policy changes made by this Administration relating to Israel and negatively impacting the Palestinian community. In the end, the NCC sees this EO as an action that deflects from the real issues related to anti-Semitism and that may, in fact, fuel anti-Semitic sentiment moving forward.