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Trinity 14: Dangerous ideas

The next St Mary’s Film Club will be on September 18th and the film will be Denial. It is based on a court case when David Irving, a prolific author on Nazi Germany, sued Deborah Lipstadt for claiming that he was "one of the most dangerous spokespersons of Holocaust denial.”

It was a strange case as Irving was a holocaust denier and the judgement went against him.

Now in the words of Sybille Steinbacher, the author of Auschwitz: A History, it is permissible to speak in public of “Auschwitz denier Irving as a falsifier of history, an anti-Semite and a racist.”

Despite this there are still reports that anti-Semitism is still around and the Labour Party in particular has been caught up in a controversy.

Frank Field resigned the Labour whip and lamented that Labour is seen by some as a racist party and tolerates a culture of nastiness and intimidation.

Racism is essentially defined as prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior. It is usually supported by a range of media and pseudo academic ideas that you can judge a person’s character by the colour of their skin.

It can also imply that a group is separate or perceived as different and outsiders in that nation.

The ex Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his response to Jeremy Corbyn’s comments on British Zionists remarked: “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech”.

Sacks, who was chief rabbi from 1991 until 2013, added: “It was divisive, hateful and like Powell’s speech it undermines the existence of an entire group of British citizens by depicting them as essentially alien.”

The comparison has been strongly refuted but the issue is very much alive and it seems part of a wider issue. Some elements of the Conservative Party and UKIP are seen as anti Islamic and Boris Johnson’s recent ill judged comments on wearing a burqa has caused a great deal of controversy.

It does seem a sad state of affairs when two leading faiths in the country seem at odds with the two major political parties.

The history of anti-Judaism is something that strikes a chord with me as it was very alive and well in part of the history of the church.

Here is an example from a published pamphlet that had in its time a wide readership:

What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming.

First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed.

These were the words of Martin Luther who last year was remembered as the person who was responsible for the Reformation and the rise of Protestantism.

There are sadly many other examples: Jews were blamed in the Middle Ages for the plague and in 1290, the entire Jewish population of England (about 3,000 people) was expelled from the country on the orders of Edward I. Before then they had been victimised by state policy and local action.

Anti-Jewish feeling was also linked to the crusades, which began in 1096. Christians trying to reclaim the holy land (including famous crusading kings like Richard I) increasingly saw Jews as ‘Christ-killers’, against whom violence could legitimately be used.

Another myth was that Jews stole away Christian children for rituals. There were outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence in 1189 and 1190, and Mob violence led to attacks on the Jewish community in London, and the massacre of the Jewish community in York.

There are parts of the New Testament that are written in such a way that make me feel uncomfortable.

The Pharisees and the scribes are anonymous but lumped together and the implication is that they are all hypocrites who are only concerned with being seen to do the right thing but inwardly are full of lies and corruption.

Sadly there are examples of persecutions that were based on the words of the crowds in Jerusalem when Jesus had been arrested: “his blood be on us and on our children.” (Matthew 27.25)

In a few passages of the New Testament the Jews are portrayed in the worst possible light and whilst there is a context and a reason that they were written in the way they were it is uncomfortable.

They are seen as evil, dealers in lies, those who misinterpret the Scriptures and blind people to the truth.

It is polemical language that I personally think reflects the times that it was written rather than the nature of God in which love is at the very centre.

Recently the Archbishop described anti-Semitism as a virus that has the potential to attach itself to various ideas.

For the Labour Party the problem seems to be an attack on Zionism. I have been to talks at Greenbelt that have been pro- Palestinian, but desiring human rights for Palestinian people is very different from saying that that state of Israel does not have the right to exist.

As Christians we need to keep saying that racism, national scapegoating, identifying groups as alien or other is totally wrong and undermines every positive value that the United Kingdom represents.

I would like to finish with some words from the Council of Christians and Jews that I think argue the issue very well:

Antisemitism undermines and distorts the truth: it is the negation of God’s plan for his creation and is therefore a denial of God himself … Antisemitism is the antithesis of all that our scriptures call us to be and to do.

There is a fundamental truth that Jews and Christians hold in common: we are taught, and we believe, that men and women are made in the image of God.

It follows that to demean, to hate, to plan to destroy our fellow men and women, whatever their race or religion, means nothing other than to demean, to hate, to plan to destroy the God in whose image they are made (although in fact nobody can destroy God whose life is indestructible).

It follows that when we speak, act, pray against any evil that dehumanises others on grounds of religion and race, we do not do that because we subscribe to any fashionable ideology or political correctness.

On the contrary, we have seen how cruel fashionable thought can be, how political discourse can be not just incorrect but plain wrong. We challenge antisemitism, and any religious or racial intolerance, because in doing that we are taking sides with the God of justice and fairness who honours each person made in his image.

Combating antisemitism is an issue for God, and it must be an issue for us too.

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