Presbyterian churches are teaching that their Jewish neighbors are inherently racist and prone to abusing the rights of others.
That’s the key message of PCUSA’s new congregational study guide, “Zionism Unsettled.” Released by its Israel-Palestine Mission Network, the guide “explores the theological and ethical exceptionalism of Jewish and Christian Zionism, which have been sheltered from open debate despite the intolerable human rights abuses rooted in their core beliefs.”
To be clear, this is no mere attack on Israeli policies, but rather on the very legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise.
PCUSA has theologically resurrected the UN’s infamous 1975 “Zionism is Racism” resolution (later rescinded). It puts all on notice that lovers of Zion -- Jews and Christians alike -- are bigots.
PCUSA’s depiction of Zionism as a sin fills a niche in the global political campaign casting Israel as an illegitimate colonial/historic mistake. It also means that a major (albeit ageing and shrinking) mainline Protestant denomination declares the majority of Jews to be a bunch of morally decadent untermenschen, worthy of condemnation and disparagement. Will the faithful now be taught that Jews are people like us, just a little less so?
With this breach, PCUSA leaders have crippled dialogue with the Jewish people. It has chosen to denigrate a central tenet of Judaism along with delegitimizing the world’s largest Jewish community currently residing in the Holy Land.
The church elites are poisoning attitudes among its members towards their Jewish neighbors, its ancient prayers of love for and return to Zion, an integral part of their daily religious devotion, grace after meals and even the Passover Seder.
And just when Jews need allies to stand up against the rising tide of anti-Semitism, they’ve poured fuel on the fires raging across Europe, where, according to some academics, as many as 150 million people there already harbor extreme anti-Jewish and/or anti-Israel animus.
“Zionism Unsettled” makes clear it despises not only Jews (because the vast majority of Jews, even those critical of some Israeli policies, have strong positive connections to the Jewish State) but also America.
Passages abound about the guilt of Christian power and some of the writing condemns Zionism as “Constantinian,” meaning that it became evil the same way that the Church became evil only when it achieved the power of political dominance. Power and strength are the ultimate cardinal sins. The U.S. stands as an indicted co-conspirator: “The myths of entitlement, inequality, racial superiority, and conquest/dispossession have coexisted uncomfortably with constitutional guarantees of equality for all. It has taken generations to even begin to correct the moral and spiritual imperfections of these founding myths within the United States…It is not surprising [that] the political and religious leadership in the U.S. has been predisposed to uncritical support for the Zionist movement.”
For two millennia, Jews and Judaism were subject to contempt because of supersessionism theology. Loosely, this meant that whatever G-d once had promised the Jews was no longer relevant. Jews had been replaced by the New Israel: Christians. By rejecting Jesus, Jews had nowhere left to go -- a ship adrift that would never again make port during the unfolding saga of humankind’s journey.
After Auschwitz, Catholics undid supersessionism with Vatican II and Nostra Aetate. Protestant denominations never did. But it was effectively shelved in the wake of the Holocaust, leading to a new era of understanding and mutual respect with Jews.
The ensuing interfaith dialogue was sustained even when the parties disagreed about many things, including some actions of the Israeli government. No agreement was ever demanded. That worked well till now.
Calling Jews racists and abusers means that the leaders of this Church respect nothing about Jewish striving, and have changed their attitudes toward Jews not a bit since their founder, Martin Luther, called for the burning of synagogues. Jews are being sent not to the back of the bus, but to the trash-heap of history.
PCUSA’s brand of “Zionism is Racism” will reignite the sparks of supersessionism that never were fully extinguished. Its toxic teachings will seep across the Protestant aisle, into the evangelical world and beyond.
Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor who lost 89 members of his family to Nazi henchmen and the world’s apathy, emphasized an inconvenient truth in all his lectures. “Jews suffered collective guilt for 19 centuries for the death of a single Jew,” said the man who brought 1,100 Nazi War Criminals to justice. “We Jews should never apply collective guilt to (mis)treat others the same way."
Our outrage over “Zionism Unsettled” is directed at the leaders of PCUSA, not its members. But while there is no collective guilt, there is responsibility. Zionists-Jews and Christians -- await two responses from responsible Presbyterians.
They ought to consider joining the exodus of hundreds of thousands of others who have left PCUSA in recent years to form other Presbyterian associations. They should also lead a loud chorus in repudiating a hateful gambit that won’t help a single Palestinian but left unchallenged could decimate Christian-Jewish relations.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.