This may be true of you; it sure is for me. I want to do something about the violence in the world. The media are full of it -- whether it’s bullying in local middle schools or sectarian violence in the Middle East. Mostly, though, I see no way for me to make a difference; except in the Christian church.
As an Episcopal priest, my consciousness has evolved in over 25 years of ministry. At first, hearing those demeaning or defamatory texts read aloud in worship, I heard nothing amiss. Looking back on it now, I cannot think why. Perhaps my attention was too narrowly focused within the church to see its effect beyond the church.
Awareness began to dawn when I read Constantine’s Sword, James Carroll’s history of Christian persecution of Jews -- a detailed history going back to the early days of the church and up to and beyond the Holocaust. I still didn’t hear a problem with those texts, though, or see a connection between what people heard in church and their attitude toward Jews.
My turning point came when a parishioner brought her Jewish husband with her to the Good Friday service. Suddenly I found myself listening through his ears, hearing in the readings the source and justification for centuries of pogroms and other forms of persecution. He must have felt despair; for he knew I liked and respected him, and yet I let those texts be read.
From then on I stopped the practice in our church of reading those texts as given. Sometimes I used a translation that is sensitive to anti-Jewish invective, one which substitutes as more historically accurate: “the religious authorities” in place of “the Jews.” At other times I simply left out a phrase, such as “for fear of the Jews.” This goes against canon law; but it was that or go against my conscience.
Since then I have retired and have the time to take my concern to the church at large. I have discovered many clergy who are doing as I did, and modifying the readings to remove the prejudicial language. This is far from ideal, but a conscience-driven temporary measure to tide us over until scholars provide us with texts that meet the test of historical and theological accuracy.
What keeps me going? Violence, to me, is like a river. Individual acts pour into it, but it’s all fungible. These days that river is in flood tide, and if one form of violence can be eliminated or reduced - well, every bit helps. And to be active in this way helps me feel less helpless.
I would love it if you would join me.