In Loudoun, the two Jewish synagogues – Sha’are Shalom and Beth Chavarim Reform Congregation – have joined the All Dulles Area Muslim Society and other faith communities in interfaith dialogue and education. On the surface, it appears that anti-Semitism is waning in the U.S. However, incidents involving the Republican Party and the Evangelical “Christian Worldview” community reveal that anti-Semitism is alive and well right here in our backyard.
In order to spot anti-Semitism, we have to first know what it is.
In medieval Europe, Good-Friday-Easter week was a dread time for the “perfidis Judaeis” (the faithless Jews) who would often come under attack. The traditional Latin liturgy contained the Good Friday Prayer for the Jews, which lasted until 1955. That prayer read:
“Let us pray also for the faithless Jews: that almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord.”
The 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council revised the prayer for the 1970 edition of the Roman Missal. The 1970 version read:
“Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant.”
Pope Benedict XVI revised the prayer in 2008, returning the meaning to the notorious original version. The Benedict version, translated from the Latin, reads:
“Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men.”
There is no discernible difference in meaning between the original version and Pope Benedict’s revision. Der Spiegel reports that Benedict’s reinstated prayer spurred sharp protest from 1,600 rabbis worldwide. German rabbi Walter Homolka explains:
It is insulting to Jews that the Catholic Church, in the context of Good Friday of all things, is once again praying for the illumination of the Jews, so that we can acknowledge Jesus as the savior. Such statements are made in a historical context which is closely connected with discrimination, persecution and death. Given the weight of responsibility that the Catholic Church has acquired in its history with Judaism, most recently during the Third Reich, this is completely inappropriate and must be rejected to the utmost degree.
He indicates that he believes that the path to salvation, even for Jews, can only go through Jesus, the savior. This opens the floodgates for the conversion of Jews. The Internet is already full of comments by conservative, right-wing Catholics who say: “Wonderful, now we finally have the signal to convert the Jews.” This kind of signal has an extremely provocative effect on anti-Semitic groups. The Catholic Church does not have its anti-Semitic tendencies under control.
The Good Friday prayer controversy occurred in 2008. Five years later, Pope Benedict, known to be a member of the Hitler youth at age 14, resigned – the first Pope to do so in 600 years – as he was unable to shake off the Church’s pedophilia scandal. He had personally moved offending priests to new posts where they continued to abuse children.
Pope Francis, however, is taking the church in a new direction. Rabbi Abraham Cooper reviewed his new apostolic exhortation, “Evanglii Gaudium,” (The Joy of the Gospel) in The Alegemeiner, and reports that Francis will combat anti-Semitism. Here is a quote from the article. The emphasis is mine.
Of Judaism he wrote: “We cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God.” It confirms the continued contribution of Divine truth that comes through the “treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word.”
Pope Francis understands that theology matters. It produces catchwords that galvanize millions. Even in the 21st century, a subtle theological point uttered in a local mosque can cascade into a raging deluge of violence.
The pontiff knows that for centuries, European Jewry was battered by theological cudgels. Early Church figures like Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr and John Chrysostom translated theology into hatred of Jews on the local level, and directly fed the auto-da-fes, the Crusades, and the pogroms that destroyed hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives.
The two theological positions most damaging to Jews were replacement theology and deicide. The former maintains that the Jews of the Bible have been “replaced” by the New Israel, meaning Christians. All covenants and promises in the Bible no longer apply to Jews; they subsequently have no claim to land or history. The latter position holds all Jews responsible for the crime of killing God through the crucifixion of Jesus.
Both of these positions mostly disappeared after the Nazi Holocaust, as Christians came to grips with the contribution that Church-inspired anti-Semitism made to Hitler’s extermination machinery.
Pope Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, was highly educated. Recent research of letters received by German Jewry’s central communal organization reveals that “there is little difference between the semantics of ‘highly educated anti-Semites and vulgar extremists’.”
That’s also the case here in Virginia and Loudoun. While there are many facets to anti-Semitism, I’m going to focus on the two identified by Rabbi Cooper, replacement theology and deicide.
We’ll start with GOP 10th Congressional District Chair, current candidate for state senate, and Former Reform Commission appointee John Whitbeck and his supporters, who, according to the Washington Post, “laughed uproariously” at an anti-Jewish joke Whitbeck used to warm up a crowd of elite Republican supporters of Ken Cuccinelli, Bishop E.W. Jackson, and Mark Obenshain at a Constitution Day rally. Here’s a portion of the joke provided by Leesburg Today. You can watch a YouTube video here. Ironically, Whitbeck claims to have told the joke in honor of the newly elected Pope Francis.
“…when the pope is elected, the head of the Jewish faith goes to the Vatican and brings a ceremonial piece of paper. It’s very old and it dates back hundreds of years, and he comes into the pope’s office and he ceremonially hands the piece of paper to the pope, the new pope. And then the new pope ceremonially rejects it. And the head of the Jewish faith leaves, and goes on about his business. Well, this time around, the pope said: ‘I gotta find out what’s on this piece of paper.’ So he actually takes it from the head of the Jewish faith, he opens it and he looks at it, and he closes it…and his Jewish counterpart says ‘what was it?’ And he says, ‘well, that was the bill for the last supper.'”
The joke and the response to it of the crowd was more than just offensive. It was chilling. Just in case it’s not clear, what made the joke unacceptable?
- The joke’s punchline, the Last Supper, is an unambiguous reference to deicide. And worse, according to the joke, not only did the Jews “kill Jesus” (a phrase often repeated by childhood bullies who learned it from adults, and as Rabbi Cooper reminds us, “all Jews [are] responsible“), the greedy murderers have the gall to bill the Pope.
- The joke normalizes disrespect by the Pope toward the (non-existent) “head of the Jewish faith,” as if he is not the representative of a legitimate faith. That’s an expression of replacement theology.
- The joke was told at a public campaign event by an aspiring political leader to a crowd comprised of the county’s Republican leaders and activists – a group of people who are supposedly very concerned about religious liberty. Whitbeck correctly predicted that this crowd would appreciate his joke.
- As Rabbi Homolka explained, “This kind of signal has an extremely provocative effect on anti-Semitic groups.” The undeniable intent and effect of the joke was to rally the crowd of activists against the “Hollywood liberals” (coded language for “Jews” in certain circles) that Dick Black and others on the “conservative Christian” right so incessantly demonize as responsible for everything in our culture they dislike.
If you think the incident damaged Whitbeck’s standing in Republican party, think again. Congressman Frank Wolf quickly made the excuse that the comments were “out of character” and expressed his pleasure with Whitbeck’s non-apology. Tellingly, the “apology” has since been removed from the VA 10th CD website. You can still find it here, and it is reprinted below.
Post Date September 20, 2013
Earlier this week, I made a lighthearted attempt at humor to which some have taken offense. It was certainly not my intent to offend anyone and I sincerely apologize to those who were.
Whitbeck isn’t alone, of course. We also have the recent example of disgraced LG candidate Bishop E.W. Jackson, former Chaplain of the Virginia Family Foundation, who in a campaign event/sermon in Northern Virginia, claimed that non-Christians are followers of “false religion.” Under tough questioning at an October 22 candidate forum, he was forced to apologize to the Virginia Beach Jewish Community . He backtracked on Judaism, but when questioned about other religions, the minister dodged, saying “Look, I’m running for lieutenant governor. I’m not running to be theologian of Virginia.”
Jackson runs an outfit called S.T.A.N.D. (Staying True to America’s National Destiny) whose mission is “dedicated to preserving life, the traditional family and our Judeo-Christian history and values…” S.T.A.N.D.’s number one issue is to “END THE HYPHENATED AMERICA,” – except, apparently, for that hyphen between “Judeo” and “Christian.”
The idea of “true” and “false” religion peaks with the glorification of the “ex-Jew,” a Jewish person who accepts the “truth” of Christianity as demanded by Pope Benedict’s prayer. Evangelical Christian apologetics celebrates such conversions, and Loudoun’s own tax-exempt Prison Fellowship Ministries and Colson Center for Christian Worldview are the tip of the apologetics spear. A review of the book Moving From Judaism Toward Christ, and How Christians Tried to Stop Me is especially critical of “tolerant” Christians who do not see other religions as untrue (emphasis mine):
Lauren Winner relates the story of her conversion from Judaism to Christianity. When she first started to pursue the question of whether Jesus really was the Messiah, she was discouraged by the answers she got from those who claimed to be Christians around her. An episcopal priest told her that the Christian faith was just a cultural expression, and a Presbyterian minister told her not to reject her Orthodox Jewish beliefs. It took dreams from God and a move to England, where she found a group of genuine Christian believers, before she was able to learn and accept the truth.
In his role as the chair of the outsourcing subcommittee for the Loudoun County Government Reform Commission, John Whitbeck tried to steer public funding for social and mental health services to the exclusionary Prison Fellowship Ministries, an affiliate of the Colson Center. This might also explain why Congressman Wolf so easily excused Whitbeck’s anti-Jewish sentiments. Wolf actively promotes Prison Fellowship and the Colson Center. He received the Center’s Wilberforce award in 1990 and has been actively funding, praising and promoting the anti-Jewish Colson Center/Prison Fellowship for the past 23 years.