The humility of knowing

30 April 2017

When we get to know our enemies we realise they are not as bad as we thought they were, nor we as good as we believe we are. When we get to know those of a faith different to our own we realise they are not as wrong as we thought they were, nor we as right as we believe we are.

Confident faith

30 April 2017

There is merit in having a confident faith for it allows us to live with doubt. The same cannot be said of certainty for certainty denies the reality of doubt and in the denial we cannot truly love.

The experience of the women at the empty tomb and the disciples over subsequent days gave them hope.

The obvious lesson to be drawn was that death had been overcome.

That life was affirmed even in the presence of persistent evil.

It was this message that Peter and James would use to convince their fellow Jews of the significance of Jesus in the unfolding story of God’s ongoing covenant with his people.

Paul would draw on the belief that God had done something mind-shatteringly new to reach beyond the constraints of the Law.

Putting it bluntly – in the resurrection of Jesus God had broken the bonds of sin and death.

For centuries much of the Christian Church has taught that what we do in this life determines what happens in the next; that what happens here and now is a precursor to what awaits us in eternity.

This teaching has been used to encourage and cajole as well as beat and abuse.

Do as the Church says and all will be well – or fail to do as the Church teaches and you will rot in hell.

The power of persuasion rested in the hands of the ecclesiastical elite mirroring the military muscle of the Lord of the manor.

By the late eighteenth century and the Age of the Enlightenment the Church had begun to lose its grip upon society. It is wrong to assume that the decline in the influence of the Church began only in recent decades. Apart from a few revivals as a reaction to loss of confidence the decline has been steady for around 200 years.

Up until then the afterlife was a clear and determining feature within Church life.

Once the age of science and bioscience began to open up new horizons of thought, belief in the here and now being the sole cause for concern grew.

In other words what happens within the term of a human life was all that mattered, not what may come afterwards.

This probably sinks home in popular culture when John Lennon writes ‘imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try no hell below us, above us only skies, imagine all the people living for today.’

Those who wondered whether Yuri Gagarin saw God above the clouds were to be sorely disappointed.

So if death, or to be more exact the afterlife, is not the determining factor in how we conduct our lives what is? And how can Jesus, in particular the disciples’ experience of resurrection, help us?

Do we still have a message as important, as influential as our predecessors in faith?

As a consequence of the development of thought these past two centuries there has been a significant increase in how the mind works. What are the factors that lead to a happier, more successful life?

Psychotherapists tell us that one of the most debilitating features in human life is the inability to forgive or be forgiven.

Over the course of my ministry some of the bitterest people I have met have been those who have harboured a grudge.

And their bitterness isn’t restricted to damaging their own well-being.

Their attitude and actions have heaped hurt upon those about them.

They have also been real obstacles to growth in the community, not least the impact of the church upon the neighbourhood.

Yet those who have exercised the most positive influence over others have been the ones who have addressed and come to terms with some great wrongdoing, either perpetrated by others upon them or indeed by themselves upon others.

These are not the ones who have never had anything major injustice done to them and have been extremely fortunate to travel through life without having to wrestle with costly forgiveness. No, these are the ones who have faced the darkest of days and the evil that takes up residence in the human soul.

I am thinking of those whom I have had the great privilege of meeting that have survived Auschwitz.

Of the teenager who, during the Kosovan conflict of 1999, despite having numerous bullets poured into her body by paramilitaries, managed to hold onto the thin thread of life until rescuers pulled her from the pile of bodies.

And then there have been those who have faced a no lesser evil when they have been gossiped about, when they have been bullied at work, when they have been cheated, when their trust has been broken, when the love they’d believed was theirs has been taken from them.

What does Jesus and the resurrection say to them?

Jesus does not take forgiveness lightly.

He knows that it is a costly exercise.

In fact it is only won after much struggle, after the body is drenched in sweat, when God and God alone can determine whether the cup of suffering is taken from our lips.

‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do’.

It doesn’t come easily.

But after wrestling with the dilemma, after struggling to understand why and finally arriving at some understanding of how all this came to be, forgiveness is possible.

Singer songwriter Tracy Chapman hits the nail on the head when she recognises that someone is using her for their own ends. But they are unable to acknowledge their own wrongdoing in the relationship:

Sorry Is all that you can’t say

Years gone by and still

Words don’t come easily

Like sorry like sorry

Forgive me

Is all that you can’t say

Years gone by and still

Words don’t come easily

Like forgive me forgive me

If it is difficult for many today to appreciate the overcoming of death in the resurrection experience, then at least one other obstacle to abundant life could be seen to be overcome. That is the inability to forgive and be forgiven.

That is not to take wrongdoing and injustice lightly, far from it.

But it is to recognise that wrongdoing and injustice do not necessarily win.

The image of the Birmingham girl, who happens to be of Asian Muslim descent smiling into the face of an aggressive EDL protestor a week ago reminds us of the power of inherent goodness.

She was the same age as one of those whom I mentioned earlier.

Saranda was the teenager who had survived the massacre Kosova that had claimed the lives of almost all of her family.

When she came to tell her story to a packed room of sixth formers seven years later the first question put to her from the floor was ‘Have you forgiven the men who did this to you?’

Without hesitation Saranda replied ‘On a good day I’d like to think I have, on a bad day I know I haven’t. I’d like to live long enough to say that I have for sure.’

The empty tomb tells us many things, yes that death has been overcome.

It also tells us that evil cannot win.

Alongside that is the good news that forgiveness, being forgiven and being able to forgive, is probably the most life-affirming act known to us.

And this is the victory of the one who forgave as he died.

May we forgive, not as we die but as we live.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From The Chair of the Lincolnshire Methodist District

 

For the bereaved, injured and traumatised the world is now a very different place; our prayers go out to them.

Images from the tragic events on Westminster Bridge and in the grounds of the Palace of Westminster have seared themselves into all our memories.

As Christians, in our little corner of God’s world, we have a duty to respond as Christ would expect. Only love can defeat hate, only truth can overcome lies and only dialogue can inform the ignorance. We have to ensure that our hopes and dreams are not retained in the secrets of our prayers but fulfilled in our words and actions. It is for a time such as this that we are placed on this good Earth, to build bridges and make friends with people who express their faith in ways different to those that we were taught.

It is not true that Islam is satanic nor is it true that there is a Jewish conspiracy in our world; it is not true that God’s children are condemned to live and die in fear of each other, but are born to explore the complexity of diversity so that each might discover afresh the richness and mystery of our creator.

Having spoken and preached a number of times recently on an encounter Jesus had in Sychar, I am reminded that Jesus placed himself at a well where others found refreshment, notably a woman of a faith different to his own. The message is clear, we too, following his example, are to journey physically and spiritually to encounter those who might not necessarily journey toward us.

We must not let the extremists, whether they be religiously or politically motivated, undermine the values that make for a holistic society. All who seek the common good need to join hands and face this universal threat; in doing so we will never be defeated, Love will always win.

Surprises are the spice of life.

As with spice some surprises are too sharp to swallow but others can add flavour and excitement.

A birthday present or a gift at Christmas that takes us by surprise is usually very welcome.

When the gift is predictable it can be more than a little disappointing.

A good novel, or a creative piece of music, or an imaginative painting, contains a surprise or two.

A twist in the final chapter, the introduction of a key change, a little detail that only the observant can spot, these things can turn something half decent into something that is special.

Those that compiled the Gospel accounts knew what they were doing when they added surprises to their text; they knew that those twists would keep the reader alert.

Matthew’s account, the one that we are focussing on this year, is filled with surprises.

The surprises begin right at the beginning of the account with the genealogy of Jesus which includes some extraordinary characters whom you wouldn’t suspect of being ancestors of the Son of God.

Tamar, the Gentile, surprising for a book that claims Jesus to be the new Moses.

Rahab the Canaanite prostitute who spied against her people.

And so on.

To the reader that knew their Hebrew scriptures, which Matthew’s community clearly did, this was a very surprising list.

From the genealogy to Golgotha and the confession of the Roman centurion at the foot of the cross, the first to publicly declare Jesus to be the Son of God, Matthew implies the tool of surprise to hook into the imagination of his readers.

Then there are the temptations in the wilderness.

One would expect the new Moses to spend time, as did the original Moses, in the wilderness.

What is surprising is the level of temptation that Jesus faces.

To the righteous reader how can this be so?

To the unrighteous reader, why doesn’t Jesus go with the quick fix, or the power, or the display that would prove once and for all his uniqueness?

It’s a twist alright.

Of course for many it is ok to recite the creed that includes ‘tempted in all points as we are’ but when that is graphically illustrated by a novelist and later a film producer to include the temptation of turning back from the course God would have him take and instead to marry Mary Magdalene, settle down and have kids, that is one twist too many.

But for me, the film Last Temptation, drove home the sacrifice Jesus made on my behalf.

I personally couldn’t think of how it’s even remotely possible to resist such a temptation, but resist he did.

In a church that is no longer surprised by the birth of the Son of God in a backwater,

or that the message didn’t get through to everyone (and still doesn’t),

or that the whole episode should end with him nailed to a cross,

such a creative addition to the story was sufficient to help convince me of the extraordinariness of Jesus.

So if Jesus and his actions took his contemporaries by surprise, how does Jesus take us further by surprise today?

The story has to be developed.

It cannot stay the same.

Just as the missionaries to Eskimos  found their claim that Jesus was the bread of life meant nothing to them, so we today have to realise that some of the story no longer surprises nor attracts our colleagues at work, our neighbours in the street, or our friends at the bowls club.

If someone had have said to me thirty years ago as I took up my first appointment in circuit that I would preach in a mosque at Friday prayers during Ramadan I would have thought them crazy.

If someone had have said to me then that a rabbi would open up the meaning of scripture like none of my Christian teachers I would not have believed them.

If someone had have said to me then that I would end up doing any one of the hundred and one things I have done these past three decades I would have said they were deluded.

But the path of discipleship is one of great excitement and joy when the journey has surprises along the route.

We cannot settle for anything less than surprise.

Because if we do our faith is dormant and in mortal danger.

So today we look to how the mission of Jesus can be further expanded.

Reaching out to our own, in a comfortable unchallenging manner is not going to get us anywhere.

To be engaged with those outside our own is to be alive to surprise.

To be open and receptive to those who offer us a very different perspective on life and faith is to be a faithful and willing listener to the God that is trying to get through to us.

We may miss what God is saying if we do not give God the chance to communicate through all of his children.

Yesterday my friend David and I attended a conference in the morning and an art gallery in the afternoon.

The conference was for chaplains and professional practitioners in health care. It was an opportunity for the delegates to explore the links between spirituality and medical provision.

In the afternoon we visited the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull.

For me God was as present in the gallery as he was in the conference.

That is not to disparage the conference in any way, far from it, I thought it was a wonderful conference touching on some very important issues and much will have been achieved by it.

But God could not be excluded from the gallery.

God was there in the labour undertaken by the artists as they conveyed meaning.

God was there in those attending from the 19-month old toddler rushing in between the legs of adults to the frail gentleman placing his walking stick against the wall before balancing himself on his weak legs to take a photo of a painting with his smart phone.

God was there in the joy of the residents of Hull as their city is visited and appreciated by those of us who haven’t been for many a year.

God will be in the week that you are about to experience.

Whatever it is that you will face,

highs or lows,

laughter or sorrow,

conversations or isolation

God will be with you and God will be within all you encounter and experience.

This is the message of Jesus in the wilderness,

the one who would go on to enthral crowds on hillsides,

be feted as he entered the city

and who would weep tears in the garden.

He was never forsaken.

And nor will you be.

[B1]

This unalterable fact

19 February 2017

This unalterable fact,

a knowledge that cannot be unknown,

that one day we shall die.

 

And all that we do no longer

will no longer be done.

 

And all whom we love,

whom we cannot love beyond

will be cast out,

to wander on unknown,

through, as yet, an unknown world,

and wonder at its imperfections

and wither in time’s frightful passage.

Then alone they face and fight,

and fight the challenges they alone can fight.

 

Such a knowledge once known,

A dread-full, fact now known,

that cannot be shaken off

but haunts and holds

and close us off,

until our time,

our time,

has come and is

and is no more.

 

Such knowledge impacts all we may yet come to know,

all whom we may yet come to love,

an undercurrent to coming waves of time

Ever rolling and immersing the sands of life.

 

From suckling child to force-fed patient,

from first words to a sigh at the last

and in between lies all that –

while consciousness is real,

that inflicts its terrible paragraph

on chapters that charted growth,

interaction,

fulfilled ambitions

and thwarted dreams.

 

This unalterable fact that one day

the dawn will not come,

the sun will not rise,

for night, that unconscious void,

will cast its impenetrable veil

across the light

that once gave us wonder

and as we wandered

in hope and love

a hoped for life

in all eternity. 

 

 

A Statement from the Revd Bruce Thompson, Chair of the Lincolnshire Methodist District

2 February 2017

 

It is becoming increasingly clear that many of the values that have underpinned Western democracies are facing their greatest challenge in decades.

Based on the Judaeo-Christian principles of hospitality to the stranger, providing refuge to the oppressed and respecting one another our nations have been havens in times of war, places where the vulnerable have been protected and where communities of diversity seen as an enrichment not a threat.

All these principles had become embedded in society through selfless sacrifice over many years. They are now in danger of being lost through fear as a consequence of lies and bigotry.

The recent electoral and referenda campaigns unleashed deeply-seated prejudices. They have permitted a depth of hatred to be expressed that before only emanated from the more extreme sections of society.

Deeply held convictions are held on both sides of the argument and we are in danger of fostering divisions and wounds that will take many years to heal. Therefore there has been no greater need than today to revisit those truths that have held communities and nations together in times of crisis.

As Christians we need to honour the teaching that reminds us that a fulfilled life comes through serving God above all others, through meeting our neighbour’s needs, through loving one another and through taking a stand against any injustice. The Church has always been at its most effective when it has been true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and when it has been a counter to populist agendas that bring chaos and suffering to so many; in short when it has been a Church of righteousness and resistance.

We live in a world of fantasy.

For some time now we have been living in a world of fantasy.

From the early soaps Peyton Place and Crossroads, with the enduring Coronation Street of course and the myriad of other imaginary communities, our lives have become accustomed to living in a parallel universe where the final scene is a cliff hanger to keep our anxieties high till the next episode.

Then of course historical fiction has played its part. Such novels may be beautifully written and thoroughly researched, but they can only be an extension of the author’s imagination.

Films ‘based on actual events’ have merely added to the fact that fantasy has become more interesting than truth; and, in some cases, more believed than the original documentation and eye witnesses even.

Then along comes social media where everyone’s opinion is as valid as anyone else’s.

In truth, of course, this is clearly not so.

My opinion on climate change is nowhere near as well informed as that of environmental scientists. Just as I wouldn’t expect an environmental scientist to be as well informed on biblical criticism as I am, so I would not expect my views on global warming to be treated equally to those of someone who has spent their adult lives studying the issue with all the statistics at their fingertips.

Social media has also enabled conspiracy theorists to promote their ill-founded claims in ways that appear to be well-researched and irrefutable.

On Friday we commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day. Despite the fact that gas chambers and ovens remain at Auschwitz the Holocaust deniers maintain that they never existed at all.

All of this is an acute danger to the world we have forged over decades, a world based on verifiable facts; a world that holds truth as the core element to an open and honest society, where respect for the experts and admiration for those who wrestle with the issues exist.

When Michael Gove dismissed truth during the Referendum last year by saying that we’d had enough of experts he was adding yet another slash to the fabric of a well-ordered society.

When claiming Trump’s inauguration crowd was bigger than Obama’s (please do me a favour) his senior advisor Kellyanne Conway suggested that there is such a thing as ‘alternative fact.’ Really? In my book there is no alternative to fact other than fiction.

So, we live in a world of fantasy and it’s a very slippery slope.

It means that few if any can ever be trusted again.

It means that lies can displace truth.

It means that all sorts of wrong can be committed without recourse.

At a Q and A shortly before the US Presidential election I was asked why it is that there are fewer people of faith in Britain than was once the case. I found myself replying that it’s not just religion that people have lost their faith in. People have also lost their faith in sport. So that when someone does extremely well in the Olympics we question whether they did so without the aid of performance enhancing drugs. People have also lost their faith in politics. A huge percentage of the population doesn’t trust Brussels, or Westminster, or the so-called ‘political elite’. In my response at the Q and A I went on to suggest that when people become disbelieving of, or angry at organisations that have evolved over many decades a chasm opens up into which steps those who would fill it for their own political ends. This happened in Italy, Germany and Russia in the 1920’s and 1930’s, dictatorships resulted and the outcome was catastrophe. I then went on to warn the young people of falling for the same mistake but that we were beginning to see the same possible outcome in the US with Trump heading towards the White House. This warning didn’t go down well with some people present and it reminded me that those who dare to speak truth to power are often an embarrassment to those who do not have the courage to stand up to injustice.

The problem for those of us who practice a religious faith is that we can so easily become ignored, disregarded, scoffed at in a so-called ‘post-truth world,’ where fantasy is preferred to fact, where lies are held on the same level as truths, where what was once the given no longer has claim upon society.

These are clearly dangerous days.

The world has been here before of course.

I have already mentioned the totalitarian states that inflicted so much damage across Europe in the twentieth century. But they were overcome, eventually.

I could mention Church and State in previous centuries who through controlling information and withholding knowledge helped keep the masses downtrodden and accepting of injustice.

The world has indeed been here before but the truth has a habit of winning through, albeit after a long, hard struggle and at great cost.

Which is why it is vital that all people of good will and common sense do not fall for the lies and rhetoric of the extremists across our world.

Kim Wilders, the far right leader in the Netherlands who is ahead in the polls has recently claimed Europe is facing a Patriotic Spring with his own nation’s election in March and the French Presidential election in May. All this could so easily be topped with the German election later in the year.

The claims of each far right party and politician has a common thread. Make our nation great again, take control of our borders, give the power to the people. We heard the same battle cry last summer in the referendum.

History warns us about the dangers of such self-centred, protectionist, short-termist views. But history also tells us that such dangers are overcome, as I have said, eventually.

As Christians we will, of course, look to Christ for inspiration. We were warned of false prophets and the teachings of Christ contain all we need to discern right from wrong.

The early church through John’s account of the gospel comes to believe that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

We can all experience real life, says the evangelist, an abundant life, if we know the Truth.

But we can only know the Truth if we follow the Way, that is practice hospitality, humility, generosity, grace and forgiveness.

The historical Jesus, according to the evangelist, may have debated with Pilate what truth was but it becomes clear to the believers that through the resurrection that which leads to death is overcome, not once but for all time.

The principalities, the powers, the perpetrators of evil acts do not win, for they cannot win in the long term.

The problem of course is the short to medium term.

This is a world that wants instant answers to questions, immediate solutions to problems and politicians seem unwilling to make sacrifices for anything beyond their term of office; which is why, incidentally, Putin has great advantage over our own elected leaders because they are in power for a wee while and he thinks he is going to be in the Kremlin for many years to come.

With this short-termist mindset, few are willing to commit to anything that cannot have identifiable results within their own lifetime. But that is what we must now do for the sake of future generations.

It’s like challenging those who say that we don’t need to change anything in a church because it will see me out.

What I am addressing now is something altogether greater than a few changes in the way we do things in church.

This is about taking a stand against the prejudices of our generation, for if we don’t then future generations will pay an even greater price. Our actions and inaction will be judged by those who come after us. If we fail to speak out now, if we remain silent in the face of this enormous threat, then history will judge us harshly and rightly so.

Therefore, I want to speak of an authentic Church in a world of fantasy.

To do so I have to be part of an authentic Church.

A Church which says it is not true that those of a different faith are a threat to me; but what is true is that all people are made in the image of God.

It is not true that those of a different sexual orientation should have fewer rights than me; what is true is that those who love one another know God and are loved by God.

It is not true that only those outside my own religion are the terrorists in this world; what is true is that we are complex beings with the capability of doing both good things and great harm.

It is not true that those who have made mistakes should always be punished forever; what is true is that those with contrite hearts should have the chance to be forgiven.

It is not true that the Church has a monopoly on truth; what is true is that the Church is limited to the abilities and willingness of its members and that those outside the Church have much to teach us within it.

It is not true that we should accept without scrutiny the orders of even a democratically elected government; what is true is that all people, organisations and governments are subject to the judgment of God.

So here we are. At the beginning of 2017. With much to do if we are to be the Church of righteousness and resistance, much to do if we are to be an authentic Church in a world of fantasy.

Personally, I have never been as confident in my call, so convinced as to what we should now do, as I am today.

These are challenging times, for sure. But they are times filled with opportunity and task.

To be the people God would have us be.

To stand tall in the face of oppression.

To be truthful in a plethora of lies.

And to be the disciples of the one who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

 

Understanding Antisemitism

26 January 2017

 

dsc_0044

Holocaust Art Installation Jewish Museum Berlin

 

 

This article first appeared in the Methodist Recorder 26 January 2017

 

The British Government has become the first in the world to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. It reads:

‘Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities’.[1]

There has been a misconception amongst many as to exactly what constitutes as antisemitic speech or action in modern times and the IHRA definition goes a long way towards a fuller understanding. In an age that is sometimes described as ‘post-truth’ it is good to have greater clarity on what the late, renowned historian Robert Wistrich called ‘The Longest Hatred’[2], otherwise antisemites will continue to find increasingly imaginative ways to cover up their prejudices.

What has often helped to cloud understanding is the fact that hatred of Jews has taken on many forms over the centuries; once one form of prejudice has been addressed, though not altogether overcome it has to be said, another has tended to develop. Putting it simply, for much of the last two thousand years the hatred has been fuelled by those inept and arrogant theologies that have blamed Jews per se for the rejection and death of Jesus; examples of which can be found even in Christian pulpits today, including, in my hearing, at an ordination service last year.

Of course, a more liberal view of religious affiliation developed from the age of the Enlightenment, thus enabling Jews to take a much fuller role in society. But just a little while later, with the rise of the nation state, coupled with Darwinian views, one’s country of birth or indeed race became increasingly significant and it didn’t take long for Jew-hatred to become racially, rather than religiously, motivated. It was in 1879 that the German leftist Wilhelm Marr popularised the term ‘antisemitism’. Marr argued that the integration and assimilation of Jews into German society could never be successful and even those who had chosen to abandon their religion, or convert to Christianity, were to also be forever in conflict with the German volk.[3] So, whilst the fact that religious prejudice against Jews had never really gone away, a new form of Jew-hatred developed that was based almost entirely on racial heritage. It was this form of hatred that culminated in the forest massacres and gas chambers of Nazi-occupied lands. It has to be noted, however, that the Holocaust or Shoah (Hebrew for catastrophe) was not unique; boycotts, ghettoes, the wearing of badges to single out Jews, expulsions and pogroms had all taken place before over many centuries. What was different in the 1940s was the unprecedented scale and industrialisation of the killing; it was nothing less than a serious attempt to exterminate an entire race, irrespective of whether the victims were practising Jews, secular or Christian.

After the liberation of the camps, almost unqualified horror at what had taken place kept a lid on Jew-hatred for a number of decades, but the lid was on a simmering pan. Post-war guilt at the failure to prevent the slaughter of European Jewry may have played a part in the establishing of the State of Israel but it was not long before Jew-hatred came to the boil again. Today antisemitism is on the rise. Over the years, following each conflict or outbreak of violence in Israel Palestine it has been possible to chart an increase in antisemitic incidents; once the violence abated the number of attacks returned to the previous level. However this has not been the case since the 2014 conflict with Hamas. The level has remained high and, indeed, at times has increased.[4]

There was much admiration for ‘plucky little Israel’ over its first twenty years of its existence, as it held back five hostile neighbours collectively bent on ‘pushing Jews back into the sea’. It is understandable that many became anxious over the tightening of human rights in the occupied territories post ’67. But while there is legitimate concern at the destruction of ancient olive groves, the building of settlements and the erection of a security barrier, some expressions of concern have slipped into new forms of Jew-hatred, albeit masked by political campaigning for the rights of Palestinians. Many who have made this error have done so in all innocence believing that they were fulfilling the call to do justice.

So whilst neither Jew-hatred based on religious affiliation nor antisemitism (racial hatred of Jews) have completely left the scene, a new variant of the prejudice has manifested in the guise of anti-Zionism, Zionism being the belief that a Jewish nation should exist. This has led scholars including Lord Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi, to claim that Jew-hatred is a virus that mutates; in other words the prejudice that found expression in religious and racial forms now has a political form. The IHRA definition of antisemitism which the British Government has adapted rightly takes into account all three forms.

The IHRA website helpfully offers examples that serve as illustrations:

Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews ‘for why things go wrong’. It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.’[5]

The Methodist Church has been clear on its abhorrence of antisemitism since at least 1943; part of a statement at the Conference of that year reads:

Anti-Semitism[6] is utterly incompatible with the Christian doctrine of man (sic), and is a denial of the Gospel. Malicious gossip and irresponsible charges against Jews, no less than active persecution, are incompatible with Christian standards of behaviour. Accordingly, the Conference calls upon the Methodist people everywhere to resist attempts to rouse antagonism or prejudice against the Jewish people.’

The 1943 Conference representatives were meeting at a time when racial hatred of Jews was commonplace and unbeknown to them reaching its apocalyptic zenith across occupied Europe.

The 1999 report Called to Love and Praise understandably went much further on the theological issues, recognising both the complexity and sensitivity of the historic relationship between the Church and Jews. However some might feel that the report was not clear enough in distancing today’s Church from the supersessionist views[7] of the past, beliefs that have seriously contributed to hostility between Christians and Jews.

Most recently the EDI Toolkit on the Methodist Church website has provided a more relevant definition of antisemitism:

‘Any belief, policy or action that discriminates against or incites hatred towards Jewish people, either by race or religion, or caricatures Jewish people and culture. This can include denying the right of Israel to exist, or to judge it by standards not applied to other nations.’

This most recent guidance by the Church is clear, unequivocal and wholly relevant to an age that is experiencing a prejudice that is often termed ‘the new antisemitism.’ It is insufficient to view antisemitism as racism for it is much more. It can find expression in, yes, religious prejudice and has done so for almost two thousand years. But in an age when both religious and ethnic diversity amongst the Jewish communities are vast we can only conclude that antisemitism has also taken on a very clear political prejudice. Daniel Goldhagen has written that its reach is unparalleled both historically and today while Lord Sacks has reminded us that throughout history hatred of Jews never ends with the Jews, but goes on to focus on other minorities.[8]

Holocaust Memorial Day is an occasion to remember all those who suffered, or continue to suffer, as a consequence of the Nazi extermination programmes. It is also an opportunity to remember all who have fallen victim of regimes that engaged in genocidal acts over the decades since the Shoah. If we are to be serious about a commitment for it be ‘never again’ we have to revisit the past. But even that is insufficient. We have to continually reassess history and be on guard against the prejudices of our day however they manifest themselves.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.holocaustremembrance.com

[2] Wistrich Robert, The Longest Hatred, Methuen, 1991

[3] Wilhelm Marr, The Way to Victory of Germanism over Judaism, 1879

[4] Community Security Trust

[5] http://www.holocaustremembrance.com

[6] Today many scholars prefer to write the term ‘antisemitism’ without a capital letter as there is no such thing as ‘Semitism’.

[7] Supersessionism is the belief that the Christians have replaced Jews as the People of God.

[8] Daniel Goldhagen The Devil that Never Dies, the rise and threat of global antisemitism, Little Brown 2013

Never was the truth more ridiculed than it is today, never the truthsayers more scoffed at.

It is possible to appreciate the sceptics when a truth is difficult to verify, or shatters conventional wisdom, say for example when Galileo presented his discovery. But when a fact, blatantly obvious to any rational mind, is treated as if it is a complete fabrication of reality we know that the rules of debate, or of even decent conversation, have gone out the window.

For sure any person’s perspective is limited to the level of information that is both available and absorbed. But when a shameless unwillingness to receive and process information becomes the norm, and blind prejudice is the favoured choice, then the ability to negotiate, reconcile, develop, or any of the other processes that have led to progress over the centuries, is diminished.

It is explained to us that we now live in an age of post-truth politics. The dangers we face in such an age are immense. The acquisition, conveyance and acceptance of truth are the core elements of a reasonable society; without them only chaos can reign.

In recent days as the argument over whose inauguration crowd was the biggest (please do me a favour), the phrase ‘alternative facts’ was used. The facts are the facts are the facts. There can be no alternative to fact except fiction, fantasy, falsehood, call it what you will. Basing an opinion, let alone a life, let alone a political argument or movement, on nothing other than lies leads to frustration, division and destruction. Any resistance formed against the purveyors of propaganda and prejudice will always be attacked by those whose dark lies have been exposed. They cannot do anything other; they live a lie and they will kill to keep their lie alive.

Those of good will and common sense, those who are humble enough to accept that their opinions are not all there is to know, and those who remain open to receive new truths based on verifiable evidence have as clear a purpose as anyone could have, and that is to challenge the drift towards populism and narrow-minded nationalism.

If ever authenticity were needed then it is today.

An authentic church does not accept that we should live in an unequal society. An authentic church does not accept that we should look after ourselves before we turn to our neighbour in need. An authentic church does not accept that we should hold on to beliefs no longer sustainable in the light of the evidence.

An authentic church practices hospitality and inclusivity. An authentic church effuses humility and openness. An authentic church grasps the moment, stands against the evils of the age and is willing to die for the sake of Truth.