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June 16, 2010

Christian Century Publishes Critique of Presby Document

Two scholars from Vanderbilt Divinity School, Ted A. Smith and Amy-Jill Levine have written an authoriative critique of "Breaking Down the Walls," a report that will be on the agenda of the upcoming General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Smith, Assistant Professor of Ethics and Society, and Amy-Jill Levine, E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt, had their piece, ("Habits of anti-Judaism"), published by Christian Century, the house organ for mainline Protestant churches in the U.S.

The two authors offer their qualifications to their readers as follows:

We write as a Presbyterian and a Jew, as colleagues on a divinity school faculty and as teachers who continue to see the habits of false witness in the work of even our most talented and committed students. We know firsthand how deep-seated habits can be and how quicky they outrun our best intentions. We do not seek to single out the Presbyterian report, but to illumine patterns that many forms of Christian witness.

The piece, which is worthy of a full read, begins with a particularly tough opening paragraph:

Old habits die hard. Despite numerous attempts by mainline Protestant denominations to promote historically informed studies of Judaism, repudiate supersessionist theologies and engage in conversations with Jews, the old habit of bearing false witness against Jewish neighbors lives on. In recent years this practice has thrived especially in mainline Protestant statements on the Middle East.

Smith and Levine soften their critique a bit when assure Christian Century readers that "[s]upporters of problematic statements are rarely bigots; they are more likely people committed to justice who have also absorbed centuries-old patterns of Christian anti-Judaism. This false witness is more a matter of habit than of hate. It lives on through good intentions."

To some, this may be letting mainline anti-Zionists off a bit too easy, but Smith and Levine's critique of the PC(USA)'s Middle East Study Committee is pretty thoroughgoing and precise. For example, they state the MESC report "silences some Jews by naming them as difficult. It silences other Jews by presuming to speak for them without having spoken to them."

The authors also state "the report insinuates the illegitimacy of Israel thorugh connections to Nazi Germany. A committee member quotes and unnamed Israeli activist as saying that Israel 'acts as a Nazi state.' By quoting an Israeli, the report draws the unfortunate connection even while exculpating itself of having made it."

Is it possible that Christian Century has moved out from under the shadow left by its former editor, James M. Wall?

Posted by dvz at June 16, 2010 01:40 PM


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