Post: Readers Respond

I want to say that you will never know the extent of your reach. You will never know the extent of your good work. That is the nature of writing and publishing. But never doubt you are doing good and that there are people whom you will never know reading you and paying attention. All the best.

Jon Knudsen, Albuquerque, New Mexico

I appreciated Jay Phelan’s sentiment in writing about what Christians should not say about the Holocaust (Fall/Winter 2019). I am sure that his intention was to mitigate some of the damage that is done by Christians who try to fit the Holocaust into their Christian theology or leak out their own anti-Jewish bias absorbed from their Christian or cultural tradition.

As a product of the Covenant Church – cradle (1965) to North Park (1983) to North Park Seminary (1994) – I resonated with the pietistic impulse to be quiet and listen. I was quiet for most of my life. But getting my D.Phil in early Christian Jewish Relations at Oxford and now as a teacher and scholar of genocide at Villanova University I have changed my attitude about silence.

Christians should be quiet about the Holocaust like white folks should be quiet about racism. History has taught me that the silence of those in power is one of the most effective ways to maintain the status quo. I do think that Christians should listen, but silence is not the endgame. I would contend that silence is actually the problem. Christian silence was the problem in Nazi Germany and it’s the problem now. There is an understandable reticence by Christians who do not want to know how deep the anti-Jewish wormhole goes. As a historian I can say that it goes deep; deeper than Luther and deeper than Augustine. The roots of Christian anti-Judaism are anchored in the second century CE, just after Christianity became decidedly gentile. An honest investigation demands a look behind the façade to reveal the original disconnect between the apocalyptic and dangerously utopian idea that there is neither “Jew nor Greek” and into the powerful tradition of anti-Judaism upon which Christianity is built. This history challenges us to think of modern Christian anti-Semitism not as a tumour that can be removed from the otherwise healthy body of Christianity, but as one of its vital organs.

In 2017 I finally visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. In the tour guide I found a poem by Rabbi Irving Greenberg. It was arresting. I cut it out and have carried it with me ever since. At the beginning of each semester of my course on genocide I read it to my students. It is not an admonition to be silent, but rather a standard by which to measure every theological statement we make, not just about the Holocaust, but because of it. It is published below.

Tim Horner, Havertown, Pennsylvania

What Can We Say?

By Rabbi Irving Greenberg

Judaism and Christianity
do not merely tell
of God’s love for humanity.
They stand or fall on their
fundamental claim
that the human being is of
ultimate and absolute value.
The Holocaust poses the most
radical counter-testimony
to both Judaism and Christianity.
No statement, theological
or otherwise,
should be made that would
not be credible
in the presence of burning children.