More than 40 Nashville-area churches and synagogues studied Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, a 756-page book about the Christian roots and history of hatred of the Jews.
The two-month, congregational studies were sponsored by the Covenant Association, a Nashville organization of nearly 70 moderate to liberal churches, synagogues and mosques.
“Over the years, as I have studied more about the history of Christianity, I have gotten the increasingly strong impression that the church is reluctant to tell the whole truth about itself,” Brad Reed, a member of the Covenant Association’s executive committee, told EthicsDaily.com.
Reed recommended Carroll’s book for discussion with the hope that those who take their faith seriously would be willing to look critically at their church’s past.
Reed said the book, “often in excruciating detail, [outlines] the church’s words about and actions toward Jews for almost two millennia. It is a history of painfully repetitious and all-too-often murderous denigration and debasement.”
The community discussions brought together faithful people of many religious backgrounds, though no Baptist churches participated. Nashville became the first city to sponsor such an interfaith, ecumenical study of Constantine’s Sword. Houston and Pittsburg are reportedly planning such initiatives.
The Rev. K.C. Ptomey Jr. of Westminster Presbyterian Church said the study reaffirmed his congregation’s view: that the Jews are “God’s chosen people” and that God never goes back on his promises to them.
“It has also raised our awareness of the ways in which Christians have, through misguided interpretation of the New Testament, found reasons to persecute the Jews,” Ptomey told EthicsDaily.com.
Ptomey said he covers some of these issues in his sermons.
“I thought it important to be involved in this study because many of our members feel deeply that it is wrong to reject the Jews or their religion,” Ptomey said. And they “need to have a solid biblical and theological foundation upon which to understand the Jews ”not as objects of evangelism, but as partners in God’s ongoing purpose.”
Ptomey said he was offended years ago when a prominent Southern Baptist leader said that God did not hear the prayers of Jews.
Rabbi Ken Kanter of Congregation Micah said the discussions were helpful because they show that while there are dramatic differences between Christians and Jews, the similarities are also “profound.”
“The Jewish view of Christianity is often like the Christian view of Judaism ”not very deep and generally based on experiential hearsay, rather than scholarly knowledge,” Kanter told EthicsDaily.com.
Kanter said the book study revealed a “breadth of diversity within Christianity itself.”
The most interesting discoveries for Kanter, he said, were hearing the individual participants’ personal views of God.
“Almost the entire group rejected the all-controlling God that they read in their liturgy,” Kanter said. “They also rejected the literal reading of the Bible, whether it was the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament. In place, they saw a much more humanistic God, heavily influenced by men and women’s perspectives.”
Kanter said he joined the discussions because he wanted to “support my colleagues in the ministry in the journeys they were making as they understood Christianity’s relationship to Judaism and Jews.”
The discussions, Kanter said, hopefully help people understand Jews’ feelings and the roots of those feelings.
“It is most important that we take away more than just talk, even more than good will,” he said. Religious leaders must “somehow influence our own religious communities to recognize that no one has a monopoly on the truth, and that we must not only tolerate each other, but respect each other as well. That is a difficult lesson for believers in any faith.”
Ptomey said he thinks people will take away from the discussions a “renewed sense of the wideness of God’s grace and the inclusiveness of God’s love and the tragedy and shame of our Christian history.”
How should Christians react to the truths presented in Constantine’s Sword?
“Shame,” Reed said. “Confession. Repentance and dedication to prevent recurrence. Apology. Then dialogue.”
Jodi Mathews is BCE’s communications director.