9 November 2022

We Must Deal with the Antisemitism in Our Churches

Written by Regan King

The following article was first featured in the Affinity Social Issues Bulletin (Issue 51 – November 2022). Download the whole issue for free.

It was a fairly cool evening. I had just enjoyed visiting another church with my wife where I had preached in their two services. We had enjoyed much of the day and while I always miss The Angel Church when away and look forward to returning, I was thankful to visit dear friends elsewhere. As my wife and I waited on our train, I commented on the day and asked how she had found it, to be met with something along the lines of the less than reassuring, ‘It was ok’. I enquired further and asked if she was sure or if something was bothering her. She didn’t really want to say, but I could tell something had made her sad, so I persisted; I know her well enough to know when something needs discussing. Then it came, ‘Well, you know that man [one of the deacons – an older fellow who hung around us quite a bit after the services]. When you were talking with someone else, he came up to me and said, “The Jews deserved the Holocaust because they killed Jesus.”’ ‘What?’ I responded. She repeated and clarified further. The comment was offered without any context, completely irrelevant to the messages given, without any discussion of my obviously Middle-Eastern Jewish wife who the man knew was born and raised in Jerusalem; she lived through both the First and Second Intifadas, served as all Israeli youths in the IDF, and has simultaneously believed in and followed Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, serving in evangelism alongside her late father, Antony Simon.

Another occasion saw us listen as a preacher spoke about nearby Stamford Hill and passionately said, ‘Those people killed Jesus’. A further time saw a man attend a Passover replication we were hosting in church, not to participate, but to make a point by his lack of participation. ‘It’s not my Passover. Jesus is,’ he said, ignoring the fact that this was the whole purpose of this time. He refused to so much as pray or read Scripture with us and treated the occasion as if it was an act of false religion. One man complained that a Psalm sung in Hebrew was posted in a WhatsApp group. When it was pointed out that the Psalm was being sung by Hebrew-speaking Christians in Israel, he chose to double down and implied that because the Psalms were from the Old Testament and before the incarnation, they lacked the utmost helpfulness and relevance to Christians.

I give these stories as an introductory example of the problem of antisemitism in British evangelical churches today. What’s worse, there is next to no recognition or repentance of the problem. It is a massive blind spot that I believe is in no small part due to a failure of discipleship and a faulty treatment of Old Testament prophecy. The importance of the Jews − what Paul speaks of as their advantage (Romans 3:1) − is deliberately deemphasised or replaced in what seems to be the kind of arrogant treatment Paul warns against in Romans 11:18. I have participated in discussional Bible studies where it has even been claimed that it doesn’t matter if Jesus really returns to geographical Jerusalem, with an overt spiritualisation of every promise made concerning ethnic or natural Israel and the statement, ‘They’re not special’ being made concerning the Jews. I have grown accustomed to large British Christian Facebook groups harbouring antisemitic comments demonising Jews for Kosher slaughter and circumcision (ignoring the fact that a good percentage even of non-Jews see circumcision as medically prudent). As my children grow up, I am wary that as Jews (who I pray will follow their Messiah Jesus), they will experience antisemitism not only from non-Christians but from those who say they are following the distinctly Jewish Messiah who grafts Gentile believers into the body of his people.

Just as other forms of racism have been recognised, rightly condemned, and to varying degrees repented of among British evangelicals, I submit that antisemitism remains largely unrecognised and undealt with in any meaningful way in large factions of British evangelicalism. In what will soon be 10 years of serving on the Affinity Social Issues Team, I do not believe we have commented on antisemitism at all. And yet the discussion of antisemitism in broader social and political arenas, the ongoing well-publicised Stephen Sizer debacle, and evident tolerance of antisemitism in churches, specifically shows that such a comment is very relevant.[1] UK evangelical leaders have urged us ‘to hear the challenge of black church leaders as they speak of their experience of the white UK church’.[2] Yet racism is, of course, not merely a black/white problem, hence why I similarly suggest that in dealing with antisemitism it is right that we start listening to Jewish and Jewish Christian voices and acting meaningfully to address the concerns raised. I pray that this comment on the matter will go a long way to facilitating such meaningful repentance.

Getting our terms right

Unfortunately, antisemitism is not always seen for what it is by evangelicals because we aren’t even defining the term correctly. The assumption is often made that antisemitism is Jew-hatred in thought, word and action. While overt hatred certainly is antisemitic, there are many other ways in which antisemitism is exhibited and felt. 

On 26 May 2016, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) adopted a working definition of antisemitism:

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.

The guiding notes for the IHRA definition present a very clear list of what constitutes antisemitism. 

Manifestations of antisemitism include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. Such antisemitism was on full display in the streets of London in 2021 with Z-list Islamic YouTube celebrities and Speakers Corner radicals Ali Dawah and Mohammed Hijab whipping up a Pro-PLO and Hamas (Palestinian terror organisations) sympathetic crowd in calling for the shedding of Jewish blood.[3] The crowd burned Israeli flags and shouted antisemitic slurs, making threats that were of real concern to Jewish communities across London. Featuring in this and other events have been theories painting the Jews as conspiring to harm a small or large part of humanity or being the reason certain things go wrong in the world. These theories and the use of stereotypes and caricatures to depict Jewish control over various areas of life are antisemitic.[4]

The IHRA guidance proceeds to include but not limit antisemitism to:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
  • Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the state of Israel.

The above definition and guidance, as well as further points on more obvious criminal antisemitism, have been adopted by a wide range of institutions, universities, and organisations including the UK government.[5]

While many Christians would certainly very much agree with the points raised by the IHRA, I believe James Mendelsohn and Rev. Nick Howard, two Jewish followers of Jesus, are correct in their essay for the Journal Of Contemporary Anti-Semitism in writing:

…antisemitism is still seen by British conservative evangelicals as a lesser bigotry, which is why, for many years, their organizations and senior leaders have consistently failed to speak out or take timely and decisive action against the antisemitic activity of Stephen Sizer.[6]

Stephen Sizer, former vicar at Christ Church Virginia Water and influential in various evangelical circles has a long track record of unquestionable antisemitism. The range of claims against Sizer, particularly highlighted by legal expert James Mendelsohn and Rev. Nick Howard, are specific, detailed, and longstanding. Yet tragically − and abusively − for some time these claims have been ignored, swept under the rug, or denied as significant. While this may be about to change in some way − Sizer is currently awaiting a verdict from the Bishop’s Disciplinary Tribunal for the Diocese of Winchester − there has been next to no condemnation by any senior UK evangelical leader up to now.

On 28th July 2022, following yet another example of Sizer’s antisemitism via his positive linking to an antisemitic website, Dr Liam Goligher, present senior minister at 10th Presbyterian Church Philadelphia, USA and formerly of Duke Street Church, Richmond became the first British conservative evangelical church leader of any real seniority to publicly condemn Stephen Sizer’s antisemitism. He commented on Twitter:

This is an example of racism of the worst possible kind. Given the apostle’s love of his fellow countrymen and of his desire that they might be saved Sizer’s behavior isn’t Christian in any recognizable sense.[7]

Graham Miller, London City Mission CEO, similarly responded:

I am SO sorry that Jewish people continue to endure racism. I am SO sorry that we as British Evangelicals haven’t taken action to ensure our leaders don’t cross boundaries from political discourse into blatant racism. Words seem empty when action is long overdue. I am SO sorry.[8]

Affinity has also made its own statement on this matter which you can read below.

Getting our history and theology right

As with any area of life, behaviour is rooted in belief. The poor response to antisemitic words and behaviour among evangelicals has flagged that there are significant issues in our beliefs concerning Israel and the Jewish people. Among British evangelicals, it is quite common to find antisemitism under the banner of so-called ‘anti-zionism’. Indeed, Stephen Sizer and others claim that they are not antisemitic, but they are anti-zionist. And yet anti-zionists deny that Jewish people have a right to self-determination and existence in the land of Israel, often allying themselves with groups who support violent Islamist organisations like Hamas, who are devoted to the ethnic cleansing of Jews. This is fully antisemitic.

Present-day anti-zionism among British evangelicals could not be further from the mindset of leading 19th-century British evangelicals, J. C. Ryle and Charles Spurgeon. Ryle saw many of the Protestant Reformers as particularly mistaken in their spiritualisation of ‘Israel’ and urged a more literal and fair reading of Old Testament prophecy. He says: 

But suppose the Jew asks you if you take all the prophecies of the Old Testament in their simple literal meaning. Suppose he asks you if you believe in a literal personal advent of Messiah to reign over the earth in glory, a literal restoration of Judah and Israel to Palestine, a literal rebuilding and restoration of Zion and Jerusalem. Suppose the unconverted Jew puts these questions to you, what answer are you prepared to make? Will you dare to tell him that Old Testament prophecies of this kind are not to be taken in their plain literal sense? Will you dare to tell him that the words Zion, Jerusalem, Jacob, Judah, Ephraim, Israel, do not mean what they seem to mean, but mean the Church of Christ? Will you dare to tell him that the glorious kingdom and future blessedness of Zion, so often dwelt upon in prophecy, mean nothing more than the gradual Christianizing of the world by missionaries and gospel preaching? Will you dare to tell him that you think it ‘carnal’ to expect a literal rebuilding of Jerusalem, ‘carnal’ to expect a literal coming of Messiah to reign? Oh, reader, if you are a man of this mind, take care what you are doing![9]

It is high time for Christians to interpret unfulfilled prophecy by the light of prophecies already fulfilled. The curses of the Jews were brought to pass literally; so also will be the blessings. The scattering was literal; so also will be the gathering. The pulling down of Zion was literal; so also will be the building up. The rejection of Israel was literal; so also will be the restoration.[10]

Cultivate the habit of reading prophecy with a single eye to the literal meaning of its proper names. Cast aside the old traditional idea that Jacob, and Israel, and Judah, and Jerusalem, and Zion must always mean the Gentile Church, and that predictions about the second Advent are to be taken spiritually, and first Advent predictions literally. Be just, and honest, and fair. If you expect the Jews to take the 53rd of Isaiah literally, be sure you take the 54th and 60th and 62nd literally also. The Protestant Reformers were not perfect. On no point, I venture to say, were they so much in the wrong as in the interpretation of Old Testament prophecy.[11]

Over 80 years before the State of Israel was established and recognised, Spurgeon similarly addressed what he saw as ignoring Old Testament prophecies’ clear meaning pertaining to Israel. In an exposition on Ezekiel 38:1-10:

Israel is now blotted out from the map of nations; her sons are scattered far and wide; her daughters mourn beside all the rivers of the earth. Her sacred song is hushed; no king reigns in Jerusalem; she bringeth forth no governors among her tribes. But she is to be restored; she is to be restored “as from the dead.” When her own sons have given up all hope of her, then is God to appear for her. She is to be re-organised; her scattered bones are to be brought together. There will be a native government again; there will again be the form of a body politic; a state shall be incorporated, and a king shall reign. Israel has now become alienated from her own land. Her sons, though they can never forget the sacred dust of Palestine yet die at a hopeless distance from her consecrated shores. But it shall not be so for ever, for her sons shall again rejoice in her… If there be meaning in words this must be the meaning of this chapter. I wish never to learn the art of tearing God’s meaning out of his own words. If there be anything clear and plain, the literal sense and meaning of this passage—a meaning not to be spirited or spiritualized away—must be evident that both the two and the ten tribes of Israel are to be restored to their own land, and that a king is to rule over them.[12]

Ryle and Spurgeon were not unique in what would today be referred to as their Zionistic beliefs. Indeed, while rank antisemitism was very present in many of the reformers, there is a significant and rich heritage of leading Christ-disciples who believed in, looked out for, and advocated the return of the Jews and the re-establishment of Israel centuries before it would finally occur.

Sir Henry Finch, an English lawyer and politician (died 1625) came under much pressure from James I for his 1621 work The World’s Great Restoration or Calling of the Jews, and with them of all Nations and Kingdoms of the Earth to the Faith of Christ in which he predicts the fulfilment of prophecy in the restoration of the Jews to their land. John Owen’s note in Vavasor Powell’s A New and Useful Concordance to the Holy Bible on the prophecies concerning the calling of the Jews in the Old Testament states: ‘[The Jews] would be gathered from all parts of the earth…and brought home into their own land.’ The author of The Jews Jubilee or, the Conjunction and Resurrection of the Dry Bones of the Whole House of Israel (London, 1688) prophetically urges the Jewish people to prepare for a return to their homeland where they will eventually encounter God’s glory in the Messiah.

Protestant, albeit debatably unorthodox, individuals such as the Puritan Thomas Brightman and intellectual Isaac Newton both spoke rightly of the clarity of the Old Testament prophets on the return of the Jews to their land. 

In Shall they Return to Jerusalem Again? (1615) Brightman writes: ‘There is nothing more sure: the Prophets plainly confirm it, and beat often upon it.’

Newton in his The Mystery of this Restitution of All Things writes:

For they understand not that the final return of the Jews captivity & their conquering the nations of the four Monarchies & setting up a peaceable righteous & flourishing Kingdom at the day of judgment is this mystery. Did they understand this they would find it in all the old Prophets who write of the last times as in the last chapters of Isaiah where the Prophet conjoins the new heaven & new earth with the ruin of the wicked nations, the end of all troubles weeping & of all troubles, the return of the Jews captivity & their setting up a flourishing & everlasting Kingdom.

Benjamin Keach, Increase Mather, Jonathan Edwards, Lord Shaftesbury, and William Wilberforce all spoke affirmatively of the Jewish return and the God-ordained nature of that return to their homeland, Israel.[13]

Our theology doesn’t rest or fall on the beliefs of the aforementioned men, of course. Indeed, while these men were fallible themselves and sometimes strayed into error in the application of their interpretation,[14] when it comes to their understanding of God’s specific unconditional promises, specifically ethnic Israel, we would be hard-pressed – and I dare say agenda-driven – to deny their analysis. Leaving aside the oft-debated identity of ‘all Israel’ in Romans 11:26 (I believe contextually this does specifically relate to ethnic Israel), the covenant God makes in Deuteronomy 29:1–29 and Deuteronomy 30:1–10 and the promise of the restoration of ethnic Jews from among all nations throughout the prophets, coupled with the sovereign orchestration of God in allowing Israel to be reformed and founded and protected in its current state, should be enough to make the case for God’s favour upon the Jews in an ongoing way. 

The Jew who rules the world

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, highlights the tension between Jews and Gentiles in the early church. It is clear that as Gentile believers in Jesus began to outnumber Jewish followers, there was tension. Throughout church history, it is easy to find present in churches the two extremes with which Paul seems to deal. One view says that Jews have no advantage when it comes to the Gospel. Another view says that Jews are better off before God because they are Jews; some even say Jews do not need to follow Jesus as Messiah because they are Jews. Both views are wrong. The first denies any ongoing significance or importance of the Jews and national Israel in God’s plan. The second emphasises the importance of the Jews and national Israel to the point of denying Scripture regarding salvation. Christians must acknowledge that God’s Gospel is for the Jews first (Romans 1:16) while affirming that God’s judgement will affect Jews as well as non-Jews − ethnicity does not save (Romans 2:9-11). God’s favour is for what Paul outlines as inward, Holy Spirit-filled Jews (Romans 2:28-29) but God has specifically blessed ethnic Jews regardless of their following of Messiah with historic access to the ‘oracles of God’ (Romans 3:2). Paul says ‘They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed for ever. Amen.’ (Romans 9:4-5 ESV). 

These gifts from God to the Jews do not make them better off before Him in a saving sense. Paul writes: ‘What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,’ (Romans 3:9 ESV). Meanwhile, God’s promises for Israel do extend to Gentiles who believe in Jesus (Romans 9:6-7; 24-29), but the promise remains that God has not forgotten or rejected his special covenant people (Romans 11). Isaiah 59:20 promises and Romans 11:26-27 quotes ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.’ (Romans 11:26b ESV)

A Jew rules the World

The stories I began with are far from the only times my family has experienced antisemitic comments. On one occasion a non-Christian man made a comment to my wife during church outreach that the world was under Jewish control. She kept her cool and responded, ‘Of course it is! Jesus was a Jew! He controls it! It’s a good thing!’

Non-Jewish Christians would do well to remember that we are included in God’s promises to Abraham by faith in the Messiah. We worship the Jewish Messiah who continues to work through time and space accomplishing all of God’s promises to his people, Jew or Gentile. We mustn’t grieve him with arrogance, hostility, or indifference toward our Jewish friends and family. We mustn’t ignore the antisemitism that is so normal that it isn’t even seen as a problem in our churches. We must repent and respond in humility, dealing with this grave sin against God and our fellow man, remembering God’s promise to Abraham and his offspring: ‘I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse’ (Genesis 12:3).

A statement on antisemitism from Affinity

Affinity categorically rejects all forms of antisemitism, and indeed racism of any kind, especially within the church. This article reflects the personal views and experiences of the author. We were deeply sorry to hear how Regan and his wife Rachel had been spoken to on those occasions he cites. We also note that very serious and disturbing allegations of antisemitism have been made against Rev. Stephen Sizer which are currently subject to a Clergy Disciplinary Measure. Rev. Sizer has strongly denied that he is antisemitic, and the Tribunal has not yet delivered its determination. It would not be appropriate to comment on that case, nor are we qualified to do so, we have not researched the situation deeply but are very concerned to have seen some social media posts that appear to be offensive and insensitive to the Jewish community.

Affinity takes no collective position on the nature of the fulfilment of biblical prophecies relating to the land of Israel – a diversity of interpretations are held by our constituent churches and members. Affinity is also aware that the IHRA definition of antisemitism is not universally approved by Christians and it has not, as yet, been formally adopted by Affinity.

[1] Nick Howard, The Racism Within: Why the time has come for British evangelicals to acknowledge their failure to confront antisemitism, Online: https://nickhoward76.medium.com/the-racism-within-42c9ba10369;
Archbishop Cranmer blog, Why does the South East Gospel Partnership tolerate anti-Semitism?, cross posted by Harry’s Place. Online: http://hurryupharry.net/2012/07/22/why-does-the-south-east-gospel-partnership-tolerate-anti-semitism.

[2] John Stevens, Racism: The Gospel Demands We Confront The Evil of Racism So Tragically Highlighted By The Death Of George Floyd. Online: https://www.affinity.org.uk/uncategorized/834-racism-the-gospel-demands-we-confront-the-evil-of-racism-so-tragically-highlighted-by-the-death-of-george-floyd/

[3] Dipesh Gadher, Embassy protester demanded ‘Jewish blood’, The Sunday Times, on May 30 2021; Israel Advocacy Movement, Jews attacked at Israel Rally, Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJCYPXFrDSk

[4] See: American Jewish Community (AJC), Translate Hate: Stopping Antisemitism Starts With Understanding It, October 2021. Online: https://www.ajc.org/translatehate

[5] Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Downing Street, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP, and The Rt Hon Theresa May MP, Government leads the way in tackling anti-Semitism, Press Release, 12/12/2016. Online: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-leads-the-way-in-tackling-anti-semitism

[6] James Mendelsohn and Bernard Nicholas Howard, A Lesser Bigotry? The UK Conservative Evangelical Response to Stephen Sizer’s Antisemitism, Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism, vol. 4, no. 1, 2021, 59. Online: https://doi.org/10.26613/jca.4.1.72

[7] https://twitter.com/LGoligher/status/1552604273690697730

[8] https://twitter.com/Windy_London/status/1552801153976500230

[9] J. C. Ryle, Are You Ready For The End Of Time? (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2001), 47

[10] Ibid, 4

[11] Ibid, 157-159

[12] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Restoration and Conversion of the Jews, Sermon #582, 16/06/1864

[13] See: Benjamin Keach, Antichrist Stormed; Or Mystery Babylon, the Great Whore and the Great City, Proved to Be the Present Church of Rome (London, 1689); Increase Mather, The Mystery of Israel’s Salvation (London: John Allen, 1669); Mather, Dissertation Concerning the Future Conversion of the Jewish Nation (London: R. Tookey for Nath. Hillier, 1709); Jonathan Edwards, Works, Apocalyptic Writings, V. 8, pp. 133-34.; Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, “Memorandum to Protestant Monarchs of Europe for the restoration of the Jews to Palestine”, Colonial Times, 1841; William Thomas Gidney, The History of the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews, from 1809 to 1908, 1908, p. 41.

[14] Keach for instance felt the Jewish return to their homeland was imminent and looked at his present day context, charting out a chronology of events.

Written by
Regan King
Regan King is the lead pastor at The Angel Church in Islington (London). He is married to Rachel and has two children, Randall and Arielle. He also serves on the board of Pregnancy Crisis Helpline, is an author (#TBH: Basic Challenges to Millennials Who Can’t Even) and is a presenter for Revelation TV (R Mornings, Behind the Headlines, God Day, and Bible Topics).

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