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Mennonite Jewish Relations Working Group responds to Tree of Life tragedy

11.5. 2018 Written By: Mennonite Jewish Relations Working Group 391 Times read

Throughout this year a group of us within Mennonite Church USA have been meeting to discuss Mennonite and Jewish relations. We are pastors, scholars, and laypeople. Some of us work for Mennonite agencies and institutions; others don’t. For some of us this is as close as our marriage partner, or a personal dual identity. Our work is an outgrowth of the 2017 resolution passed by delegates in Orlando titled “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine: A Resolution for Mennonite Church USA.” We have been meeting regularly, brainstorming ways to assist the denomination in fulfilling its commitments to opposing anti-Semitism and attending to right relationships between diverse Mennonite and Jewish communities. We have been considering how to share more broadly about this work, and feel compelled now to speak into this moment.

On October 27th, 2018, a gunman opened fire on Sabbath worshipers at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, killing eleven and wounding more. The weight of loss is unbearable, the loss of life precious and beloved, as Tree of Life’s prayers for the healing of the world became cries for mercy punctuated by shots of hatred, fear and misunderstanding.

We grieve with the victims and their families at Tree of Life, and with the entire Pittsburgh, American, and global Jewish community. As Glen Guyton, executive director of MC USA, expressed sympathies in his open letter to Rabbi Myers, we join with the rest of MC USA to offer our deepest sympathies to those whose loved ones were killed or wounded, with prayer for peace and strength during these trying times. Beyond our sympathies and prayers, we renounce the evils of anti-Semitic hatred, white supremacy, and U.S. white ethnic nationalism that motivated the attacker. We renounce the rhetoric of hate from our political leaders that fuels misunderstanding and fear. We recommit ourselves to building relationships of solidarity and trust with Jewish communities.

As individuals and congregations within MC USA consider how to respond, it is helpful to recall that a section within the 2017 “Seeking Peace” resolution titled “Opposing Antisemitism and Seeking Right Relationship with Jewish Communities” reminds Mennonites of our own “participation in anti-Semitic belief and practice.” We are called to confess and lament that too often we have ignored “the gravity of ongoing anti-Semitism and acts of violence against Jewish people.”

The roots of violent anti-Semitism can be traced to Christian theologies that demean or dismiss Jewish faith and practice. This includes both overt forms of supersessionism, which says that Christianity has replaced Judaism, and more insidious claims to superiority. The irony of the neo-Nazi mantra chanted at Charlottesville and elsewhere, “Jews will not replace us,” is that for two thousand years Christians have presumed to be God’s replacement for the Jews. The combination of Christian theological arrogance with ethnic nationalism has been disastrous for the global Jewish community. Mennonites have much work to do, naming and undoing our own complicity in enabling — through silence and participation — these forces of evil past and present.

Let it not be said that Mennonites ignored the gravity of the anti-Semitic violence at Tree of Life Synagogue, nor the severity of the threat posed to the safety of American Jews by the emboldened movements of white supremacy and white ethnic nationalism in the United States. The resolution on “Seeking Peace” calls on all of us in MC USA to “cultivate relationships” with Jewish groups in the U.S., seeking to build partnerships around a shared calling to justice and peace in our communities. Join with us: in re-doubling our commitment to humble learning across the lines of faith that divide when God would have them unite, in building communities that are vigilant against hate and united against anti-Semitism, in hoping and praying that these efforts shine a small light of hope during a time of lamentation.

If you would like support in responsibly reaching out to Jewish neighbors, or to join us as we work to identify existing Mennonite Jewish interfaith connections, educate our Mennonite communities on opposing anti-Semitism and in building strong healthy interfaith relationships we welcome you to connect with us by emailing us at MennoJewishRelations@gmail.com.

For those compelled to support Tree of Life and the Pittsburgh Jewish Community, the congregation is asking that donations be directed either to the Tree of Life congregation or The Victims of Terror Fund by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

Signatories – the Mennonite Jewish Relations Working Group:

Michael B. Crosby, pastor, First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana
Sarah Nahar, Prairie Street Mennonite Church, licensed minister in Central District Conference
Joel Miller, pastor, Columbus Mennonite Church
Sheri Hostetler, pastor, First Mennonite Church of San Francisco
Joanna Lawrence Shenk, Associate pastor, First Mennonite Church of San Francisco
Barbie Fischer, Franconia Mennonite Conference
Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach, Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
Trina Trotter Nussbaum, Center for Interfaith Engagement, Eastern Mennonite University
Timothy Seidel, Center for Interfaith Engagement, Eastern Mennonite University
Helen Stoltzfus, member First Mennonite Church of San Francisco
John Lapp , Mennonite Mission Network
Jason Boone, Peace and Justice Support Network
Rich H. Meyer, Christian Peacemaker Teams

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