Each year, as the Easter holiday approaches, Iceland radio features readings of anti-Semitic hate hymns from the seventeenth century read by prominent Icelanders.
The Wiesenthal Center sent the radio station a letter about it, but the head of the station, Mr. Magnusson, attempted to belittle the complaint.
The Rev. Dr. Jill Schaeffer, whose doctorate in philosophical theology is from the Graduate Theological Seminary and was the Executive Secretary for the Department of Cooperation and Witness of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in Geneva Switzerland, decided to do something about it, starting with this letter:
Dear Mr. Magnusson,
As a very religious Roman Catholic child, I’d often hear the priest during Mass tell us children how the Jews killed Christ, and then I’d leave the sanctuary and wait for the blows to fall upon my family.
And fall they did.
Now, in my sixties, an ordained Presbyterian minister for more than 25 years, I read in your beautiful passion poem what I had heard from the pulpit as a child: the same condemnnation, the same blind rage, the same overwhelming hatred of the Jews.
And I wonder why you hate my mother and grandmother so much. Not that such hate was ever warranted, but contemporary scholarship points out that the Romans crucified Jesus of Nazareth for the crime of treason against Rome.
Early Jewish Christians were terrified of Roman boots and swords, those same Romans who beheaded Paul and crucified Peter upside down. I think such terror muzzled the fledgling church that murmured not a word against Rome, not a word, but uttered many words against the Jews.
The way Jews are blamed for Jesus’ death reminds me of the way Israelis are blamed for the plight, admittedly dire, of Palestinian Christians: Just as the early Christians exonerated Rome for their suffering by blaming Jews, so some of today’s Christians in the Middle East point to Israel as the culprit rather than Muslims who are killing Christians whenever the mood strikes them.
They have been killing Christians for centuries.
As with many Christians, “I love to hear the story, the same old, wonderful story. I love to hear the story, of Jesus and his love.”
But I’m always vigilant and always afraid that, in the telling of that wonderful story, I will also hear that horrific hatred of the Jews poisoning the tale. And so the story is poisoned for me, again and again, as it has been for half a century.
Do you think, Mr. Magnusson, that you can be a Christian and tell the story without saying something bad about the Jews? I can. I always could. I shall do so again this Easter Sunday. You could, too, if you just try.
Rev. Jill Schaeffer, Ph.D.