Chief Rabbi: Church’s historic antisemitism report ‘fails to address conversion’
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Chief Rabbi: Church’s historic antisemitism report ‘fails to address conversion’

While welcoming once-in-a-generation document that encourages repentance for historic Jew-hate, Rabbi Mirvis issues 'substantial misgivings' over its failure to address evangelism

Jack Mendel is the Online Editor at the Jewish News.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby with his friend, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.

Credit: Blake Ezra Photography
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby with his friend, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. Credit: Blake Ezra Photography

A landmark Church of England report calling on Christians to “repent” for historic antisemitism and reset Jewish-Christian relations received a mixed reaction from Jewish leaders this week.

While Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis welcomed the report in the main, he simultaneously launched a blistering reproach of Anglican leaders for failing to disavow their institution with those who still seek to convert Jews to Christianity.

Mirvis’s “substantial misgivings” were voiced in his ‘afterword’ in the once-in-a-generation report from the Church’s influential Faith and Order Commission (FOC), titled God’s Unfailing Word, which was approved by the Mirvis’s friend Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church’s most senior bishop.

The report, published today, urges remorse over the role of Christians in centuries of antisemitism and calls on Christians to “repent” for past sins and challenge attitudes that provided a “fertile seed-bed for murderous antisemitism”, contributing to the Holocaust.

The document, three years in the making, also addresses historical Christian persecution of Jews, antisemitism from Palestinian supporters, attitudes towards Israel, and evangelism, but does not cut Church ties to groups such as ‘Jews for Jesus.’

In an incisive retort Mirvis recalled how, in 2015, the Vatican committed the Catholic Church to “neither conduct nor support any institutional mission work specifically targeted at Jews” but that the Church of England had missed a golden opportunity to do likewise.

“The enduring existence within the Anglican Church of a theological approach that is permissive of this behaviour does considerable damage to the relationship between our faiths,” said Mirvis. “Pursuing a new Christian-Jewish paradigm in this context is exceptionally challenging.”

Richard Sudworth, the Church’s national inter-religious affairs adviser, welcomed Mirvis’s “tough words” and said the Church “needs to hear the depth of feeling the Chief Rabbi is expressing. Any sense we target Jewish people must carry the weight of history.”

The Council of Christians and Jews said: “This comes at a sensitive time for the UK Jewish community with rising antisemitism in wider British culture. We welcome the practical emphasis of the report, which is pragmatic and hopeful with regard to future Jewish-Christian relations.”

The report acknowledges “the destructive nature and origins of Christian perceptions of the Jewish people” and reflects on “the attribution of collective guilt to the Jewish people for the death of Christ”.

This, the authors acknowledge, contributed to “fostering the acquiescence, if not positive support, of many Christians in actions that led to the Holocaust”, in wording that amounts to the Church’s most forthright mea culpa to date.

Drawing on rising levels of antisemitism, and referencing his 2016 Auschwitz-Birkenau visit, Welby said: “Too often in history, the Church has been responsible for and colluded in antisemitism.”

Last year bishops approved the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitsm, and Church leaders this week admitted that some anti-Israel clerics had in recent years helped sour Christian-Jewish relations.

Asked by Jewish News about the former Anglican vicar Stephen Sizer, who shared material alleging that Jews were behind 9/11, Sudworth said: “His utterances and publications have trodden a path that has not given due respect and care to the Christian-Jewish relations.”

Notwithstanding the conversion concerns, Welby said the publication “makes a thoughtful new contribution to the ever deeper friendship between Christians and Jews,” and “does not shy away from the pain of the past, or indeed the present”.

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