New York, NY, June 6, 2007 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is urging the world's Orthodox Christian leaders to support a Christian proposal to excise ancient anti-Semitic passages from their liturgy.
ADL cited a declaration by an independent group of Orthodox Christian priests and intellectuals who are calling for their churches to reject centuries-old negative theological positions toward Jews and Judaism, including positions on the State of Israel. The group represents five different Orthodox churches, including Greek, Ukrainian, Russian, Georgian and Ecumenical Orthodox Churches. Some signed the declaration in defiance of their church leadership, according to news reports.
"We call on Orthodox Christian leaders to begin the process now to remove anti-Semitic passages from its liturgy," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "This effort is long overdue. Untold numbers of Jews have suffered throughout the centuries, and today, in some countries where these churches are prominent, Jews are confronted by growing anti-Semitism, because of the failure to address this."
Eric J. Greenberg, ADL Associate Director of Interfaith Affairs, noted that some Orthodox liturgy still refer to Jews as Christ-killers, and that some Easter services include calls for revenge against Jews. He noted that the Roman Catholic Church and several Protestant churches have removed anti-Semitic passages from its liturgy, and that the Vatican repudiated the deicide charge against the Jewish people in 1965.
"We commend the courageous priests and academics who seek to rid their churches of the poison of anti-Semitism," Greenberg said. "Support of this declaration by church leaders would help build a more positive interfaith dialogue between Orthodox Christians and Jews, and help increase religious respect around the world."
Bishop Paul Peter Jesep, U.S. Director of Public Affairs for the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church Diaspora, said he supports the priests' campaign as essential to the future of the Orthodox Church.
"The Church has not done enough to address anti-Semitism," Jesep said, speaking in his individual capacity. "The Liturgy must be modified so that it is brought closer to the teachings of Christ."
The ten-page declaration endorses the eternal connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, and calls for the repudiation of replacement theology, which erroneously contends that God's covenant with the Jewish people is not eternal. "It is time that we called anti-Semitism a grave sin against God and man," the declaration said.
By Jason Leopold
At the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Army base, military chaplains have been holding Bible classes for US soldiers using study guides that appear to be anti-Semitic.
The Fort Leavenworth chaplains have posted these lesson plans on the Internet under a web address that is maintained by the federal government, giving off the appearance that the religious materials in question are endorsed by the Pentagon. Moreover, disseminating the ideology via a government funded web site may violate the law mandating the separation between church and state.
The nonprofit watchdog group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an organization that seeks to enforce the law mandating the separation between church and state in the US military, discovered the documents late last week. The anti-Semitic materials are posted as PDF files at the web site, Command Chaplain Bible Studies, which is maintained by the US Army's Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth.
The Officers Christian Fellowship Neighborhood Study Guides quote portions of the New Testament and were written by Major George Kuykendall, the leader of Fort Leavenworth's Officer's Christian Fellowship (OCF) who died in 1998, according to Chris Rodda, a senior researcher at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Rodda said, "The study guides also encourage soldiers to engage in an unconstitutional level of proselytizing to fellow military personnel in the Fort Leavenworth Community."
In one of the study guides, Galatians, posted on the Fort Leavenworth chaplain web site, the materials refer to Jews as "Judaizers" - persons who without being Jews follow in whole or in part the Jewish religion or claim to be Jews - and claim that "the Judaizers were zealous people much like the zealous Moslems have become today."
The 34-page Galatians study guide deals primarily with "Paul," who the Jews "persecuted," according to the study guide.
"Why did the Jews persecute Paul? Because of his teachings," the study guide says. "The cross was an offense to the Jews. Jesus had victory over the cross (death)."
The study guide then says that anyone who turns from Christianity to Judaism "should be condemned to spiritual death and hell."
"The Judaizers attempted to destroy the two foundations of the Christian religion: a. The Grace of God, and b. The Death of Christ," the Galtatian study guide says, adding that Judaism is a religion of "bondage" and Christianity a religion of "freedom."
In discussing modern day Jerusalem, chaplains ask soldiers to provide an answer to the following question: "How does the present Jerusalem represent slavery?"
A person who answered the telephone at the Fort Leavenworth chaplains' office refused to disclose his name when contacted for comment. The individual, a male, said there have not been prior complaints to the Bible study guides and that "I would not characterize the material as anti-Semitic."
"I guess if you're Jewish you may see it that way, but we're discussing the gospels as it appears in the New Testament," this person said, who added that there was no plan to remove the study guides from the web site. Messages left at the public affairs office at Fort Leavenworth were not returned. Calls to a Pentagon spokesperson were also not returned.
But for Mikey Weinstein, the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the religious teachings are not only blatantly anti-Semitic, but he believes disseminating it over the Internet tramples upon the Constitution.
"It's illegal for an arm of the federal government to push this ideology," Weinstein, who is Jewish, said in an interview. "This is the official web site of the US Army, and this is here for everyone to see. Anyone would easily come away with the belief that the US Army endorses these teachings. The last time someone talked about a Jewish problem the way these chaplains are talking about it was in Europe in the 1930s. What these Bible teachings say to me or to anyone participating in these classes is that the US government loves the military but Jews are bad."
Weinstein said he intends to file a lawsuit against the US Army alleging Constitutional violations.
"I'm sick of writing letters," Weinstein said. "This type of fundamentalism needs to stop. This particular violation propagates every vile and wretched stereotype of the Jewish faith."
Weinstein, a former White House counsel who defended the Reagan administration during the Iran-Contra probe, has been waging a one-man war against the Department of Defense for what he says is a blatant disregard of the Constitution. He recently published a book on the issue: "With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military." Weinstein is also an Air Force veteran and a graduate of the Air Force Academy. Three generations of his family have attended US military academies.
Since he launched his watchdog organization 18 months ago, Weinstein said he has been contacted by more than 4,000 active duty and retired soldiers, many of whom served or serve in Iraq, who told Weinstein that they were pressured by their commanding officers to convert to Christianity.
Weinstein said a right-wing fundamentalist Christian agenda under President Bush has hijacked the military.
"The rise of evangelical Christianity inside the military went on steroids after 9/11 under this administration and this White House," Weinstein said in an interview. "This administration has turned the entire Department of Defense into a faith-based initiative."
Over Memorial Day weekend, Weinstein lashed out at the Air Force for co-sponsoring, along with evangelical Christian organizations, a three-day event celebrating the Air Force's 60th anniversary.
The event, sponsored by Task Force Patriot USA, an evangelical organization, and LifeWay Christian Resources, the publishing house of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), was described by the official publication of the Robins Air Force Base as "an official US Air Force 60th Anniversary event." The paper stated that the religious groups and the United States Air Force "have joined together to create a three-day celebration...."
Plans for the event prompted a forceful response from watchdog groups. In a letter to Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne and Acting Secretary of the Army Peter Geren, the Reverend Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), called the event "a stunning display of the federal government using vast resources to trumpet a religious celebration."
Lynn added: "Military personnel and veterans come from many religious traditions and no religion at all. So it is wholly disingenuous for the organizers of this evangelical Christian gathering to promote it as a salute to all our troops. It is anything but."
Weinstein is quick to point out that the issues his organization is tackling are not about "Christianity versus Judaism." Rather, they're about keeping rampant fundamentalism out of the military.
But the Biblical teachings at Fort Leavenworth certainly appear to lean heavily on an anti-Semitic and pro-Christian agenda.
In the 14-page study guide Nehemiah, chaplains discuss a portion of the Sanballat, the first high priest of the temple at Samaria, who, according to the Bible study, had to deal with a "Jewish problem." He mocked the Jews' efforts to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in the hopes that they would give up.
The study guide then poses the following questions for soldiers: "How do you interpret Sanballat's reaction to the Jews progress? Anxiety and fear? In light of what we know about the Jews performance today, were his fears reasonable?"
Another question in the same study guide asks soldiers to offer suggestions on a title for the portion of the scripture discussing Nehemiah.
"How would you short-title this portion of scripture?" the study guide asks. "Jews take advantage of Jews?"
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.
Jason Leopold is a former Los Angeles bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswire. He has written over 2,000 stories on the California energy crisis and received the Dow Jones Journalist of the Year Award in 2001 for his coverage on the issue as well as a Project Censored award in 2004. Leopold also reported extensively on Enron's downfall and was the first journalist to land an interview with former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling following Enron's bankruptcy filing in December 2001. Leopold has appeared on CNBC and National Public Radio as an expert on energy policy and has also been the keynote speaker at more than two dozen energy industry conferences around the country.