An Easter comic strip portrays a menorah being replaced by a cross. Weeks later, a professional basketball player and a conservative political honcho make startlingly similar comments independent of each other, blaming Jews for crucifying Christ.
To Jews, as well as Christians involved in interfaith dialogue, it may seem like a return to the bad old days, when Christianity was rife with anti-Jewish teachings, such as the idea that Jews killed Christ and that Christians replaced, or superceded, Jews as God's chosen people, thereby relegating Judaism to the "reject" pile of world faiths.
"I find these episodes disheartening and a caution regarding the amount of work that needs to be done in reformulating Christian teaching beyond its anti-Jewish forms. We'd like to think we've come further than we have," said Peter Pettit, director of the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding of Muhlenberg College, a Lutheran institution.
For decades Catholic and mainline Protestant churches have been revising their theology to eliminate anti-Jewish teachings. Evangelical churches form a more complicated picture: To the extent that theology deemed offensive by Jews still exists today, it is generally among evangelicals.
But even so, evangelical thinking in recent years has undergone changes large and small, and one observer of the conservative Christian world said the predominant reaction to these recent flaps in Christian-Jewish relations was "tremendous embarrassment."
To understand the evangelical reaction to these recent incidents, it is important not to lump the three together: New York Knicks player Charlie Ward said in an interview that Jews have Christ's "blood on their hands," and political conservative Paul Weyrich declared on his website that Christ was "crucified by the Jews." In a substantively different incident, Johnny Hart, creator of the B.C. comic strip, drew an Easter strip deemed offensive by many.
Ward and Weyrich were espousing the notion that Jews are responsible for Christ's death. Though long a part of Christian thinking, "the idea that Jews are somehow responsible for the death of Christ is just not good theology," said Richard Mouw, president of the evangelical Fuller Theological Seminary. "It wasn't the Jews who crucified him. It was sinful humanity who was responsible for him."