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Bridge-Builders II

In our previous post "All God's Children" we contrasted Bridge-Builders with Wall-Builders:

"bridge-builders, though fully committed to the values of their own community seek to create positive relationships with outsiders, and even with opponents....Their focus is on cooperation and compromise....They take the initiative to reach out beyond their community, and are willing to listen to the other side.

One of the perils of bridge-building is running the risk of rejection by the home community. The Jewish author Sholem Asch is the poster child of this danger. In the 1940's, he wrote three novels about Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus' mother Mary -- novels that attempted to bridge the chasm between Jews and Christians.

His two main objectives in writing these books were to declare that the Jews as a people did not "kill Christ" -- only a few corrupt leaders; and second, to tell Christians that the long history of religion-based anti-Semitism was a flagrant denial of the teachings and spirit of Jesus. He made the following remarkable statement in his book "What I Believe" (1941):

"It is my deepest belief that just as I have a share in the God of Israel through my faith in him, my Christian brother has his equal share in the God of Israel, stands equally under the authority and is included equally in the promise of redemption....His faith has made him a son of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (What I Believe, p. 196)".

This is a bridge-builder who made the ultimate step in reconciliation -- offering the outsider full inclusion as a fellow member of the faith community! He believed that Judaism and Christianity were the two pillars of Western Civilization, and that the future of the world depended on these two communities working together rather than continuing their two millennium-long antagonism.

In the 1940's, many Christian readers had favorable opinions about his 3 "christological" novels -- even though a careful reading of The Nazarene shows that it lacks both the Incarnation and Resurrection of Jesus! Despite this, because the novel focused on Jesus' remarkable character and teachings, Jewish readers of that day were incensed by this book. They felt that Asch had crossed a line and was espousing Christianity, which they identified as allied with Nazism and the destruction of Judaism. Some critics called him an apostate, a "missionary" for Christianity. Their contempt for him lasted for the rest of his life.

In this case, the problem for Mr Asch was not a failure to communicate with outsiders (non-Jews), but a loss of credibility within his own faith community. For a bridge-builder to bring both parties together, he must be firmly anchored in his own group -- otherwise his peacemaking ideas and efforts will be disowned by his own side. This failure doesn't mean that his insights are wrong, however. I agree with his goal of promoting Jewish and Christian dialogue and cooperation. But it does mean that he is out of step with his contemporaries, possibly ahead of his time. In this case, he became an example of a lone-wolf reconciler, a prophet without honor in his own country.

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