[ACNS] The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has endorsed and welcomed an initiative from the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) in the UK which will see British Jews spend a month reflecting on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
The “If Not Now, When?” initiative takes its name from the teaching of the Tanaaic sage Hillel, who said in Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”. The support material says that “Jews should strive to be more than ‘only for themselves,’ reaching into the wider community to empathise with those who are downtrodden. And, as many Christian communities in the Middle East seem to be disappearing altogether, the time we have to act is limited. If not now, when?”
The material says: “Throughout August specifically but also beyond, we are encouraging Jewish communities to engage in prayer, reflection and discussion about this serious issue.
“The Christian communities of the Middle East are under threat of violence and death from extremist groups. After the suffering and persecution that the Jews have endured throughout history, we feel a responsibility to speak out when massacres and genocide take place elsewhere, in our time.
“Presently, Christians in the Middle East face imminent danger at the hands of extremist groups such as ISIS (also known as The Islamic State and ISIL). Many thousands of Christians have been killed, hundreds of thousands more have been forced to flee their homes, and an estimated 100 million in total are at risk in the region.”
The initiative has drawn support from many sectors of the Jewish community in the UK and has been welcomed by Archbishop Welby, a president of CCJ, who described it as “a timely and pioneering resource [that] galvanises the Jewish community to use their current and historical experience of persecution as a catalyst for a compassionate and prayerful response to Christians facing persecution in the Middle East.”
The initiative was “a deeply impressive contribution to the work of reconciliation and peace building” and “an invaluable tool for active grassroots engagement.”
The UK’s Chief Rabbi, another of CCJ’s presidents, said: “There is no doubt that the scourge of hatred, intolerance and oppression remains the most urgent global challenge of our time.
“In this context, recent reports suggest that Christians face persecution in over a hundred countries worldwide, more than the adherents of any other religion. Each one of us bears a responsibility to reflect on what we can do for those who are suffering because of their faith. The Council of Christians and Jews’ If Not Now, When? resource provides a wonderful vehicle for embarking on that process and I commend it to Jewish communities across the UK and beyond.”
Andrew Pratt, the Bishop of Blackburn’s adviser and coordinator for interfaith work, said that the programme was “a wonderful caring initiative. I am sure will give a lot of comfort to Christians”; while the interfaith adviser to the Bishop of Lichfield, the Revd Canon John Barnett, said: “I am particularly touched that this is an inter-religious initiative, the only way in which such sensitive issues can properly be discussed.”
And the Revd Canon Steven Williams, Vicar of St Gabriel, Prestwich in the Diocese of Manchester, said: “I’ve been humbled and inspired by how different congregations in Manchester’s Jewish community have embraced the experience of a local Anglican priest here who lost 25 members of his extended family in a recent suicide bombing.
“They have listened to his story. They held a benefit concert for the victims. They knew what mattered. CCJ’s initiative reflects the same desire. It comes from the heart of a community that knows this unique form of suffering.”
The director of CCJ, Jane Clements, said that the “ground-breaking” initiative would “encourages Jewish communities to engage in prayer and spiritual reflection about this issue, joining their voices with those of Christians around the country.” The resource was “primarily directed at the Jewish community and using Jewish sources that can be used by communities across the country to engage in spiritual actions to demonstrate support for and solidarity with persecuted Christians.
“It has been incredibly well received throughout both the Jewish and Christian communities. . . The way in which the project appears to have united communities has been truly remarkable and is beyond anything we had anticipated.
“We already have a number of Rabbis and communities committed to including prayers in their services for the month of August, with others hosting youth discussion groups around the topic and still others hosting small reflective vigils. Beyond August we are looking to develop the initiative to be slightly broader, engaging with other faiths and holding some more informative talks.”
The Council of Christians and Jews was founded in 1942 by Archbishop William Temple and Chief Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz and has grown to become the leading nationwide forum for Christian – Jewish engagement in the UK.
- The If Not Now, When? resources can be found here