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‘It doesn’t travel alone’: Antisemitism should trouble Southern Baptists, prompt action

College campuses have seen numerous protests from those supporting Palestinians as well as Israel since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. Screen grab from CNN

NASHVILLE (BP) — Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin has been “vitally interested” in Israel his entire ministry. That includes more than a dozen visits to the country, at least two of those at the request of the Israeli government.

His interest connects to Bible prophecy rooted in Scripture and not in daily headlines. But headlines are impossible to ignore since the Hamas terrorist attack earlier this month that killed more than 1,400 Israelis and launched a military response.

Akin and other Southern Baptists are also paying attention to headlines about cases of antisemitism following the attacks.

The Anti-Defamation League reports a list of such incidents outside of Israel that have “an apparent connection” with that country. Those include 588 incidents in France, a 240 percent increase in Germany since Oct. 7 and 218 antisemitic hate crimes reported to London police from Oct. 1-18, a rate 13 times higher than the same period last year.

“Antisemitism is ugly and evil,” Akin said. “To see it on the rise in America and around the world only brings sorrow to my heart and a resolve to oppose it. Followers of Christ love all persons. We love Jews and Palestinians, and we work and pray for the peace that only the Prince of Peace can bring.”

Antisemitic incidents in the United States increased by 36 percent from 2021-2022. The tabulated figure of 3,697 reports was the highest since the ADL began keeping track in 1979, and marked the third time in the previous five years a high number had been recorded.

Be aware

“The attack really shook me in a way I hadn’t felt since 9/11,” said Dan Darling, director of The Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and assistant professor of Faith and Culture at Texas Baptist College.

Driving on his way to a speaking engagement in Virginia, Darling spoke about the “brazenness” and “cruelty” of the Hamas attack. The response of some in the days and weeks after were just as disturbing.

“I’ve read the reports and watched the videos, [seeing] the depravity to mastermind something like that,” he said. “It’s different from a battle attack. This was taking soldiers and killing vulnerable people because they were Jewish.”

Darling, whose mother is Jewish, has been to Israel four times. It is a land not unfamiliar to Southern Baptists. Church groups – some there when the attacks started – routinely tour the country. A hospital in Gaza damaged by a missile was managed by Southern Baptists for nearly 30 years.

Early media reports of that strike troubled Darling and others. The deadly blast was initially reported as an Israeli military strike and carried as such by multiple mainstream outlets. Another picture soon emerged that it came by way of a missile launched from inside Gaza that broke up midair, with part of it landing at the hospital complex.

“It was one of the worst media mistakes in recent memory,” Darling said. “To blame Israel for everything, blame Jewish people for everything, is one of the oldest forms of antisemitism.”

The most glaring Scriptural example can be found in Esther, he added. Haman appealed to the king to commit genocide against the Israelites.

“He blamed them for their social ills. This is what Hitler did in Germany,” Darling said.

Pro-Palestinian marches have taken place at U.S. government buildings as well as on college campuses. Those have become a struggle, to say the least, at universities where professors and students alike have expressed support for Hamas and Jewish students say antisemitism “is felt at all times.”

“What is happening on college campuses in this context is absolutely despicable,” Akin said. “It is evidence of the moral bankruptcy of much of higher education in our day.”

A matter of prayer

Chants of “From the river to the sea” have accompanied those marches, voicing a call to expel Jews from the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. It is a call to eliminate Israel.

“We should pray for Israel. We should pray for the Palestinians. We should pray for peace. They have to live side-by-side,” Darling said. “However, I think it is good and right to pray that terrorists like Hamas are destroyed.

“Calls for a cease-fire are disingenuous. Groups like Hamas that behead babies and kill Holocaust survivors and children in front of their parents won’t recognize a cease-fire. So really, those are just calls for Israel to not defend themselves.” 

Defending and speaking up for others is a Gospel issue. Israel’s biblical connection, of course, is also important.

“It is clear to me that God has providentially watched over the Jewish people and that He has a future plan of salvation for them as Romans 11 makes clear,” said Akin.

There are several reasons Southern Baptists should care about antisemitism, Darling said. It’s prejudice in its oldest form and, if societies allow it, a harbinger of other forms of racism. There is also a shared heritage with Jesus as a Jewish Savior.

“We have to be sober and alert,” he said. “Antisemitism doesn’t travel alone. Those who come for Jewish people will eventually do the same for others, including Christians.”