Churches, synagogues to read book this fall
The Tennessean, Aug. 24, 2002
By BRIAN LEWIS
More than 40 local congregations are preparing this fall to study Constantine’s Sword, a 400-plus page book about Christianity and anti-Semitism. The effort, sponsored by the Covenant Association, is to foster religious dialogue and help people examine their faith.
The Nashville association is a group of about 70 moderate to liberal churches, synagogues and mosques.
The book’s author, James Carroll of Boston will speak at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at West End United Methodist Church and at 10 a.m. Sept. 23 at Benton Chapel at the Vanderbilt Divinity School. The meetings are free and open to the public. The study groups at churches and synagogues begin the week of Sept. 29.
In a telephone interview this week, Carroll said he will address his hopes for the study effort and some of the issues the book raises. Carroll said he’ll talk about how the book shows the need for religions to engage in self-criticism.
”Religions have to investigate their basic assumptions with a view to what they lead to in the world. That’s the lesson for Christians in the Holocaust. That’s the lesson for Muslims in Sept. 11.”
Religion used to be thought of as purely a positive force, Carroll said, but it should be seen as having the potential to cause great destruction as well.
”The lesson of history is that religion is ambiguous and it can lead to hatred and violence. We all have to engage in this level of religious self-criticism.” Most Christians do not know the historical incidents of Christian mistreatment of Jews and the role some prominent people played, Carroll said.
”They don’t know that anti-Semitism was the product not of sinners but of saints,” he said. For example, one reason that St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan friars, known for his simple lifestyle and renunciation of wealth, founded his religious order was to preach against the Jews, Carroll said.
The book has been used for many interfaith dialogues across the country, but this is the first community book study, Carroll said.
While the book focuses mostly on the Catholic Church’s history, its message is applicable for all Christians, said Brad Reed, a member of the Covenant Association’s executive committee who recommended the study.
”If over almost 2,000 years, Christian leaders speak and Jews get killed, there’s got to be something wrong,” Reed said. ”For those of us who are people of faith, this is really important stuff. I hope it will affect all of us to not demonize groups and try to honestly learn about people.”
The Rev. Dan Kuhn of Vine Street Christian Church, 4101 Harding Road, said the issues the book and the curriculum raise are important as people develop their faith.
”We take Christianity for granted and we define it to suit our own purposes,” he said. ”Our general reaction is that we just assume that God blesses everything we do because we’re Christians.”
Janet Hilley, executive director of the Covenant Association, said: ”One of the goals we have for Constantine’s Sword is to raise awareness of the history of the Christian and Jewish faiths and to think about ways we can strengthen the relationship between those two faiths now,” she said.