CRESSKILL "Both Christian and Muslim extremists teach us something important. They have found the seeds of genocide in each of our faiths, and they have acted on them. One thing is for sure, neither of us can remain scriptural literalists any longer."
These words, written by the Rev. Dr. Kathleen Rusnak of Our Saviour Lutheran Church here, were in the second entry on her new blog, http://kathleenjrusnak.blogspot.com.
The Rev. Kathleen Rusnak
She started the Internet forum in August to provide "a voice that was not being heard" on the issue of anti-Semitism. "When I was in grade school, I told my teacher I wanted to be an essayist. So at 54, that’s what I’ve become," she said with a chuckle.
For a Protestant minister, Rusnak has unusual expertise in things Jewish. From January 1998 to February ‘000, she lived at Nes Ammim, a Christian moshav in the Western Galilee, where she was study coordinator and interim director of its Holocaust Study Center. Since then, she has devoted herself to helping Christians confront their culpability in sowing the seeds for European Jewry’s destruction. In ‘003, she lent her face to a poster ad campaign launched by the Anti-Defamation League urging an end to anti-Semitism.
"I have taught the Holocaust at the college level and at Nes Ammim, but I never seem to be able get the 30 to 40 years of things I’ve learned out to the greater Jewish and Christian public," she said. "This was a way to do that, but I didn’t want to be another similar voice. I don’t want to take a side we always hear from the left or the right."
And it’s not only Christians she aims to address.
"I want the blog to get Christians as well as Muslims to think about their behavior, attitude, and theology toward Jews, Judaism, and Israel," she said. "Christians have become self-critical, unlike Muslims, after a long hard road of destruction and pogroms and inquisitions and Holocaust. We’re learning the importance of Jesus as a Jew and 19 centuries of things we’ve missed about Jesus and Christianity because we thought he denied being Jewish. Instead, he connects us to Judaism. If Abraham is the father of us all, then certainly Islam also can use theological and scriptural investigation to determine its connection with Judaism."
She wants Christians and Muslims to acknowledge "the weak, dangerous parts of our texts," understand the contexts in which they were written, and agree to disable them through analysis and critical thinking. People "wouldn’t be looking to kill Jews and obliterate Israel if we changed our thinking," she said.
She hopes Jewish readers will embrace the blog for its affirming message. "I want them to be aware that there are Christians out there who see them in a positive light and thank them for what they’ve done … and want them to be protected and survive and thrive."
Rusnak hopes Christian readers will learn that anti-Semitism comes from their own scriptures and be willing to swallow post-Holocaust Christian theology "in little teaspoons."
She hopes Muslims will see they are repeating Christian mistakes. "I’m saying to moderate Muslims, ‘I feel for you, but those [extremists] are yours and you have to claim them.’ There is genocide in our texts and we need to admit it’s there if we’re going to stop it. Let’s turn this around and take a look at the God we all believe in, the God of Abraham."
She is fully aware that she is taking risks in spreading such messages publicly.
"I expect there to be a few lumps along the way with this," she acknowledged. "Protestant denominations are very pro-Palestinian without looking at the deeper issues. I’ll be dealing with that. It puts me in an uncomfortable position and I haven’t sent [the blog] to anyone outside my own church, where many of them have heard me preach for five years on these topics."
What if the Bishop E. Roy Riley of the New Jersey Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America gets wind of her venture? "If he doesn’t like the blog, I don’t think it would impact my status but even if it did, I would still write it," she said firmly.
"When I press the ‘publish’ button, my adrenaline flows because I know that now it’s out there. And that feels good."