National Conference on Religion and Race Discusses Anti-semitism
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National Conference on Religion and Race Discusses Anti-semitism

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The National Conference on Religion and Race, the first Catholic-Protestant-Jewish convocation of this kind in the United States, in what is called here the “ecumenical spirit” turned for a time today from anti-Negro prejudices to anti-Semitism. The subject was projected formally at a morning plenary session attended by the more than 1, 000 delegates and observers, lay and clerical, participating in the conference which opened yesterday for four days.

Anti-Semitism was hit forthrightly by the only speaker of the session, Dr. Franklin H. Littell, professor of Church History at one of American Protestantism’s foremost educational institutions, the Chicago Theological Seminary. The session was presided over by Rabbi Erwin M. Blank, chairman of the social action commission of the Synagogue Council of America, one of the three national organizations which convened the conference.

“Anti-Semitism,” Dr. Littell said, “is perhaps the surest seismographic measurement of totalitarian systems and pre-totalitarian movements. The reasons are twofold. In the first place, on the edge of the jungle, the law is an especially wonderful thing and those who represent the ancient tradition of law and order in societies where violence and anarchy are incipient are the special targets of wicked men who live by chaos. More important, however, the Jews are the special objects of animosity when people are determined to revert to tribal religion.


“Whether personally religious or not, the Jew by his very existence represents the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and His authorship of world history. This is what the baptized also stand for in their baptismal and confirmation vows but when totalitarian movements arise the Gentile can take on protective coloration; he can apostasize, revert to a more primitive state, betray his baptism. The Jew cannot, ” the Protestant spiritual leader stated.

Denouncing the bombing of synagogues and other acts of anti-Jewish violence, Dr. Lit-tell said: “It is not accident but a dreadful portent that, precisely at the moment when White Citizens Councils, Circuit Riders, Minute Men, John Birchers and all the denizens of the political sewers are uniting to attack the Supreme Court, the remaining centers of free discussion among the churches, the universities and the trade unions, just synagogues should be bombed in our cities.

“Christians are ‘spiritual Semites.’ The only tribal religion which the Christians can affirm is recorded in the first stage of their history, in the Old Testament. Reversion to pre-baptism, tribalism, whether racist or totalitarian–ideological, are rooted in hatred of the church and her claims, even though the Jews are often the first victim s of the revolt out of the abyss, “he stressed.


William Stringfellow, a New York attorney who emphasized that he is a “white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, ” warned the Conference last night against the danger of anti-Semitism among Negroes. The subject of Negro anti-Semitism had not been on the agenda. Deploring what he called the failure to plan genuine action against bigotry of all kinds, Mr. String fellow said:

“What has been latent for a long time, in the North at least, Negro anti-Semitism, has now come out into the open. There have been some attempts to boycott Jewish merchants on 115th Street in Harlem, New York’s largest Negro ghetto. To me, as a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, whatever other meaning this has, it is an excruciating dilemma. On the one hand, the White Protestants stand along side Jews as victims of the broader hostility of the Negroes to white people. Protestants are victims of something for which they themselves are responsible. “

Mr. Stringfellow also spoke of the Black Muslims in the United States and the danger they pose. Albert Vorspan, director of the Commission on Social Action of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, who was the next speaker, did not allude to Mr. Stringfellow’s stricture on Negro anti-Semitism but said that “growing dichotomies” are building racial tensions and are feeding the Black Muslims.

Mr. Vorspan cited the fact that in Chicago and in Detroit, Catholics, Jews and Protestants have got together to fight racism “toward an integrated community. ” He expressed the hope that the National Conference would succeed in “developing a meaningful and active social action program.”

Following the plenary session, at which Professor Littell turned the conference from consideration of anti-Negroism to anti-Semitism, the convocation was divided into four simultaneous but separate forums dealing with these subjects: I. The inner life of the church and synagogue; 2. The responsibility of church and synagogue as institutions in the community; 3. The role of church and synagogue in a racially changing community; and 4, The relation of church and synagogue to other community forces.

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