An Episcopal bishop is calling on members of his faith to stop holding Passover Seders, saying that the practice goes against theology and is offensive to the Jewish people.
In an open letter published online, Episcopal Diocese of Missouri Bishop Deon Johnson called the growing trend “deeply problematic” and linked to an article by Amy-Jill Levine, a Judaic scholar at Vanderbilt Divinity School, which lays out the case against Christian Seders.
Johnson told the Forward he was inspired to write the letter after a retreat with some of his fellow clergy, when one of the people present said a congregation in her town had advertised a Christian Seder.
“My response was ‘Don’t do it,’” he said. “From that I decided, well, maybe it’s time that I needed to issue something for the diocese, explaining why we don’t do this and why this is not part of our practice.”
Johnson said Christians holding Seders is a form of “supersessionism,” a type of theology that teaches that Christians have superseded Jews as God’s people of the covenant, which violates Episcopal teaching.
“Part of that is also recognizing that there is a rise in white Christian nationalism and that this is part of what has been an appropriation from that branch of Christianity, that we have said is not who we are,” he said.
While Christian Seders have become more popular in recent years, some sects, primarily Evangelical, have also begun appropriating Jewish symbols such as the shofar. Some Jews have called out the Seders as offensive cultural appropriation.
Johnson said that “very few” people within his diocese have held Seders, especially since he was elevated to bishop in 2020.
A spokesperson for the Episcopal Church’s central body said she was “unaware of any official Episcopal Church stance on Passover Seders” and Johnson acknowledged that he does not speak for the church. But he added that he expects the topic to come up at the church’s next general convention in 2024.
A spokesperson for the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the largest central bodies of Evangelical Christianity, was not able to comment on specific theological teachings, but said that churches within the denomination are autonomous and there is no centralized policy on Seders.
While there was no immediate response to a request for comment from the United Methodist Church, an article on a resource page for Methodist leaders quotes Evan Moffic, an Illinois rabbi who touts himself as a leader on interfaith dialogue, as encouraging Christians to partake in seders with their Jewish neighbors. But that article stops short of encouraging Methodists to hold their own Seders, saying that instead, by celebrating Passover together with Jews, Christians may learn more about the parallels between Christian and Jewish theology and can come to see Passover from a Jewish perspective.
Since the letter’s publication last week, Johnson said he’s received positive feedback both from within the Episcopalian and Jewish communities.
Johnson said he would encourage Christians to attend Seders at the invitation of their Jewish friends and neighbors. During his time as a reverend in Michigan, Johnson attended a Seder hosted by Jewish friends, which fostered “ecumenical relationships and it fosters a sense of understanding.”
“I think it gives us a deeper sense of who we are as Christians, again, not in a supersessionism way, but in a way that we can deepen and deepen our understanding of who we are, but especially to learn from our Jewish siblings,” he said. “But for us to do it as Christians on our own does not make any sense to me.”
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