Anti-Semitism or a Poorly Worded Question?

By Derek Gentle

According to the Anti-Defamation League, a scientific poll shows that "One in Four Americans Believe Jews Were Responsible for the Death of Christ." The question asks, "Were Jews responsible for Christ's death" and the results are being reported as if the question were worded, "Are Jews Christ-killers?"

"A national poll of 1,200 American adults conducted December 1-4, 2003 by The Marttila Communications Group of Boston found that 25 percent of those surveyed accepted the statement, "Do you think that Jews were responsible for the death of Christ?" as being "probably true." The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percent."

We are extremely concerned that one out of four Americans accepts the notion that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "While we cannot predict what impact Mel Gibson's film will have on audiences, it is troubling that so many Americans already accept the notion of Jewish guilt.

Now, let's say it clearly right up front: disrespecting people because they are Jewish is a sin. Anti-Semitism is a sin and, further, it demonstrates ignorance. It does not accord with the teachings of the New Testament and can in no way, be described as "Christian." Anti-Semitism exists too often in too many places - and it is always wrong!

But let's look at the wording of the question in this particular poll: "Do you think that Jews were responsible for the death of Christ?"

It is worded for a yes or no response. Can one maintain that a "yes" means a person is anti-semitic? That a full quarter of all Americans are anti-semitic?

The question does not distinguish between Jews in general and particular Jews in a specific time and place in history.

It does not take into account the possibility that some may answer the question like a history test (as in, "Was Abraham Lincoln assassinated by a southerner?") After all, the question does use the past tense, "Were Jews responsible" - not, "Are the Jews responsible...?" The question doesn't contain an article. It doesn't say, "Were the Jews responsible…?" It says, "Were Jews responsible…?" Polls require us to answer multiple choice questions, so the question would not allow the respondent to explain his or her view of the motives of Jesus or the theological meaning of the cross.

It doesn't take into consideration the possibility that the one being polled may have felt that, due to the fallen nature of humanity, a similar result would have come regardless of what time and culture to which the Christ came. And while the specifics are that he was born in the first century as a Jew, all creatures are in rebellion against their creator. We have all sinned, and even when we try to align our lives with the Torah, we fall short.

Perhaps many of that 25% could have explained that Jesus was Jewish, grew up in a Jewish neighborhood, that the only gentiles around were the occupying soldiers of Rome, and that those who mourned his death, buried him, and reported his resurrection were also Jews.

The question does not ask: "Are Jews Christ-killers or did Jesus voluntarily give his life as a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind?" Just perhaps, many of the respondents would reply that they accept the words of Jesus concerning his death:

"I am laying down My life so I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down on My own. I have the right to lay it down, and I have the right to take it up again. I have received this command from My Father." John 10:17-18 (HCSB)

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." John 10:11 (HCSB)

Why didn't the survey ask a second question, "Do you believe that your sins are the reason for Christ's death?"

The Marttila Communications Group question doesn't account for any of the various nuances of answers that could come from respondents. It seems not to take into account the teachings of the Christian faith. Jews have every reason to remain vigilant and the ADL has good reason to conduct such a poll. But this question was simply too poorly worded to get the information needed to form an accurate picture of American attitudes toward the Jewish community.

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