I just read a profound essay on the relations between Christians and Jews in America, Why Don’t Jews Like the Christians Who Like Them? by James Q. Wilson. It’s deep, thoughtful, intriguing and asks a very legitimate, even existential question.
Wilson, who passed away in 2012, was a favorite of American conservatives, especially since he is considered the father of the “broken windows theory.” On the unusual relationship between evangelicals and Jews he wrote:
Evangelical Christians have a high opinion not just of the Jewish state but of Jews as people. That Jewish voters are overwhelmingly liberal doesn’t seem to bother evangelicals, despite their own conservative politics. Yet Jews don’t return the favor: in one Pew survey, 42 percent of Jewish respondents expressed hostility to evangelicals and fundamentalists. As two scholars from Baruch College have shown, a much smaller fraction—about 16 percent—of the American public has similarly antagonistic feelings toward Christian fundamentalists.
While conceding that “it is quite possible that Orthodox Jews welcome evangelical support while Reform and secular ones oppose it,” Wilson nevertheless tries to explain this phenomenon from conservative eyes…
“Must Jews Dislike the Christians who like Them?”
JewishPress.com, Originally published Jan. 7, 2014
I read this article with interest mixed with a dash of dismay. It’s the Jewish voice saying to evangelicals, “Yes, like us, love us, just keep your Christianity to yourselves.” That’s actually a reasonable request from a Jewish point of view. To punctuate that statement, here’s more of Hanover’s commentary:
As an observant Jew, I endorse all the facts in Wilson’s article, and offer an honest, heartfelt response. Accounting only for my own feelings, but certain they are common to many Jews like myself, I must tell Evangelicals: You annoy the goal post hockey stick hockey stick out of us.
For a Christian, to love someone is inseparable from sharing with that person (or group) the gospel message of Jesus Christ, the message of personal salvation, the invitation to convert to Christianity and to share the blessings of a risen Jesus.
But for nearly two thousand years, that invitation of Christians to Jews has been seen by Jewish populations as an extreme threat, in many cases resulting in pogroms, torture, maimings, and murder. While such violent means are not currently employed against Jews (and others) by “the Church,” the “racial memory” in Jewry is long and intransigent. Most Christians are so inured, so hopelessly devoted to the system of the “salvation plan” for everyone (especially Jews), that they can’t see why Jewish people feel so threatened by the “love” of Jesus Christ.
Hanover goes on to say:
I have no problem with your discovering Jesus and embracing Jesus and putting your faith in Jesus – I actually support that.
But why can’t you keep it to yourselves? Why must you insist that I, too, reject my grandfather’s Torah, stop praying the way my family has done since the minus fifteen hundreds, and accept your Jesus, and in my heart, no less?
I suppose I could invoke the modern Messianic Jewish movement and the Messianic Jewish luminaries of the 19th century, but it would still be difficult to break through the preconceptions most Jewish people have about Jews who actually have come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah, as Hanover describes:
The majority of you don’t speak Hebrew well enough to even understand my Bible, never mind assert foolish things about prophecies predicting Jesus. And those of you who do have a half decent command of Biblical Hebrew either lack the scholarship to understand why those “proofs” are idiotic, or are outright swindlers, looking to mislead innocent, ignorant Jews.
From necessity, normative religious Jews must believe that any Jewish person who has converted to Christianity is ignorant of the truth of the Jewish scriptures, and thus easily swayed by the inaccurate Christian interpretation of said-scriptures. Worse, some Christians are characterized as “outright swindlers,” wolves in sheep’s clothing, out to do what the Holocaust started, destroy Jews and Judaism, not by murdering Jewish people in gas chambers, but turning them from Jews into Goyishe Christians, effectively reducing or eliminating the remaining Jewish population of our planet.
In other words, while I and my fellow faithful Jews like the fact that the next pogrom will not come from an Evangelical torch and pitchfork crowd, we still don’t trust you. You can’t say you love me for who I am, because who I am includes a thorough rejection of the essence of your ideology, all of it, completely, I hold that there’s no truth to it whatsoever.
I’m sure it must be painful for many Christians who authentically love Israel and the Jewish people to discover that you (we) are not trusted by the objects of your (our) love for the reasons I’ve stated above and for the reasons Hanover outlines.
And this is an amazing follow-up question:
Now do you love me? Do you love me in a future in which Jesus doesn’t come, and you continue to hold on to your faith, and I to mine?
Christianity, and I include the Hebrew Roots movement and all of its divisions here, loves the Jewish people only as long as the Jewish people are Christians/Messianics. We talk about love of Jews but those are only the Jewish people we know and who we imagine believe and think about God, Messiah, and the Bible the same way we do.
But what if they don’t or worse, what if Jewish people who were once Christians or Messianics leave the fold?
I previously wrote a blog post on this topic called Apostasy, Pentecostalism, and Other Things That Go “Bump” in the Night that took heavy criticism in multiple arenas of the “believing” world. One reason I was criticized was because the author of a blog significantly disapproving of Jewish “apostates” (from Christianity) said he was only looking “at several examples of apostasy among friends and family, and what steps we can take to strengthen faith.”
However, that can be taken as, “I love the Jewish people and Israel only as long as they profess faith in Jesus Christ, and the minute they undergo a crisis of faith, and for any reason whatsoever leave the faith (in Christ), I will publicly brand them with a scarlet letter ‘A’ and make an already agonizing personal and spiritual situation and decision more difficult and embarrassing for each and every one of them.”
I included commentary on John MacArthur and his Strange Fire conference in my previous blog post because I believe MacArthur’s approach to Charismatics/Pentecostals was in the same vein, as if he were saying, “I love you but if you fail to accept my interpretation of your religious practices, I will ‘demonize’ the whole lot of you as publicly as possible.”
I consider the conference and book, Gifts of the Spirit produced by First Fruits of Zion to be a much more measured and reasonable approach to the issues raised in an examination of those “gifts of the spirit,” but where is the more reasonable Christian/Hebrew Roots approach to the world of non-Messianic Jews?
Do we love those Jewish people and that Israel? Is our “love” so conditional that we automatically condemn and defame the majority of Jewish people living on the earth? Do we defame and humiliate their ancestors, from the great Rabbinic sages to the lowly Jewish farmers or shepherds who were struggling to barely support their families in some part of Eastern Europe or Russia while, Tevye-like, they all opened their hearts to the God of their fathers?
It’s tragic to imagine that Jews who have come to faith in Jesus within a traditional Evangelical or Pentecostal framework assign the identity of “otherness” to their Jewish brothers and sisters who are not Christian/Messianic. It’s as if, even from a believing Jewish perspective, faith in Jesus Christ separates a Jew from the larger Jewish community and Judaism rather than expressing the height of what it is to be a Jew.
Of course, Christianity and Judaism have traveled wildly differing trajectories over the past twenty centuries or so, but if Gentile and Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah are ever to experience any unity before the throne of the King of the Jews in the Messianic Era, then those trajectories must be reunited.
In reading Hanover’s article, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the different spiritual trajectories traveled by me, a Christian husband, and my spouse, a Jewish wife. For her, like Hanover, any overt “Christianity” must “annoy the goal post hockey stick hockey stick out of” her.
If it were just a matter of me being “annoying” to Jewish people because I’m a Christian, I could cure that in an instant by withdrawing from any contact with the Jewish community (although I must say that currently, I am not involved in any sense), but this is personal and this is family.
To be fair, my wife accepts and shares my viewpoint on supporting Israel and sends me emails and even the occasional religious/rabbinic commentary if she thinks I’ll find it interesting. But I can’t get past the idea that she must think she’s “sleeping with the enemy,” so to speak.
I don’t know. My faith says that I must share the truth of the good news of the Messiah with everyone. Further, as I’ve stated many times on this blog, I believe the good news is actually good news to the Jews first, and then also to the Gentiles (though “the Church” has this completely backward).
If I were to follow the “apostasy police” model, I’d have to offer my wife a divorce since she refused to “convert to Christianity,” as well and embarrass her in as public a manner as possible, all for the sake of “love” and “strengthening the faith” of my fellow Gentile and Jewish believers.
But I’m not going to do that, not to Jewish friends and absolutely not to my Jewish family. I’ve already said that if the Apostle Paul never abandoned his unbelieving brothers and sisters, I certainly don’t think God left them in the dust either:
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
–Romans 9:1-5 (NASB)
But intermarriage, just like an “interfaith” community, doesn’t come without strings attached, as Hanover concludes:
But you must keep your missionary urges to yourselves. You can even lie to me and say you don’t have them – I’ll accept it. I’ll lie to you in return and say that my tradition says your teachings have value. We can co-exist this way for generations, bettering our societies and contributing good to the world. (emph. mine)
Just do something about your impulse to convert me.
In 1970, singer Joni Mitchell wrote a song called The Last Time I Saw Richard which includes the lyrics:
You like roses and kisses and pretty men to tell you
All those pretty lies pretty lies
I can’t stop being who I am and that’s a disciple of the Master, King of the Jews, and I can’t stop walking the path that the Master has set before me, but I won’t let that path take me into the fork in the road that leads to “crypto-anti-Semitism,” either. So what’s left? Unlike the person in Mitchell’s song, I can’t shut out reality and listen to “pretty lies” about the peaceful co-existence between Christians and Jews, and I do believe there will be a co-participation between Jews and Gentiles in the future Messianic Kingdom (and if it be Hashem’s will, before).
Maybe the modern Messianic Jewish movement is the “first fruits” of that “re-unity,” but I have to believe that, both personally and corporately, we still have a long way to go before the love of many Christian/Hebrew Roots folks for the Jewish people and Israel is more than just a “pretty lie” with strings attached.
I know this all sounds very cynical, but if you are a non-Jewish believer who says you love the Jewish people and Israel, remember that for the most part, those people and that nation may not love you in return and may never desire to hear the “good news of Jesus Christ.”
Tell me, do you still love them? Do you still accept them unconditionally as who they are, knowing they believe that Jesus could never, ever be the Messiah?
I didn’t plan on writing this “meditation.” I didn’t want to open up wounds that never seem to quite heal, especially in public. But the scabs keep getting picked at whether I want them to be or not.