Yes, I’m saying this on Martin Luther King Day. Dr. King has been considered a “safe” black person of fame to quote for whites because it makes it seem as if there are no barriers or hurdles between whites and people of color, or at least none that Dr. King acknowledged. Apparently, that’s far from the truth.
In Part One of this series, I covered pretty effectively not only that the long-term history of Israel from ancient times was undeniably (even though people deny it all the time) Jewish, but whatever you want to call “Palestine” is not and never has been Arabic.
I know a lot of people don’t like to face that because of the common and mistaken idea that the Arabs were living in Palestine until the Jews came and subjugated them in 1948. However, that’s not objective history, but propaganda.
Apartheid (Afrikaans: “apartness”) is the name of the policy that governed relations between the white minority and the nonwhite majority of South Africa during the 20th century. Although racial segregation had long been in practice there, the apartheid name was first used about 1948 to describe the racial segregation policies embraced by the white minority government. Apartheid dictated where South Africans, on the basis of their race, could live and work, the type of education they could receive, and whether they could vote. Events in the early 1990s marked the end of legislated apartheid, but the social and economic effects remained deeply entrenched.
In fact the term is totally embedded exclusively in the history of South Africa. So much so, that a search of Google (at least a casual one) doesn’t easily turn up a list of other nations that practiced the same policies.
So why do people call Israel (which obviously is not South Africa) “apartheid?”
If being an apartheid state means committing inhumane acts, systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another, then Israel is guilty, a United Nations panel has determined in a new report.
The findings from an Arab-led group were not cleared or fully backed by U.N. leadership and do not set new policies toward Israel. Yet they reflect another attempt to use a U.N. forum to denounce Israel and seek to put its Western allies on the defensive at a time when some have questioned Israel’s hard-line approach, including expansion of settlements in the West Bank.
Okay, the allegation already sounds a tad suspicious. I mean even the U.N. didn’t fully endorse it.
Actually, I looked pretty hard, but it was difficult to find a reputable source that supported the idea that Israel was apartheid. The Guardian published an op-ed piece last year who sees similarities between Israel and South Africa based on experience of fighting South African apartheid:
As a Jewish South African anti-apartheid activist I look with horror on the far-right shift in Israel ahead of this month’s elections, and the impact in the Palestinian territories and worldwide.
Israel’s repression of Palestinian citizens, African refugees and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza has become more brutal over time. Ethnic cleansing, land seizure, home demolition, military occupation, bombing of Gaza and international law violations led Archbishop Tutu to declare that the treatment of Palestinians reminded him of apartheid, only worse.
That statement was to some degree based on a 2014 Haaretz article where Desmond Tutu said that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians reminded him of Black South Africans.
Incidentally, this is also probably the attraction of America’s Black Lives Matter to the Palestinian “cause” if we can believe they are all the same thing.
But as we’ve seen, apartheid isn’t simply racial or ethnic differences or tensions.
I have now lived in Israel for 17 years, doing what I can to promote dialogue across lines of division. To an extent that I believe is rare, I straddle both societies. I know Israel today – and I knew apartheid up close. And put simply, there is no comparison between Israel and apartheid.
The Arabs of Israel are full citizens. Crucially, they have the vote and Israeli Arab MPs sit in parliament. An Arab judge sits on the country’s highest court; an Arab is chief surgeon at a leading hospital; an Arab commands a brigade of the Israeli army; others head university departments. Arab and Jewish babies are born in the same delivery rooms, attended by the same doctors and nurses, and mothers recover in adjoining beds. Jews and Arabs travel on the same trains, taxis and – yes – buses. Universities, theatres, cinemas, beaches and restaurants are open to all.
They go on to state:
However, Israeli Arabs – Palestinian citizens of Israel – do suffer discrimination, starting with severe restrictions on land use. Their generally poorer school results mean lower rates of entry into higher education, which has an impact on jobs and income levels. Arab citizens of Israel deeply resent Israel’s “law of return” whereby a Jew anywhere in the world can immigrate to Israel but Arabs cannot. Some might argue that the Jewish majority has the right to impose such a policy, just as Saudi Arabia and other Muslim states have the right not to allow Christians as citizens. But it’s a troubling discrimination.
A major factor causing inequity is that most Israeli Arabs do not serve in the army. While they are spared three years’ compulsory, and dangerous, conscription for men (two years for women) and annual reserve duty that continues into their 40s, they do not receive post-army benefits in housing and university study.
How does that compare with the old South Africa? Under apartheid, every detail of life was subject to discrimination by law. Black South Africans did not have the vote. Skin colour determined where you were born and lived, your job, your school, which bus, train, taxi and ambulance you used, which park bench, lavatory and beach, whom you could marry, and in which cemetery you were buried.
Israel is not remotely like that. Everything is open to change in a tangled society in which lots of people have grievances, including Mizrahi Jews (from the Middle East) or Jews of Ethiopian origin. So anyone who equates Israel and apartheid is not telling the truth.
If I were to stop here, we could reasonably conclude that Israel is not a perfect country, and yes discrimination does exist, but the nature of that discrimination does not resemble apartheid.
The article concludes:
So why is the apartheid accusation pushed so relentlessly, especially by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement? I believe those campaigners want Israel declared an apartheid state so it becomes a pariah, open to the world’s severest sanctions. Many want not just an end to the occupation but an end to Israel itself.
Tragically, some well-intentioned, well-meaning people in Britain and other countries are falling for the BDS line without realising what they are actually supporting. BDS campaigners and other critics need to be questioned: Why do they single out Israel, above all others, for a torrent of false propaganda? Why is Israel the only country in the world whose very right to existence is challenged in this way?
No such [apartheid] laws exist in Israel, which in its Declaration of Independence pledges to safeguard the equal rights of all citizens. Arab citizens of Israel enjoy the full range of civil and political rights, including the right to organize politically, the right to vote and the right to speak and publish freely. Israeli Arabs and other non-Jewish Israelis serve as members of Israel’s security forces, are elected to parliament and appointed to the country’s highest courts. They are afforded equal educational opportunities, and there are ongoing initiatives to further improve the economic standing of all of Israel’s minorities. These facts serve as a counter to the apartheid argument, and demonstrate that Israel is committed to democratic principles and equal rights for all its citizens.
Moreover, Israel’s acceptance of a two-state solution as the outcome of bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations belies accusations that Israel’s goal is the persecution of Palestinians.
The Algemeiner presents eight critical points about why Israel is not apartheid, and even an op-ed piece by The Los Angeles Times declares “Israel isn’t, and will never be, an apartheid state”.
The evidence I’m presenting may not be exhaustive, but it is extensive, and you’ll need to click the links I’ve provided to get the full context.
The term “apartheid” is being aimed at Israel in an attempt (and a seemly successful one, oddly enough) to stir up an emotional, rather than a reasoned response, to Israel, painting them with the same broad brush as South Africa so that no one will have to consider anything except how they felt about the injustices against the black majority population by the white minority.
Even though the two nations and their bodies of law are not similar, some people will believe anything they hear because they want to. It confirms their biases that at least Israel, if not the Jewish people as a whole, are unjust and even criminal.
Like I said, it’s not like Israel is completely free of discrimination. But that doesn’t make them apartheid.
In Part One, I established the historic right of the Jews to the land of Israel, and that the Arabs did not have such an historic claim. Just now, I addressed why Israel is NOT an apartheid state. In Part Three, I’ll talk about why Israel is not “occupying Arab land.”
There’s quite a push in social media and in the news regarding phrases like “silence is concent” and “silence is violence.” In other words, if you are white and you don’t say something about “systemic racism,” and a very specific something, then you are accused of giving tacit approval to racism in general and violence against people of color in particular.
I don’t know about that. The Bible has a lot to say about times when it is better to be silent rather than speaking out of emotion or impulse. Make no mistake, there’s a lot of emotion and impulse in both social media and the real world.
Having Jewish family members, my traditional focus relative to justice is the battle against antisemitism, and, after all, bigotry is bigotry, right? Would not the words I’ve written on this blog for so many years apply to the current situation?
It seems that the same people who are demanding justice over the death of George Floyd are also attacking Jewish synagogues and businesses. Apparently, Jews in America are being equated with Jews in Israel, which the protesters consider oppressors to the “Palestinians.”
I won’t go into how erroneous that notion is because it’s a very long article all by itself. It does, however, speak to part of the reason why I don’t have a “default setting” of siding unquestionably with the protesters and against police officers.
Am I a racist? No, not as I evaluate myself, but given terms like “systemic racism” and “silence is violence,” I can imagine some folks out there would assume I am. Reading this, they will assume I am because, as I said, I don’t give at least some expressions of protest (the violent expressions that destroy property and hurt and kill people) my undying, absolute support.
Also, some celebrities, such as Rosanna Arquette (although she said this nearly a year ago) suggest that in order to support these protests, support justice, and shun racism, I must not only be ashamed of myself as a white person, but I must hate my “whiteness.”
Okay, so maybe she’s an edge case and most white Americans who are protesting don’t despise themselves (though watching a lot of these people kneel at the feet of people of color seems less like justice and more like subjugation). Some white Americans are pretty upfront with saying they suffer from white guilt, but the response seems to indicate that’s just another kind of privilege.
There are all kinds of opinions about the role of white people in these protests, and some people of color view white protesters as following a trend, albeit a much needed one.
We are encouraged to read books on systemic racism, promote black causes, support black businesses, and otherwise showcase the works of people of color.
As an aside, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America recently issued a statement of support for Black Lives Matter, with some highly specific suggestions about what its membership (and any science fiction and fantasy reader actually) can do to support artists/writers of color. That’s not a bad thing, and SFWA has been pretty supportive of artists of color anyway, but at the end of the day, these are still all suggestions and its up to the conscience of every individual in how we respond.
And then there are the police.
Tons and tons of people are calling to defund the police in their communities, and the city of Minneapolis has voted to get rid of their police force altogether, eventually replacing it with…well, I don’t know with what because they don’t seem to have a plan yet.
As a white person, for the most part, I’ve had reasonably good experiences with police officers. In the 1990s, I was an investigator for Child Protective Services in Southern California and I worked with multiple law enforcement agencies. Some were really very community friendly, and a few were a pain in the neck.
But it’s become much worse than that. Right here in my own little corner of Idaho, a little white girl learned to be afraid of the police. Fortunately, members of the Kuna Police Department helped her get past her anxiety.
I did see on twitter that when a young black girl was approached by an officer, she immediately raised her hands. As it turns out, the officer just wanted to say “hi”. A lot of people think the child’s fear was caused by police brutality in the first place, or maybe it’s become a learned behavior in the black community. Maybe too, the recent emphasis of depicting all police officers as racist and violent has something to do with it.
And some of it is just plain silly, such as the call to remove Chase the Police Dog from the Paw Patrol cartoons and books (my granddaughter loves them).
So, as you can see, there’s a lot to digest let alone respond to.
After posting a few of my past blog articles to social media and getting no response (I don’t know why I expected any), I figured that was that. What was I supposed to say that hasn’t already been said? We’ve had Black Lives Matter protests in downtown Boise. I didn’t feel compelled to attend. Oh, they were really peaceful, except that one dumb 18-year-old guy accidentally discharged his handgun into the ground. Yes, he was white, and yes, he was arrested.
Interestingly enough, Boise City Councilwoman Lisa Sanchez wrote a letter to the kid’s parents saying his privilege protected him, and if he were a person of color, things would have turned out differently. Maybe they would have.
She signed her letter:
Lisa Sánchez, Brown woman who chose not to have children for fear of their abuse and murder by white people.
While I don’t doubt her experiences and feelings are real, as a politician and Boise city leader, she might have tried to say something that would de-escalate anxiety and tension rather than the opposite.
Having said all this, I still wasn’t going to craft a response to the “silence is violence” supporters, that is, until I read an op-ed piece written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (yes, the former basketball player and actor). He did a very good job at getting me to be able to listen to his anger and described very well (to the best of my ability to understand, with me not having a lived black experience), how black people and white people are going to respond differently to the death of George Floyd.
Addendum: I suppose I should comment about this because, yes, when black people are angry, and they say white people are bad, I do have a problem not taking it as a personal insult. That’s my problem, I suppose, but after all, I do have trouble making it through everyday halfway sane without having these pundits adding to it. I know there is heinous injustice in the world, but I’m trying very hard not to hate myself on command.
He ended his missive with:
What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice.
Now I would guess, given the article’s larger context, that he meant justice for people of color and not judging them for angry and even violent responses.
But what does that look like?
On one level, it probably means something like reforming the nature of police work across the board, although, as I suggested above, not all police departments are the same, so their responses in violent and crisis situations probably won’t be the same.
Police officers who commit crimes do need to be brought to justice, and perhaps a more stern justice since they broke the community trust and violated their oath as peace officers.
Sooner or later, the protests will die down, and the caldron of America will cool off again, going from a boil to a simmer…that is until next time.
In the 1997 film Air Force One, Harrison Ford playing (fictional) American President James Marshall delivers the line “Peace isn’t merely the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.”
In Bruce Springsteen’s music video for Born to Run he says “Remember, in the end, nobody wins unless everybody wins.”
In the 1999 film The Matrix, Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, says:
I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin.
Maybe that’s all there is to it. We just begin without necessarily knowing where the road will lead or what the journey will be like.
Perhaps we should always have these protests before us, just to make sure we’re still paying attention. When they go away, and they probably will, in our rush to return to our “old normal,” sweeping George Floyd and COVID-19 aside, we’ll go back to sleep and pretend nothing’s wrong.
I chose to write this on my “religious blog” rather than my writer’s blog because you have no love, or truth, or justice without God.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? –Micah 6:8 (NASB)
I’ve seen so many opinions, but even those activists who are believers seem to have sidestepped what we really need, not just as white people or black people, or even as Americans. Is God not the God of all people everywhere? Didn’t the Apostle Paul say that “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God?” (Romans 3:23).
I’m not going to tell you how this will end, but I will tell you how we can begin, all of us. By making teshuvah, repent of our sins, which should also be a continual process, for our sins are always before us.
I kneel in the Presence of the Almighty during prayer, but don’t necessarily feel compelled to do so in the presence of people. However, if someone else feels that their path of repentance requires kneeling before people who they feel they’ve somehow hurt, who am I to say they shouldn’t. The important thing is to do so not out of a misplaced sense of guilt or shame, but because we truly do seek to do justice, love kindness, and have a humble walk before our God.
In the end, everybody wins because the Presence of God is the presence of justice.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. –Romans 8:31-39
Addendum: I just read a Fox News article (yes, I know what some of you are going to say) referencing a New York Times Op-Ed piece written by Mariame Kaba who really means she wants to abolish (mostly) the police. Her perspective is that, given more resources, particularly good jobs, housing, and so forth, the root cause of crime will be greatly reduced and people will just naturally learn to cooperate and become more community minded.
Apparently, she doesn’t believe what I quoted above from the Apostle Paul. Also, this comes to mind:
Rebbe Chanina, the assistant High Priest, says: Pray for the welfare of the government. For without fear of it, people would swallow each other alive. –Chapter 3, Mishna 2
I’m sure most of you have heard by now that actor and musician Jussie Smollet (born “Justin Smollett”) allegedly faked an attack upon himself on January 29, 2019, stating that he was assaulted by two white men who put a noose around his neck, poured bleach on him, and called him racist and homophobic slurs while also saying, “This is MAGA country.” Smollett is African-American and gay. He also allegedly received a threatening letter a week earlier containing a mysterious white powder which turned out to be Tylenol.
While all this is getting a lot of attention in social media, not everyone is condemning him, at least publicly. Some politicians, such as Nancy Pelosi and Cory Booker, have deleted their initial “tweets” on twitter that showed support for Smollett, however U.S. Representative Maxine Waters continues to believe him. Also, African-American author and screenwriter Steven Barnes, while not defending Smollett’s alleged crime outright, does say that faking the attack does not make him a racist (and who said it did?).
Now, although Smollett has gotten a severe “dressing down” from both African-American Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and African-American Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr. (I’m pointing out that both men are black so readers don’t believe their comments are based on racism), as Judge Lyke stated, before the law, Smollett is presumed innocent until the state proves its case against him (assuming they can).
However a blog, as well as social and news media, are not courts of law, so we can afford to make some assumptions. Let’s assume that all of the allegations against Smollett are true and that he not only mailed a threatening letter to himself (which may constitute mail fraud, a Federal offense), but hired two men he’s worked with on “Empire” to fake the attack. What can we say about this?
It seems like this 36-year-old man needs a lot of attention, and playing the role of a victim, both because he’s gay and black, would certainly qualify as attention. Having his “assailants” pretend to be white Trump supporters would likely result in immediate condemnation on Trump in particular (for inspiring hate) and white conservatives in general, both being pretty easy targets in the aforementioned social and news media. In other words, on the surface of it, the attack would seem credible to a lot of people.
But that’s not enough. Before Chicago P.D. formally charged Smollett, he described himself during the attack as a gay Tupac, meaning that he was tough and fought back (although the real life boxer Tupac Shakur, who was murdered in 1996 at the age of 25, had his own legal problems). Smollett apparently was attempting to dispel the traditional stereotype that gay men are effeminate and would be helpless in a physical fight (which is ridiculous because I’ve known gay men who have served in the Marine Corps and they are tough).
Smollett is alleged to have staged the attack, in part, because he was dissatisfied with the amount of money he was earning on “Empire” which was supposedly about $125,000 per episode. With 18 episodes per season, that comes out to over two million dollars a year. Of course, there are television actors who earn more, such as the cast of “Big Bang Theory” who are said to each pull down $900,000 per episode. Nice work if you can get it.
If you put everything together, you can make a case for Smollett being a talented but highly insecure individual who needed a lot more recognition than he was getting, and yes, money is definitely a form of recognition. Sympathy and admiration are other forms, which would play to his being a victim and valiantly fighting back against his two, supposedly MAGA loving white racist attackers.
Let’s face it, most of us feel insecure at times and probably want more attention than we’re getting, but most of us don’t go to such lengths to get that attention. Add Smollett’s own admission that he has a drug problem, and you have some significant psychopathology going on, which I bet this young man’s attorneys are going to significantly exploit in court.
But it doesn’t matter. Smollett’s already destroyed his life, at least for the next several years. However, consider actor Robert Downey Jr‘s own drug-related career damage. After five years of substance abuse, arrests, rehab, and relapse, he finally got this act together and now he’s one of the hottest tickets in Hollywood. I suppose that could happen to Smollett, too, but he could also pull a Lindsay Lohan. Or not, since I just read that her career is also slowly getting back on track. Who’d have thought?
However, he’ll have to go through a lot of hurdles first, not the least of which are the consequences of being convicted if it goes that way.
But he’s not the only one who will experience consequences.
Smollett’s ploy isn’t unique. According to USA Today, it’s actually pretty common, and as a result, each false allegation causes further damage to race relations, and in this case, will again make it more difficult for real victims of racism and prejudice against the LGBTQ community to be believed. Now each and every actual victim of a hate crime gets to “thank” Smollett and the many others who put their own issues ahead of everything else. Now, with each difficulty in being believed, in having their allegations be considered valid, at feeling like they’re not being taken seriously, these people can turn to Smollett and realize that he made it harder for them.
And as Catholic teenager Nick Sandmann found out, this also makes it more likely that anyone wearing a MAGA hat for any reason will be considered a violent racist.
Why am I writing this here on my religious blog? Because we’re supposed to be people of good conscience. We’re supposed to provide charity to the widow and the orphan, which is Biblical shorthand for the disadvantaged. I’ve been burned before giving charity to someone who had duped me, and I didn’t just waste my own money doing it. How do incidents like the one Smollett allegedly perpetrated affect our own willingness to believe the victim, offer help, give to the needy? After all, we’re people just like anyone else, and I don’t doubt that there are plenty of Christians right now who are raking Smollett over the virtual coals in social media, in their families, and in their churches.
Is that right?
The court will judge Smollett on legal matters, and like everyone else, God will judge him on how he’s treated the Almighty and other human beings. While we, as individual human beings, likely have an opinion about Smollett and the behavior he’s accused of committing, a wider or more “God-like” view should tell us that we too have a judge, and while we may not be guilty of faking racist or homophobic attacks on ourselves, we do need to pay attention to our own thoughts, words, and deeds first. Have we done something that hurts others because of our own selfishness? If the answer is yes, then it behooves us to make amends in our own lives. This won’t change Smollett, and it won’t justify us “badmouthing” him, but it will mean we’re capable of learning a lesson here. So, hopefully, is Jussie Smollett.
And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
–Mark 7:24-30 (ESV)
Since the assigned lection a few Sundays ago on Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), I’ve intended to comment on what appears to me a surprisingly widespread mis-reading of the passage. Essentially, the “dogs” (who Jesus says here must wait till after the “children” have eaten before they can be fed) are taken with an extremely pejorative connotation as feral mongrels, and the scene is read as if Jesus is pictured insulting the woman and treating her with contempt. I am embarrassed to find this basic take on the passage even in the learned commentary on Mark by a scholar I deeply admire: Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark: Hermeneia (Fortress Press, 2007), 366-67. But for several reasons, among them prominently the specifics of the Greek term used (unusually) in this passage, I think it pretty clear that this take is wrong.
Disclaimer: In using the title of the song Who Let the Dogs Out? written by Anselem Douglas and originally covered by the Baha Men, I am in no way attempting to be insulting to any individual or group of people, either those addressed within the context of this blog post or otherwise. Given the core statement made by Jesus in the Mark 7 quote, it just seemed like a “clever” title for my missive. That is the complete extent of my intention for using the song title.
Note: I’m taking an interpretation written by well-known New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado and using it as a springboard to make a suggestion of my own. I certainly don’t expect Hurtado (should he ever read this) to agree with me and frankly, what I’m doing in today’s blog post is something of an “experiment.” Just so you know.
Was Jesus a racist? This question doesn’t come out of thin air. There have been several recent conversations in the blogosphere in relation to Messianic Judaism (click the link to see my rather specific definition for the term) and whether or not proponents of Messianic Judaism as a form of Judaism, rather than an all-inclusive “Christianity,” is racist. (See Judah Himango’s blog post Two Church: Defining Bilateral Ecclesiology in Simple Terms for the latest discussion) The suggestion is that, by insisting that the modern Jewish disciples of the ancient Jewish Messiah are a Judaism and, like all other Jews, are the sole inheritors of the Mosaic covenant because they are the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that Messianic Judaism and Messianic Jews are being racist. That is, Messianic Jews, by overtly excluding non-Jewish Christians from the conditions of the Mosaic covenant (the Torah), are denying people access to being obligated to the full weight of the Torah mitzvot based on race.
The topic is extremely rich and can be taken in a lot of different directions, but since I had recently read Dr. Hurtado’s above-quoted blog post and it’s companion article, I thought I’d use them as the focus of my investigation. They really are quite fitting since they directly address Christ’s interaction with the (non-Jewish) Syro-Phoenician woman in Mark 7 and he appears to treat her rather badly because she’s not Jewish. But is that really the case?
This sense of a domestic scene ought to be obvious simply in reading the passage. Jesus is pictured as responding to the woman’s request by saying, “Let the children be fed first, for it isn’t right to give the childrens’ food to the dogs.” The point of the statement is the temporal priority of the “children”, of course in this case, referring to Jesus directing his ministry to fellow Jews. The metaphor presumes a setting in which the household dogs are fed the leftovers after the family has eaten (not custom-produced dog-food). (I know the practice well, having grown up in a rural setting in which the household dogs ate what we ate, only after we had eaten.)
The woman’s clever reply confirms this, respectfully pointing out that “the dogs under the table eat from the portions of the children.” “Wild” dogs and “scavenger dogs of the street” aren’t typically allowed “under the table” and around the children! And anyone with both children and household dogs will know how it goes at mealtime: If allowed, the dogs hang about the children’s chairs, knowing that children love to “drop” morsels to their pets.
Finally, we also have to ask ourselves how likely it is that the authors of Mark (writing for a Christian readership at least largely made up of converted gentiles) would have inserted a scene in which supposedly Jesus insults a gentile woman in the harsh terms imputed by some modern readers. She is “put in her place” as a gentile, but it’s a temporal place. The scene functions to explain that, although Jesus’ own ministry was confined to his Jewish people (apparently, a tradition that Mark couldn’t deny/ignore), the subsequent mission to gentiles was (Mark wants to imply) on the agenda, only it had to wait its time, and Jesus is pictured as anticipating that gentile-mission in responding positively to the woman’s respectful but clever response.
Was Jesus racist? Seemingly not, according to Dr. Hurtado, at least not in a way where he was being “cruel” to the non-Jewish woman. What Hurtado describes is a situation whereby Jesus seems to order his overall ministry, with the Jews (“the children”) “served” first, and only afterwards are the domesticated “dogs” under the table (non-Jews) fed. According to Hurtado, Jesus wasn’t being insulting or racist and in fact, he was certainly “inclusive” (using a modern term appropriate for such discussions) of non-Jews, but he did not see them on the same lateral plane at that point in time. They (we) wouldn’t be served until after his death, resurrection, and ascension. During his first coming, Gentiles didn’t occupy the same “space” or the same roles relative to his mission to the Jews as the Jewish redeeming Messiah and Savior. Nevertheless, he did take the time to “feed the dog under the table” so to speak.
One further observation about the little scene between Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30 is that the initial response ascribed to Jesus is not a derogatory reference to the woman, or a simple misogynist or racial put-down, but is instead a parable-like saying specifically appropriate to the woman.
The part about the “parable-like saying specifically appropriate to the woman” could stand some examination. If I say that the sequence of events we see in Mark 7:24-30 represents how Jesus saw the prioritization of his ministry in relation to Jews and Gentiles, and if I say that, based on these verses, it was Christ’s intent to “feed” both the “lost sheep of Israel” and the non-Jews living among Israel, but giving a later temporal priority to the non-Jews, then can I generalize this as Christ’s intent to maintain some sort of distinction for the disciples among the nations that he would later (after the resurrection) command his Jewish disciples to make? (see Matthew 28:18-20).
Hurtado doesn’t directly address this issue and he would probably disagree with how I’m using his material. He seems to say that the only difference between Jewish disciples and Gentile disciples is that the Jews would be brought in first. The Gentiles would enter discipleship later on. But is the only distinction temporal?
Based on the Last Supper narratives (Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-39 and John 13:1-17:26), Jesus intended on bringing all of his followers, Jewish and Gentile alike, into covenant relationship with God via the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36), a covenant which confirmed and expanded upon the previous covenants God made with Israel. Prior to this point, the non-Jewish nations did not have direct access to God through covenant (unless they converted to Judaism). Only through the blood and bodily death of Jesus and his subsequent resurrection could we be brought in and placed on a level plane in the Kingdom relative to access to God and experiencing God’s love for us. This fits quite well with what Hurtado wrote.
But would that make a difference in how Jesus saw the Gentile disciples made after his ascension to how he saw the Syro-Phoenician woman? Was it his intention to elevate the “dogs sitting under the table” to the status of “children sitting around the table?” Given that Mark was writing his Gospel primarily to non-Jewish disciples, I believe I can make a case for the answer “no.” Otherwise, Mark’s description of this transaction becomes wholly anachronistic to the disciples from the nations (i.e. non-Jewish Christians).
I’d like to suggest that the distinction between the Jewish and Gentile disciples wasn’t necessarily temporal, but sequential and derivative. In fact, the way I understand how Gentiles manage to be injected into a relationship with God through the covenants (specifically Abrahamic and New) made with Israel, it would have to be.
Paul appears to echo Mark’s theme and suggest one that mirrors my suggestion in his famous letter to the church in Rome:
There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.
–Romans 2:9-11 (ESV)
This short verse tells us several things. First, Paul, in speaking to a “mixed congregation” of Jews and non-Jews, continues to draw a distinction between them (he calls them “Jews” and “Greeks,” not “Christians” or some other all-inclusive term designed to negate any distinction between the two groups). He also says two things that seem to be contradictory. He says that God shows no partiality” between Jews and Greeks, but he also says “the Jew first and also the Greek,” which dovetails very nicely into Hurtado’s analysis of the Mark 7 passage where he describes a “temporal” prioritization, but also a sequential prioritization, where the Jews would always be considered before the non-Jews regardless of circumstances, good or bad.
Since Paul at this point, is addressing Jews and Gentiles who are all covenant members under the Messiah, it is reasonable to say, in my opinion, that the relationship between Jews and non-Jews remains distinctive. The non-Jews are not considered before the Jewish disciples, and their (our) relationship with God derives from the Jews after the non-Jews have entered into covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We are equal, because God shows no partiality, but the distinction between Jew and Gentile is maintained as is the rather (on the surface) unflattering relationship between the Jewish “children” and the non-Jewish “domesticated dogs,” though a kinder metaphor such as parent to child (no, it’s not a perfect metaphor) might be more fitting.
There’s a strong tendency to try to understand the relationship between believing Jews and believing non-Jews in terms of 21st century western cultural, social, and legal definitions. America and the other nations of the west, are based on a strong imperative to treat all people of differing races, cultures, ethnic groups, languages, and nationalities as equal in terms of law and access to resources. Our system of equality is flawed, but the principle exists and it’s a good one.
But we can’t seem to get around the fact that first Jesus (as described by Mark) and later Paul both differentiated between the Jewish and non-Jewish followers and disciples of the Messiah. The Jews were brought in first but they continued to be first, even after the Gentiles were brought into covenant. The Jews were directly descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and as such, were the beneficiaries of all of the covenants God made with Israel. The people of the other nations would not be able to enter into covenant with God except through Jesus and the New Covenant (the original blessings can be traced back to the Abrahamic covenant) and thus, Jesus and later Paul, order their priorities differently depending on…yes, on race. They order them differently based on whether or not a person is physically a descendent of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob or not. Everybody except for the Jewish people, are not.
Was Jesus a racist? Not in the sense we understand the term today. He did however, differentiate based on racially associated covenant relationships. Being Jewish was one thing. Being non-Jewish was something else. Through Jesus, we Christians enter into a relationship with God, think of it as going from wild, scavenging dogs, to domesticated dogs. Not very flattering, as I said before, especially if we (to extend Mark’s metaphor) continue to consider the Jews as “children” by comparison. On the other hand, maybe we’re much newer additions to the family and must continue (as in many families) to pay deferential respect and have differing privileges than the older members of the family.
But setting aside the uncomfortable literal interpretation of this language, the difference between the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers is not one of God’s love or access to our Creator, but of older vs. younger or, who we are as non-Jews in the family is directly derived from the older Jewish members. Jews are “served first.” The dogs eat what the children eat but the children will always come first. Or the younger family members eat what the older members eat, but the younger eat later, waiting first for the older members to be served. Perhaps we even eat only because the older members of the family, the root, provides the nourishment.
I don’t think I’ve “solved” the “are Messianic Jews racist” debate. I admit that I’ve taken liberties with the text and explored alleyways Hurtado would likely not approve of. I’ve also probably raised more questions than I’ve answered, but I wasn’t actually trying to answer questions. I’ve been trying to introduce the possibility that Jesus never intended to eliminate any of the “specialness” of the “Children” of Israel when he, through God’s grace and mercy, made a way possible for the people of the nations to also enter God’s Kingdom. I think our connection will always be through Israel and we will always be dependent on Israel (and Israel’s firstborn son Jesus) for our access to God.
Disclaimer: This is a rant. This isn’t what I normally post here as a “meditation.” Frankly, I’m getting a little tired of being pushed around by a bunch of folks on the web who think they can take an image, manipulate it with some text, and use it to complain about how bad religion is. Today, I decided to push back.
I first saw this bit of Internet meme “shared” by a Facebook friend and a person I’ve known for many years. He’s a person I hold in high regard but we obviously have different viewpoints on religion. If I had seen this coming from almost anyone else, I would have ignored it, but I consider this person an actual friend, so naturally, it hurts.
Here’s my initial response to seeing this image:
I turn 58 tomorrow. I didn’t become a Christian until I was over 40. I used to be an atheist, primarily because the prevailing culture around me was atheist and it seemed to make sense at the time. Then I started thinking for myself. Why would I let the culture around me choose my religion and my identity for me? Why would I let an Internet meme choose my identity for me?
And what have I ever done to you that you should try to change my identity into what you think would be better for me? I’m not trying to change you.
Then I thought about it some more while doing my lawn, came back over lunch and expanded my answer:
It occurs to me that all cultures and people groups have their various values and customs that are passed on from one generation to another. Most liberal progressives don’t complain about cultural diversity, even if it radically differs from their own, because they recognize that people have the right to observe their native customs and certainly, in the vast majority of cases, liberal progressives and atheists don’t demand that other people groups who are not white, middle-class Americans, change their ways just because they are different than the white, middle-class American atheist’s ways.
Islam and Judaism are closely tied to national, ethnic, cultural, and racial identity. Why isn’t is considered racism, prejudice, and bigotry for you to demand that Jews and Arabs refrain from passing on their values and beliefs to their children? Are you (the general “you”…not naming anyone specifically) more equipped to tell the rest of the world to live your lifestyle? Don’t you pass on your values (atheism, progressive liberalism) to your children?
Why are you trying to control everyone else in the world?
To be fair, between my first comment and my second, my friend said:
Jim, if you had been born in Saudi Arabia and were atheist, assuming you survived to 40, the odds are more likely you would have become Muslim. This isn’t really about an Internet meme, but an historical fact. It exited loooooong before the Internet. 99% of people grow up believing what their parents did. Why did none of the natives in the Americas become Christian for 1500 year. That you decided to for a different belief system than your environment does not alter the facts. You are an exception.
I can see his point, but I think he (and a lot of people like him) are missing something. In making statements and posting photos such as the one I put at the top of this blog post, aren’t atheists trying to say that their viewpoint, lifestyle, and values system is superior to everyone else’s? I know that many religions, particularly Christianity, are accused of exactly the same thing and I know from personal experience (having once been an agnostic leaning toward atheism) that having to listen to a Christian evangelist can be really annoying.
But what about all that “diversity” stuff? If progressive liberalism and atheism supports generally being accepting of racial, cultural and ethnic diversity, then isn’t complaining about how different ethnic, cultural, and racial groups choose to raise their children and pass on their values a type of bigotry? While Christianity isn’t tied to a particular nationality, race, ethnicity, or culture, Islam and Judaism certainly are. How can the comments espoused by this group of people be seen as anything but prejudiced and even racist?
Yes, I’m coming on strong. Yes, today I’ve decided to feed the trolls. But it seems like everyone is supposed to have rights to this, that, and the other thing in this world…except religious people. Not only is this group of atheists guilty of the same acts they say religion commits: exclusivism and rejection of the values and lifestyles of other people groups, but they’re also guilty of what the rest of the world sees Americans as doing: attempting to spread our own values and lifestyle to the rest of the world and using our own cultural lens to judge the right and the wrong of other people, cultures, and nations.
How are these atheists any more morally correct than any religious person?
“Blowing out someone else’s candle does not make your’s burn any brighter.”
Dear people who don’t like religion,
How does complaining about religious people make the world a better place? What do you gain by “going after” Muslims, Jews, and Christians? Do you plan on taking on Buddhists and Wiccans next? Has the Dalai Lama somehow offended you? If you really want to spend your time and energy being useful and helping others, please step away from the computer and actually do something for another human being. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Give cans of food to the local food bank. Spend an hour picking up trash in the parking lot of your neighborhood park. Hold the door open at a public building such as the library for a disabled person or a single mother who is trying to manage five children. Heck, just smile at a stranger once in a while because it’s the right thing to do.
Don’t complain about me or people like me, saying we’re the problem. Go out into the world and be the solution. If you do that, the problems will take care of themselves.
Signed, a fellow human being, who has volunteered, donated, picked up trash, held doors open, and who smiles occasionally at strangers.
"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman