I presented a paper a few weeks ago on Christian Antisemitism at the ISGAP-Oxford Summer Institute for Curriculum Development in Critical Antisemitism Studies at Pembroke College, Oxford, United Kingdom. You might say I am in a unique position to discuss the issue of Christian Antisemitism because I served as an Evangelical pastor for 35 years, and I have Jewish ancestry – my father was Jewish. There is a tension in my soul – a longing to see Christianity restored to its Jewish foundation after 1,700 years of abandoning it and the Jewish people restored to their rightful place of honor in the eyes of Christians for being the guardians of civilization for millennia.
After my presentation, during the question-and-answer period, a Jewish scholar asked me: “Why is it that Christians cannot see themselves in the face of the ‘Other’?” The “Other” the scholar spoke about referred to the Jewish people. “Why do Christians feel the need to convert us?” He continued. “Is it because Christians believe we are not fully human until we convert?” The questions have troubled me – haunted me – ever since. The same scholar also commented, “Until Christians can see themselves in the face of the Jews, they cannot be authentically Christian.”
The questions and the statement revealed an age-long wound in the heart of the Jewish people who have lived near their Christian neighbors for 2,000 years. For Jews not to be seen as fully human – to be viewed as deficient – over time has convinced them that Christianity’s unwavering quest to claim moral superiority over Judaism has rendered Christianity morally bankrupt. If Christians cannot so much as show an ordinary kindness to those who have labored and labor still in laying the bedrock of the Judeo/Christian faith, how can they claim adherence to Jesus’ sermon on the mount, which proclaims, “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy?”
Having spent most of my adult life as an Evangelical pastor, I can tell you that many Evangelicals love Israel but have a deep contempt for Jews and Judaism. They do not see themselves in the face of the Jews. Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, is a good example. In 2018 Pastor Jeffress was invited by then President Donald Trump to give the opening prayer at the dedication ceremony of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Pastor Jeffress is a devout Christian Zionist who supports the State of Israel but a respect for Jews – not so much.
In a sermon in which he was talking about his disdain for Judaism, Jeffress proclaimed, “God sends good people to hell. Not only do religions like…Judaism… lead people away from God, but they also lead people to an eternity of separation from God in hell. Hell is not only going to be populated by murderers…hell is going to be filled with good religious people (Jews) who have rejected the truth of Christ.” Like the stranger played by Sam Elliott in The Big Lebowski who asks the Dude played by Jeff Bridges, “There’s just one thing, Dude. Do you have to use so many cuss words?” I sometimes want to ask Christian leaders like Robert Jeffress, who seem to have a fixation on condemning Jews, “There’s just one thing, Bob. Do you have to condemn so many Jews?” This kind of arrogant superiority deepens the divide in Christian/Jewish relations. It enforces the narrative that Jews are lacking – insignificant – and must be converted before they can be truly human.
Regarding the eternal destiny of Jews, I have heard Evangelical pastors proclaim, “If Adolph Hitler prayed to receive Jesus as his savior the moment before he died, he would have been instantly ushered into heaven.” Yet, the Jews who baptized Christian German soldiers murdered in the Holocaust, the Jews who saw their suffering at the hands of Christian Antisemites as “Kiddush Hashem” (sanctifying G-d’s name), the Jews who brought G-d’s moral law into the world – upon being gassed and burned by Christians – according to the same pastors- went straight from the crematoriums into hell. Do Christian leaders believe those who perpetrated the murders of Jews in the Holocaust are enjoying heaven today? Cardinal Bertram did. After Hitler committed suicide, he was honored and commemorated for his life and work by the church. Cardinal Bertram sent an order to the churches in his archdiocese in May 1945. He proclaimed that a solemn requiem mass is held to honor the Fuhrer “so that his and Hitler’s flock could pray that the Almighty’s son, Hitler, be admitted to paradise” (Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners – New York: Vintage Books, 1997 – 454).
With the kind of contempt toward Jews exhibited by Pastor Jeffress and other Christian leaders it is no wonder that Christianity in America and the Western world is rapidly declining. Last week a new study was released by Pew Research that shows American Christianity is in free fall, and if the trend continues, America will soon be less than half Christian. Christianity is imploding after 1,700 years of arrogant contempt toward the Jewish people. Christians have forgotten they have been engrafted into the nourishing sap of Israel’s olive tree and have lost their mooring.
Because of Christian arrogance, the crash was inevitable. Catholicism is breaking apart after covering up years of sexual abuse of children by priests. The mainline Protestant denominations are quickly becoming extinct dinosaurs. Evangelicalism is embracing apostacy’s like Antinomianism (the rejection of the righteous commandments of God in favor of grace without accountability or responsibility) and Marcionism (the rejection of Jewish morals, commandments, and values found in the Torah).
Certainly, regarding our treatment of the Jews, we have not listened to the warning of Solomon: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). You cannot continue to retain an arrogant superiority toward Jews and expect to bear fruit. In Genesis chapter 12, verse three, G-d speaks to Abraham and his blood descendants (the Jewish people) and says, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” Interestingly, God uses two different Hebrew words for the word “curse” in this passage. The first usage is the Hebrew word, arar. The meaning of arar is “To cause to become fruitless and powerless.” The second usage is the Hebrew word kilel. The meaning of kilel is “To show contempt, despise, revile, or humiliate. G-d is saying, “Whoever shows contempt (kilel) toward the Jewish people I will cause to become fruitless and powerless (arar).” After years of showing contempt toward Judaism and condemning Jews to eternal hell, it’s no wonder Christianity is withering in the Western world.
The remnant of Christians who will survive and bear fruit in the future will be those who are filled with love and honor for the forebearers of their faith – the Jewish people and Judaism – the cradle of Christianity. These Christians will have the moral courage to set aside 1,700 years of engrained contempt toward Jews sown by the early church fathers and humbly embrace the true fathers and mothers of their faith – the Jewish people. As this remnant of Christians begins to see themselves in the face of the Jews, they will become authentically Christian, and the words of the prophet Zachariah will be fulfilled: “This is what the LORD Almighty says, “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that G-d is with you’” (Zachariah 8:23). To take a firm grasp of the hem of the robe of a Jew means that people from the nations – authentic Christians perhaps? – will one day be relationally close enough to do so without causing fear in the heart of the Jew. This means to me that a future remnant from the nations will be committed to an authentic reconciliation and honor of the Jews and will have mended the age-long wound by seeing themselves in the face of the “Other.”