Christian anti-Semitism, politics, and me

size-osA few years ago a Lutheran friend invited me to her weekly bible study when she heard I was shopping for a new church. The denomination’s founder, Martin Luther, was only a name to me at that point; someone who came up in my Elizabethan history books, but was nothing more than an interesting footnote.

Once I learned about his deeply anti-Semitic beliefs (including that all Jews ought to be expelled from Europe), I could not in good conscience bring myself to attend that bible study with the possible intention of one day calling myself a Lutheran, despite knowing my friend shared none of those beliefs.

But anti-Jewish history is more than an unpleasant footnote in Christian history, as I was reminded by this timely Facebook post shared by a friend:

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There is no better time than now for progressive Christians to audit our theologies and make sure they are not anti-Jewish. Are you using “pharisee” as a catch-all term for hypocrites, etc? Stop. Are you claiming that Jesus was a feminist because he liberated women from Judaism? Please don’t.

This thinking has been used to do so much harm. If we are going to stand against the alt-right, our theology should challenge the neo-nazis that are feeling empowered right now. As it stands, much of our theology is right up their ally. No more excuses, we HAVE to do better.

For years I struggled to find an answer when friends and family asked me what I ever saw in Christianity that would make me want to convert from Judaism. Save for a few isolated incidents, my childhood was largely spared from anti-Jewish hatred. Instead, I experienced a good deal of ignorance about the Jewish religion from my Christian classmates, which was frustrating, but never made me feel unsafe. I was taught to handle questions such as, “Is Moses the Jewish Jesus?” with patience, as this ignorance was not the fault of my then elementary-aged friends.

The real truth is that I wanted a relationship with God (just don’t ask where I heard that expression from, I really am not sure) and the resources for that weren’t available at my synagogue. But they were available at church.

After a CNN interview in which members of Alt-Right, a white supremacist group, questioned the personhood of the Jewish people, the cognitive dissonance I placed between my faith and Christianity’s anti-Semitic history demanded to be addressed. I can’t un-know these things, nor can I un-know the number of Christians in my life who wave away this history as merely a bug and not a feature of Christianity as a whole. Those people weren’t True Christians, they’ve told me, which should be obvious, given that their savior was called the King of the Jews.

That Jesus was Jewish, and a descendant of Jews, placated me for a while. The problem is that the movement inspired after his death has been so far removed from his original intent. That movement, and its effect on human history, my history, is what I must look at today. You analyze a movement for what it is, not just for how it started and what it was intended to be.

I am increasingly disturbed by the unwillingness of “nice Christians” who either ignore or casually dismiss this evil in their religion’s roots. Those eager to point out #NotAllChristians are forgetting something critical that God himself made clear: all Christians are part of one Body (1 Corinthians 12:12). And while not all are guilty of antisemitism, Christians cannot shirk responsibility for it. “Taking responsibility” does not mean sharing the burden of guilt, but addressing this evil and reforming the church from the inside.

And now there is something I need to get off my chest: as Christian support for Trump increased, I felt increasingly unwelcome in my church. And now that Trump is our elected president, I feel a deep conflict of loyalty. I am a Christian (albeit an extremely conflicted one), but I was a Jew first. I was reminded again that I am Jewish, at least in terms of ethnicity, at my last doctor’s appointment when I was asked on the intake form if I have any Ashkenazi ancestry.

My Jewishness is one item on a long list of boxes that define who and what I am, and it’s something I honestly don’t know what to do with. Most days I don’t think about it, as I’ve never been an active participant in the Jewish faith, nor do I attend synagogue. But then there are the religious politics that force it to my attention, sending me down a rabbit hole of conflicting ideologies and questions of identity once more.

The Nazis of 1930s Germany did not care about spiritual belief, but blood, as do the Neo Nazis of today. Then and now, I could profess belief in Christ from the rooftops and it would not matter, because the Alt-Right members of Trump’s cabinet only care about my family tree. And here’s the thing about family: they are forever. The Jewish family was my first family, and though I estranged myself from them, they are my family still. And I have an obligation to them still, no matter how much my beliefs have changed, or will change in the future.

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About Beth Caplin

Just an author, blogger, and editor working hard so my cats can have a better life.
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6 Responses to Christian anti-Semitism, politics, and me

  1. Thanks for the post.

    So sorry you’re (continuing?) to deal with this situation. I’m aware of a lot of the history and present but still don’t understand. Admire your courage and imagine there must be a lot of… dissonances.

    (I don’t yet know how to reconcile being a sexual abuse survivor with being in the church after standing up for myself and others and being ignored – but I think that doesn’t make my faith any less real, partly because I’m not the one with the problem in that situation. If anything it’s more strong because it has to encompass those contradictions and think that God is somehow strong enough and big enough for truth and love and doubt and arguing with Them in all of that. I know it’s not the same problem or scenario but if I may say so without insulting your intelligence, this isn’t your fault and neither is all the doubts, etc. that go with it. Hope you experience or see attempts at love and truth (as you understand them) from others and yourself.)

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  2. jh says:

    When you look at it from a socio-political angle, it all makes sense. What do you do when you have a new split in the Jewish religion and you need to differentiate enough in order to increase recruits? Demonizing the parent (aka the jewish religion) is one way to achieve those goals. (just look at stupid commercials talking about better, bigger, brighter. It’s the same idea.)
    * (and it was a split. I enjoyed my forced Catholic religious studies at a Catholic university. I believe Christianity was called “the way”.)

    The book of Acts shows the split in thinking. Peter represented the Jewish members but it was Paul’s vision that made Christianity a viable concern for people of non-jewish descent. Otherwise, I doubt that there would have been many converts. I doubt that most men would have been in favor of circumsicion as a condition to joining an upstart cult.

    I don’t think it’s possible to remove the anti-semitism from Christianity. It is built in the very bones of the religion. Sure, Jesus was a Jew and his mom and dad were too. (If you believe that the Bible is true.) But the Chrisitan powers that be have spent centuries, probably from the very beginning, to differentiate from and demonize the Jew. We have a specific image of what a pharisee is like. They resemble, ironically, the right wing conservative christian in their obsession with purity, their legalism, their hypocrisy, they authoritarianism, their capitalism (remember, Jesus chased the moneychangers out of the temples). When you look at evidence, the writings, you don’t see that caricature that christians have transmitted for centuries via their religion. What you see is a strong and lively intellectual debate where there were liberal proponents just like Jesus.

    Seriously – would any intelligent person who wanted Christianity to grow beyond the measly 100 members say that the romans crucified Jesus? I could see a governor or an Emperor not being to nice to an upstart new cult that denigrated them. Not only that, but you have to look at the target population to increase your cult. How many jews will split off vs. the numerous other people of different faiths that existed in the Roman Empire? It was a calculated decision just like the Moral Majority and the right wing christians use abortion as a rallying cry to push the white male supremacist agenda. (And it is a white supremacist agenda. The moment the government decided to force private christian schools that accepted federal monies to accept black students, you see the rise of the Christian right. That republican christian is a result of the same process that paul and others used in the beginning.)

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news but you can’t remove the anti-semitism from Christianity. Every child will learn to associate pharisee with hypocrites. They will learn that the Jews demanded Barrabas over Jesus. They will learn about the good samaritan (aka them) but they will also learn about the jewish pharisee and sadduccee that couldn’t bother to help the injured man at the side of the road. And even now, conservative christians aren’t so much invested in Israel as they are in advancing the apocalypse. It’s kind of a ghoulish interest in ensuring that Israel is well-armed. (The temple is one of the requirements.)

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  3. anti-Semitism is one of the loathsome traits which continues in European and American cultures, usually because someone needs an excuse to blame someone for their own short-comings. In the UK ‘we’ are very adept at being able to justify this. For instance amongst our alleged progressive socialist Labour Party ‘you’ are allowed to be anti-Semitic just so long as ‘you’ remember to say that ‘you’ are against the Israeli Government’s policies against the Palestinians, now that absolves ‘you’ from all charges of prejudices because ‘you’ have made a ‘political statement’. Although the leadership has claimed they are doing something about it I am not convinced and in consequence am disgusted with my political ‘home turf’.
    There is a sheer hypocrisy of twisting the whole of the New Testament’s message and blaming the Jewish people, when Chris’s death was part of His reason for being here, and from a simple historical perspective was a case of the Authorities quashing ‘a problem’.
    Being both Socialist and Christian the whole business makes my blood boil

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  4. simonjkyte says:

    Luther was trapped in his time on this one I think. Philosemitism was in short supply in sixteenth and seventeenth century Christian thinking. Was not completely unheard of – but rare. see https://certainmeasureofperfection.wordpress.com/the-unusual-case-of-the-antinomian-john-traske-and-his-philo-judaism/

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  5. AthenaC says:

    I never understood Christian anti-Semitism. Stop me if I’ve told you this before, but I think the one quote that sums it up for me (aside from the universal personhood of humanity, of course) is “The Old Testament is the New concealed; the New Testament is the Old revealed.”

    Translation: For a Christian, Judaism is our liturgical ancestry. The Catholic Mass, in particular, is structured in a very Jewish way. Which makes sense, of course – the apostles would have pulled from their own Judaism to create the Christian liturgy.

    How can you hate the people that came before you and were directly responsible for: 1) Jesus coming into the world; and 2) the starting point for Christian liturgy and culture?

    Makes no sense to me.

    Liked by 1 person

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