Social Issues, Theology

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:

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 “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.