Christians: let the Jews speak

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Being misunderstood sucks.

I’m not a big people-pleaser by nature, but it does bother me when I’m disliked for the wrong reasons. This doesn’t happen too often, but the following scenario has happened to me more than once:

New Jewish acquaintance: “So you grew up Reform, but then converted?”

Me: “Basically, yeah.”

Them: “So you’re a Jew for Jesus.”

Me (squirming): “Er…no. I’m Episcopalian.”

Them: *blank stare*

Me: “I have a book and blog that explain that transition…”

Them: “Yeah, no, bye.”

I fully get that taken-aback feeling, when you meet someone you think is a kindred spirit, and they turn out to be…well, not quite what you expected. It’s happened to me before (which is one reason I always balk at meeting readers in public!).

But in this scenario, when I wasn’t given a real chance to explain…well, that’s just not fair. Tolerance is a two-way street. And I don’t initiate friendships with the intention of eventually winning people over to my beliefs (though if they do it on their own, I won’t complain).

In my “About me” page, I used to have the line “I believe Jews and Christians have much to learn from each other.” I recently changed it to “I believe Christians have much to learn from Jews” because, let’s face it — while it pains me to realize that many Jewish people have been exposed to only toxic forms of Christianity, Jews have been on the receiving end of lessons from Christians for centuries. They are repeated targets of evangelism by specialty groups like Jews for Jesus.

Now, it’s Christianity’s turn to take a seat, zip our lips, and listen. You can learn many things in church about Judaism and how it was practiced by the early followers of Jesus, but nothing quite compares to learning about Judaism from other Jews.

Funny, right?

I don’t get angry anymore when people respond to me the way that person in the above scenario did — Christians don’t have the best reputation for interfaith dialogue, and converts like me tend to have a certain kind of zeal that is especially threatening — more so than that of your typical street evangelist. I get it — the fear, that tendency to back away and put on protective gloves when engaging in conversation with me, is totally legit.

But it shouldn’t be that way.

And that’s why the work I do is so important.

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5 thoughts on “Christians: let the Jews speak

  1. DJM says:

    It is very sad. Christians only have a characterture of Judaism presnted in the New Testament – a chacterture which happens to be imcorrect. As a person raised in Reform Judaism who also “converted” I have to confess I accepted the two dimensional portrayal of Judaism I read in the New Testament and even taught it to other Christians. Only when I returned to the Synagogue of my youth and studied Torah as an adult did I realize my mistake in adopting such a skewed view of Judaism. After doing this for years I now see a complete incompatibility in the faiths – they are so distinct. I do not mind Christians and certainly applaud ecumenical engagement but efforts at synchrotism are futile. Bottom line if a person wants to understand Judaism, the only place to go is to Jews, and a yeshiva in particular. I only hope more Christians will exert the effort to do that so their misconceptions can be cleared up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. livingliminal says:

    “I believe Christians have much to learn from Jews.”

    I know my own faith has been enriched by listening to, and learning from, my Jewish friend. And to be perfectly honest, I think christians have much to learn from a whole range of groups they have often targeted and ‘othered’.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. richardsh says:

    Hi Sarah Beth – i do think you are taking a blunt axe to cut down a tender sapling – you won’t be able to explain to most people the distinctions you are trying to make, at least not in a short blog – do have a look at these recent pieces.

    https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Jewish-communities-in-unexpected-forms-567449

    http://helsinkiconsultation.squarespace.com/helsinki-consultation/

    All the best – did you get to my books yet? Richard h

    Like

    • Sarahbeth Caplin says:

      Oddly enough, Richard, I didn’t take any of my usual pot-shots at the MJ movement in this post – this is strictly about how to structure a dialogue between two faiths, and not misrepresenting myself, so I’m not sure what it is that bothers you. Do you have better suggestions on how to have interfaith discussion?

      Like

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