My phone pinged with an email notification from my freelance editor at Patheos, regarding the news of Mike Pence honoring the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims by inviting a Messianic rabbi to say a prayer at a rally. Naturally, that prayer invoked mentions of Jesus — or rather, as he is known in Messianic circles, Yeshua Ha’Moshiach.
Reading this Washington Post article about it, my heart rate sped up, and I needed a few puffs from my inhaler to get through it. Memories from childhood came rushing back: memories of finding evangelistic literature on the windshields of cars parked in the synagogue lot after Rosh Hashanah services, explaining how the Jews interpreted Scripture wrong and missed their own messiah. Similar literature would occasionally appear in my family’s mailbox, addressed to us by name.
My negative feelings about Messianic Judaism, and the evangelism group Jews for Jesus, took root long before conversion to Christianity was ever a consideration. And, I should note, all that literature didn’t have a single impact on that decision. There are plenty of reasons why I don’t identify as a Messianic Jew.
Maybe it seems odd for an Episcopalian convert to feel so rage-y toward another Christian denomination. Admittedly, my negative childhood run-ins with members of this group have helped shaped my opinions. But after I finished reading the WaPo article and calmed down a bit, I thought about it a little more, and realized there was another underlying reason why the MJ movement bothers me so much.
While it may have originated as a place for Jewish believers in Jesus to feel at home, the movement’s evangelistic undertones cannot be downplayed or ignored. Evangelistic outreach is a huge priority for its members. Worse, while many members are ethnically Jewish, many more are not — which means that many evangelism attempts are done using manipulative tactics, such as dressing in Jewish garb, peppering Christian prayers with Hebrew words, and, at times, taking Scripture passages out of context. It’s Jewish cosplay, not culture.
So it’s not the theological disagreements that bother me. Not really. It’s the deception woven into the fabric of this tradition that I have a problem with.
I am very upfront about the reasons I found Christianity so compelling. I will tell people, if they ask, about my childhood fascination with saints, and my enchantment with the Incarnation. I will admit that my Jewish education was sparse, but by the time I was old enough to learn about it independently from Sunday school, the idea of a God in the flesh was too irresistible to ignore.
I will be honest about those things. My story is a triumph or a failure, depending on who hears it.
But I will never misrepresent myself by making my beliefs seem more Jewish than they are. I’m an Episcopalian who happens to have a Jewish heritage — that is the plain truth.
While plenty of Christians practice unhealthy evangelism, at least they do so by being their authentic selves, which is far better than blowing a shofar and wearing a tallit while preaching the usual evangelical talking points.
It is fundamentally dishonest to pretend that Messianic principles are even remotely Jewish. In truth, the tenets of this denomination have far more in common with evangelicalism than Judaism.
Furthermore, the obsession with converting Jews to Christianity brings up another valid question: when, exactly, did God break His covenant with the Jewish people? Did the death and resurrection of Jesus nullify or void that promise?
I don’t believe that.
No one can say with certainty who is going to heaven and who will be shut out. But I believe God has made a way for His chosen people — they are the tree that Christians are grafted into, according to Romans 11:11. God has not, will not, forsake them.