Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Interfaith Relationships- Jews and Christians Misunderstood Again

There is an ongoing problem with the relationship between Jews and Christians. There is a misunderstanding that exists that is creating numerous issues that are going to need to be dealt with.

I wouldn’t characterize this misunderstanding as being between all Jews and all Christians. I suspect that there are large numbers of both groups who haven’t given a thought to any of this, but I also know that there are many who have and that is part of why I am writing this post.

Boiled down the misunderstanding is along these lines. There are Christians who see Jews working to tear down Christianity, to attack it and try destroy it and there are Jews who see Christians working to destroy Judaism. That my friends is the very simplistic version of this story. There are multiple layers here, but we’ll leave those alone for now.

Part of the impetus for this post was generated by a post by a Christian blogger here. His post was in response to a statement made by Abe Foxman, the national director of the ADL who issued a warning about the attempt to Christianize America. Here is an excerpt:
"Today we face a better financed, more sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized and organized coalition of groups in opposition to our policy positions on church-state separation than ever before. Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To Christianize America. To save us!" he said.

Foxman proceeded to describe the process and to name names: "Major players include Focus On Family. Alliance Defense Fund, the American Family Association, Family Research Council and more. They and other groups have established new organizations and church-based networks, and built infrastructure throughout the country designed to promote traditional Christian values."
I haven't any problem with what Foxman said because my perception is that there is much truth in this. In September I covered a CNN story in which we read about the Southern Baptists and their discussions on how to convert more Jews. In that same post we revisited several Southern Baptist decisions including:

"The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in 1996 calling on its members to "direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel to the Jewish people."

A 1999 prayer guide by the International Mission Board recommended conversion of Jews to Christianity during their High Holy Days, an effort labeled "offensive and disrespectful" by Jewish leaders.

As recently as 2003 Jewish leaders criticized a Southern Baptist seminary president for saying Christians have a mandate to evangelize Jews just as a surgeon has a responsibility to tell a patient about the presence of a "deadly tumor."

They are just one of the groups that have missionaries in place whose purpose is to witness to Jews for the purpose of conversion. They excuse this by claiming a religious obligation to do so. I am consistently surprised that they are so surprised by how vociferous a protest there is to these actions.

And I have to say that when I read some of the responses to things Foxman and other Jews have said I am most disappointed. Vox Popoli's post irritated me. In it he said about Foxman:
"This guy would have made quite the grand strategist, wouldn't he? With leaders such as these, it's no wonder that Jews always manage to find persecution all over the world. Launching all-out assaults on the overwhelming majority doesn't exactly strike me as the best way to win friends and influence people in any place or time."
If I hear him correctly he suggests that Foxman should be lambasted for having the audacity to question the majority, as if the larger number automatically provided moral superiority, not to mention his foolish remark about persecution. And that is a topic to be grabbed a little later on.

And then within the comments there are all sorts of gems:

Well, maybe if his ancestors hadn't killed Jesus 1975 years ago, he wouldn't have such a guilty conscience...

Mr. Astrosmith, smart boy that you are do you realize how many Jews were murdered or persecuted by your brethren using this allegation and you call us paranoid.

"Of course the reason Christians feel under assault is the largely Jewish and Jewish-led for the last 40 years ACLU/Southern Poverty Law Center have gleefully assembled their ranks of lawyers for a little Christian-bashing and getting Christ out of Christmas and the public and shopping mall spheres. Perhaps that is who Foxman should target. He might also wish a little word with his fellow Brooklyn Jew Michael Newdow who is after the Pledge and getting "in God we trust" removed from public buildings and US currency."

Aside from making unsubstantiated claims old Cedarford seems to be under the misguided impression that trying to see that the Constitution is followed is wrong.

And then within the comments on the Haaretz article there is this little nugget:
"Abraham Foxman is unbelievable! He seeks to destroy the reason America is the ONLY true ally Israel has. The Christian faith is the only reason Israel exists. Oh, by the way, Foxman, do you like not having to run from Kristallnacht, pogroms and Zyklon B? Thank the christians. We are the reason more of your people did not die in the gas chambers.

Foxman should not be fighting the only people that like Jews and go after the people who lust to slaughter Jews: Muslims, especially the Palestinians. Why isn`t he fighting the Palestinians? Doesn`t he know the Abbas and his buddies kill Israelis every day? Doesn't he know that Iran wants to kill every last Israeli?

Don`t bite the hand that feeds you." Jay Stang
Call me crazy, but I don't see any reason to thank someone or grovel for enjoying the same rights as anyone else in the US. And believe it or not, the US is not the only reason that Israel exists. It may have been at one point in time, but that is no longer the case.

Let's circle back to the initial opening in which we talked about misunderstandings. As a member of the minority it is hard for me to see the discrimination that Christians, primarily evangelicals are complaining about.

We live in a country that has a clear definition of the separation of church and state in which we go out of our way to promote pluralism and tolerance for all, not just the majority. That means that courtrooms and other public (read gov't funded) buildings are not decorated with the 10 commandments or other religious paraphenalia. A Buddhist, Hindu or Wiccan should be able to walk into a courthouse, for that matter anyone should be able to walk in and feel comfortable in the knowledge that the law of the land is going to judge them, not some biblical law that they may not believe in.

Students in school are entitled to be educated without being forced to be witnessed to or placed in other uncomfortable situations, based upon nondisriminatory laws.

Private businesses and homes are a different situation. I understand and accept that within these places there could be religious expressions of all kinds. When I go to the mall I expect to the salespeople to use some kind of holiday greeting. Frankly I get tired of everyone wishing me a merry xmas, but ok, I am not surprised by it and I am not even asking that it not happen.

All that I am asking for is an understanding that following the law is not discrimnatory but in our best interests. Our plurality and diversity is an exceptional strength that we can and should draw upon.

This is getting rather long so I'll try and tie it up. For better or for worse there is roughly 2000 years of persecution of Jews by Christians. It really is just within the last 50 years that things have really improved, but within that time frame many of us have still witnessed things that can be seen as an attack on Jews and Judaism and witnessing can be categorized as such.

It is hard to see the majority as having to face the same challenges and even if we accept that they do it is not of the same magnitude.

And that is about it for now. Perhaps I'll come back and try to cover this again at a later date.


(crossposted at Jack's Shack)


elf's DH said...

The Christian right has also done an excellent job of repackaging their agenda. Instead of advocating "Christian values," it's in support of "Judeo-Christian" values. Lots of Jews are buying into it wholesale, too, fearing that secularism is a greater enemy than the Christians. Their newfound friends have also managed to make them stop thinking like members of a minority, jealously guarding rights. Now, they think that they're members of a greater (but persecuted!) religious majority.

Pragmatician said...

I don't really care that people are trying to converts Jews, as long as their intention is not murder or worse, but I am frightened that such blatant anti semitic remarks don't generate more outrageousness. In Europe anybody can say what they want no one will mind, but at least in America I thought....

smb said...

Conversion is just as bad. Sure they're not physically killing them but they are spiritually doing so. Why don't they work on their own instead of looking for others.

Jack Steiner said...

Elf's DH,



I was very concerned when I read those remarks. The lack of understanding is significant.


It would be nice if they focused elsewhere, but that is not going to happen.

Pragmatician said...

Jack, I like to be realistic (pragmatic) I feel like all Jews are my brothers and I in some way I care about them.
However the ones that assure the continuity and provide meaning and beauty to our religion are still the religious ones (honest religious, does not mean peyes and hat!!). Those who convert are just looking for an easy way out, after all as christian there isn't much you have to do or can't do.

Jack Steiner said...


Call me slow, but I need a better description of what religious means. Does that include the Conservative Jews who would never intermarry, do not keep Kosher or Shabbos but daven daily and observe the Chagim.

Baconeater said...

Fundy Christians, if given even more power will eventually come down on all Jews. They are nuts, trying to bring ID into science class, suing evolution web sites for not being religious, and coercing advertisers to stay away from The Darwin Exhibit in New York.
I notice the one guy calls Newdow a Jew.
He is an Atheist Jew, religious Jews I imagine have no problem with "In God We Trust." Atheism isn't a Jewish movement, but the Fundies will look for any excuse down the road to blame the Jews.

Pragmatician said...

I don't think you're slow, and I can't answer your question, who is truly religious, who is a true Jew? I don't know. It certainly shouldn't be a matter of opinion.

Jack Steiner said...


I have similar concerns.


Agreed on all counts, but I have to admit that I cannot help but say that I think that are some core beliefs that make a person's Judaism more questionable, such as those who claim to be J for J.

Astrosmith said...

And when I think of all the times I have defended "the Jews" from the silly accusations of others...

I apologize for your taking offense at my post on Vox's website. It was meant to be humorous, but I can see why it would make you mad.