Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Evangelical Fetish For Judaism

posted on 4/19/2015 by the Salt City Sinner 

The drunk pack of sports fans at the football game do it when they don “war paint” and headdresses and cheer for the crude, stereotypical “Indian” that is their team's mascot. That insufferable white college freshman does it when he shows up for class inexplicably clad in a dashiki. It's called cultural appropriation, and it's one of the favored pastimes of dominant groups in this, the poisoned fever dream of late-stage capitalism.

Wikipedia has a pretty good working definition of the phenomenon, which it describes as “the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is without the consent of the originating culture, and when the appropriating group has historically oppressed members of the originating culture. ”

This brings us to the modern Evangelical yen for Judaism, and the related (in a limited sense) topic of Messianic Judaism.

Now, this post is specifically about the Evangelical relationship with some Messianic Jews and with Judaism in general, more than about Messianic Judaism itself. Messianic Judaism has a long, complicated history, beginning with the very first Christians (who, like Jesus himself, were Jewish). Attempts to convert Jews to Christianity started in earnest with the Apostle Paul in the first century, but for the most part such attempts were characterized more by the use of force and State power than by eloquent appeals to theology. The modern 'Messianic Judiasm' movement dates back to (and takes it name from) Evangelical efforts in New York City in the late 19th century.

So what, exactly, is a 'Messianic Jew?” Ever heard of the "Jews for Jesus/” Same thing, basically – a formerly Jewish individual who decides that Jesus is the Messiah.. There is a strong argument to be made that once one converts to Christianity one ceases to be a Jew, 'Messianic,' 'for Jesus' or otherwise. Of course, anyone is welcome to convert to or from any ideology they please (ideas, unlike, say, sexual orientation or skin color, are eminently mutable), and splitting JWHW's snowy white hairs on the matter is really up to the theologians to chase into the weeds.

As a subset of conservative Evangelical cultural and political views, their approach to Judaism has undergone a rapid sea change. It wasn't so long ago that many Christian denominations (including Evangelicals) literally held Jews responsible for the death of Jesus. Now, aside from some wackos rattling around the comments section of WND and your average InfoWars anti-Semite, Evangelicals are trending much more steadily toward philo-Semitism (or as it's more sexily known, Judeophilia).

This is where cultural appropriation comes in; from celebrating Passover to blowing the shofar, Evangelicals are cosplaying as Jewish as an "exotic" way to "get in touch with the roots of their faith." Thus far, as in many cases of appropriation, the love affair appears to be decidedly one-sided. From Pew Research:

Michael Schulson from Religion News Service puts those numbers in context:

According to a new survey, white evangelical Christians feel a lot of warmth toward Jews. As for Jews, they feel colder toward evangelical Christians than they do about any other religious group. … 
The real issue here is not that evangelicals don’t love Jews enough. It’s that certain evangelical communities sometimes love Jews way, way too much — or, more accurately, love an image of what they believe Jews to be. 
Seeking a return to pre-Christian roots, churches hold Passover seders and blow shofars during services. Evangelical support for Israel is legendary. Liberty University, the evangelical school in Lynchburg, Va., even has a Judaic studies program that, as its director told the Liberty student newspaper, “tries to communicate to the Liberty community that we as Christians owe a debt of gratitude to the Jewish people.” … 
More often than not, though, evangelical upwelling of philo-Semitism seems to have little to do with actual Jewish people, and more to do with Jewishness as an abstract theological concept. A lot of evangelical support for Israel, for example, grows out of certain strains of dispensationalist theology, in which the Jews’ return to Israel is seen as a prerequisite for the Second Coming. 

As Schulson notes, this Evangelical philo-Semitism, especially as it concerns the country of Israel, is not just staying within the confines of your local megachurch; it's spilling into politics in the United States. It's now unremarkable for Republican politicians to sport this nifty dual flag pin:

...which is part of the conservative “I Stand With Israel” movement.

I have about as high an opinion of loyalty to any nation as I do of sex with a tree stump, unless the tree stump manages to consent somehow, in which case I have a higher opinion of the stump-lovin', but I sometimes like to amuse myself by imagining what the conservative Republican reaction would be if any politician, of any stripe, wore another country's flag as part of the same standard-issue American flag pin that all politicians must now by law wear. I believe the words “treason” and “hanging” would come up fairly quickly. However, when the country in question is Israel instead of, say, France or Mexico, the conservative political love-fest gets a little less monogamous and a little more “Big Love.”

Maybe the Evangelical taste for all things Jewish (except, of course, for questioning whether “Yeshua” is the Messiah) is a passing fad, and maybe not. One thing is certain: even issues that are somewhat interesting from an academic or theological standpoint become depressing and awful when dragged into the hellish light of American politics.

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