Latest update: January 8th, 2014
I just read a profound essay on the relations between Christians and Jews in America, Why Don’t Jews Like the Christians Who Like Them? by James Q. Wilson. It’s deep, thoughtful, intriguing and asks a very legitimate, even existential question.
Wilson, who passed away in 2012, was a favorite of American conservatives, especially since he is considered the father of the “broken windows theory.” On the unusual relationship between evangelicals and Jews he wrote:
Evangelical Christians have a high opinion not just of the Jewish state but of Jews as people. That Jewish voters are overwhelmingly liberal doesn’t seem to bother evangelicals, despite their own conservative politics. Yet Jews don’t return the favor: in one Pew survey, 42 percent of Jewish respondents expressed hostility to evangelicals and fundamentalists. As two scholars from Baruch College have shown, a much smaller fraction—about 16 percent—of the American public has similarly antagonistic feelings toward Christian fundamentalists.
While conceding that “it is quite possible that Orthodox Jews welcome evangelical support while Reform and secular ones oppose it,” Wilson nevertheless tries to explain this phenomenon from conservative eyes:
Though evangelical Protestants are supportive of Israel and tolerant of Jews, in the eyes of their liberal critics they are hostile to the essential elements of a democratic regime. They believe that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and worry about the decay of morality; they must wish, therefore, to impose a conservative moral code, alter the direction of the country so that it conforms to God’s will, require public schools to teach Christian beliefs, and crush the rights of minorities.
As an observant Jew, I endorse all the facts in Wilson’s article, and offer an honest, heartfelt response. Accounting only for my own feelings, but certain they are common to many Jews like myself, I must tell Evangelicals: You annoy the goal post hockey stick hockey stick out of us.
I have no problem with your discovering Jesus and embracing Jesus and putting your faith in Jesus – I actually support that. In fact, there’s a story about the Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chassidism, who wouldn’t ride with a wagon driver who didn’t wear a cross on his chest. He preferred to roam through the deserted tundra with a man who at least feared something—never mind the theological nuances.
But why can’t you keep it to yourselves? Why must you insist that I, too, reject my grandfather’s Torah, stop praying the way my family has done since the minus fifteen hundreds, and accept your Jesus, and in my heart, no less?
The majority of you don’t speak Hebrew well enough to even understand my Bible, never mind assert foolish things about prophecies predicting Jesus. And those of you who do have a half decent command of Biblical Hebrew either lack the scholarship to understand why those “proofs” are idiotic, or are outright swindlers, looking to mislead innocent, ignorant Jews.
I don’t belittle your obvious love to me, which is a sweet thing to have in a world that mostly wants to see me dead. But I also can’t help the nagging sensation that this is not so much love as protecting your bet in the historic horserace inside your head, in which Jesus comes back, the Jews realize the errors of their ways and the world is saved.
In other words, while I and my fellow faithful Jews like the fact that the next pogrom will not come from an Evangelical torch and pitchfork crowd, we still don’t trust you. You can’t say you love me for who I am, because who I am includes a thorough rejection of the essence of your ideology, all of it, completely, I hold that there’s no truth to it whatsoever.
Now do you love me? Do you love me in a future in which Jesus doesn’t come, and you continue to hold on to your faith, and I to mine?
Or, at least, can you keep the narrative about my seeing your light to yourselves?
That’s we’re really asking. As far as Orthodox Jews are concerned, Evangelical Christians are to be envied with their serious approach to God and to the Scriptures. We like very much your acts of charity, we admire your political stubbornness – even if we disagree, and we do, about abortion being murder. It’s still heart warming to see religious people willing to give up a lot, for the most part in non-violent ways, to abide by their faith.
There’s so much over which we could collaborate. I’d like us to establish together banks without usury. Religious humane societies to protect animals from cruel treatment, humans from insane government food policies, citizens from a political system gone cynical and vicious. Of all the gentiles in the world, I’d rather work together with you than anyone else.
But you must keep your missionary urges to yourselves. You can even lie to me and say you don’t have them – I’ll accept it. I’ll lie to you in return and say that my tradition says your teachings have value. We can co-exist this way for generations, bettering our societies and contributing good to the world.
Just do something about your impulse to convert me.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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