Blind Faith?

Dear People of the Covenant:

I grew up among people who held a paradoxical relationship with Jews. On the one hand, most of the adult men in my childhood congregation were veterans of World War II, and many found great meaning for their service in the liberation of the Jewish people from the brutal tyranny of anti-Semitic Nazism. On the other hand, because the Jews had rejected Jesus, we were confident they were going to hell. There was also a third hand that colored our understanding of Jewish-Christian relations, and that was a reading of Biblical prophecy that insisted the formation of the nation of Israel was a prerequisite for the second coming of Jesus, something we were weekly enjoined to hasten.

Hands number one and number three shook quite confidently, as the formation of the modern nation of Israel arose directly from the conclusion of WWII, but the middle hand often tremored with the palsy of ambivalence. We were quite confident that belief in Jesus was an imperative ingredient in salvation, but also insistent that Hebrew Scriptures (we called the Old Testament) were unambiguous regarding God’s preference for the Jewish people. The centerpiece of our defense of Israel was found in God’s promise with Abram (later called Abraham) found in Genesis 12.1-3:

Now the Lord had said unto Abram, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” (King James translation, obviously)

Intertwined with the interpretation of these verses was the desire to remain on the blessing side of the Abrahamic Covenant, thereby suggesting that any opposition to the State of Israel was near blasphemy; but because of a narrow reading of history, implying that all Jews were tainted by the crucifixion, individual or ethnic antisemitism was freely permitted. This paradox was captured in a couplet penned by a British journalist, William Norman Ewer, who with unambiguous disdain wrote during WWI,

How odd of God / to choose the Jews.

In response, American playwright and Yiddish lexicographer Leo Rosten humorously quipped,

Not odd of God. / Goyim annoy 'im.

But it was left to Ogden Nash to pen the ultimate rebuttal: 

But not so odd / As those who choose
A Jewish God / Yet spurn the Jews.

Which brings us to the recent political Congressional House resolution condemning antisemitism, driven by the anxiety that criticism of modern Zionism be somehow interpreted as fundamentally anti-Jewish. Realizing I’m wading into deep, un-parting waters, I am fascinated by the uniquely American alliance between Christian evangelicals and Zionists, the former exercising significant political weight these days and the latter more than willing to cynically exploit evangelical blind allegiance to Genesis 12.1-3 who theologically believe Jews are consigned to the fires of hell.

Of course, the fact remains that ancient and modern Jews are not a monolithic lump of political or theological unanimity. Historically, it was a political faction within Israel that found expedience in the execution of Jesus; in the same way, suppression of Palestinian autonomy is driven by a modern political faction within Israel. I am encouraged by Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, who in July of 2018 announced a resolution endorsed by over forty Jewish organizations worldwide. This statement disentangles criticism of the nation state of Israel from disparaging attitudes towards individuals of a particular cultural tradition and faith. The resolution reads:

From our own histories we are all too aware of the dangers of increasingly fascistic and openly racist governments and political parties. The rise in anti-Semitic discourse and attacks worldwide is part of that broader trend. At times like this, it is more important than ever to distinguish between the hostility to or prejudice against Jews on the one hand and legitimate critiques of Israeli policies and system of injustice on the other. It is vital that Jewish organizations across the globe stand united against harmful definitions of antisemitism and together for human rights and the freedom to protest.

In other words, to draw a linear connection between the blessing of Abraham and the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu is to misread both the Scriptures and these times.

Rushing in where angels fear to tread, I remain,

With Love,
Jonathan Krogh
Your Pastor