Last year brought yet another extremely disturbing statistic: 2017 marked the highest increase in antisemitic incidents in the US since the first Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents was taken in 1979. In a statement, Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, stated, “A confluence of events in 2017 led to a surge in attacks on our [Jewish] community — from bomb threats, cemetery desecrations, white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, and children harassing children at school. These incidents came at a time when we saw a rising climate of incivility, the emboldening of hate groups and widening divisions in society.”
As the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and other experts have explained for decades, antisemitism stems in part from a warped, twisted and hateful interpretation of Christian scripture and theology. Therefore, it is vitally important that those in Christian communities who do not agree with such interpretations – who in fact find such interpretations highly offensive – rise up in strong solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters against violence, discrimination, prejudice and disparagement of any kind.
As the SPLC points out in a recent edition of its Intelligence Report, “white supremacists, sovereign citizens, militia extremists and violent anti-abortion adherents use religious concepts and scripture to justify threats, criminal activity and violence. This discussion of religious extremism should not be confused with someone being extremely religious. It should also not be misconstrued as an assault on Christianity. Rather, it represents an exploration of the links between violent right-wing extremism and its exploitation of Christianity and other religions to gain a better understanding of how American extremists recruit, radicalize and mobilize their adherents toward violence and terrorism.”
White supremacist groups that target Jews as well as people of color include Christian Identity (a racist, antisemitic religious philosophy), the Ku Klux Klan and the Creativity Movement (formerly known as the Church of the Creator or World Church of the Creator).
Christian Identity groups are somewhat in decline, but they can still be dangerous. According to the SPLC, “Christian Identity is a unique anti-Semitic and racist theology that rose to a position of commanding influence on the racist right in the 1980s.” The Ku Klux Klan not only targets African Americans but also Jews and Jewish immigrants (and many others who are not straight white males). “The Creativity Movement was formed in 1973 by the late racist Ben Klassen under the name Church of the Creator (COTC). Its adherents believe that race, not religion, is the embodiment of absolute truth and that the white race is the highest expression of culture and civilization. Jews and non-whites are considered subhuman ‘mud races’ who conspire to subjugate whites.”
Some of the underlying stances of these groups can be explained by so-called Dominion Theology. Tenets of this theology include:
- Christian nationalism, the wrong-headed belief that the United States once was, and should again be, a Christian nation; this denies the Enlightenment roots of the American experiment;
- religious supremacy – lack of respect for other religions, even other versions of Christianity;
- theocratic visions of the Ten Commandments, or “biblical law,” as the foundation of American law; the Constitution is viewed as a means for implementing narrow biblical principles;
- the incorporation of the doctrine and principles of the Christian faith into the political establishment with the ultimate goal of creating a Christian-only nation;
- the abolishment of civil rights, labor unions, public schools and any laws with which they disagree;
- the withdrawal of US citizenship from non-believers, as well as the removal of women from the workforce;
- the belief that federal, state and local government should eventually be replaced with a Christian theocracy, thus empowering religious institutions to run every aspect of the executive, legislative and judicial functions of government.
Needless to say, these goals are extremely dangerous to our democracy. Consequently, those holding these beliefs, especially those in elected office or who otherwise wield power, need to be watched carefully by those of us who prize our democratic institutions.
Some prominent Dominionists, according to Frederick Clarkson, a Senior Fellow at Political Research Associates, include Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael; Roy Moore, the “Ten Commandments” judge and accused pedophile in Alabama who recently lost his bid for Senate; Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-TX); former Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS), now Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom; Sen. James Lankford (R-OK); and Rep. Steve King (R-IA). Dominion Theology is not just an abstract theory: it has entered the mainstream of US politics through these officials.
To combat Dominion Theology and the hate-filled groups that malign Judaism and mischaracterize Christianity, we must use facts based on long-standing scholarship, facts and evidence.
- Jesus was Jewish – most likely a Jewish sage – and did not found a new religion.
- Mary, Elizabeth, Mary Magdalene, and John the Baptist were all Jewish.
- Paul and most of the early Christians were Jewish (Christianity being a sect of Judaism for a time).
- Jews did not kill Jesus: crucifixion was a Roman form of capital punishment.
- Many sentiments against Jews expressed in the Gospels are misinterpreted: scholarship suggests that the sentiments are intra-Jewish, “family” arguments – not to be used by non-Jews against Jews.
- Jews, Christians and pagans co-existed peacefully in the Roman Empire for centuries, as evidenced by archaeological finds, art in the Roman catacombs, and so on.
- There is evidence for leadership by Jewish women in synagogues, commandments to treat women with respect, etc. (Brooten, Leith, Plaskow, for example). Therefore, Christian apologists need to be very wary about making the claim that Jesus’ treatment of women was better how they were treated in Judaism.
Finally, Christians and other supporters of Jews and Judaism should understand some of the basics of Jewish ethics, which are found throughout Hebrew Scriptures:
- The Golden Rule: do unto others what you would have others do to you
- Peace between nations
- Justice and fairness in settling disputes and economic transactions
- Care for the vulnerable and poor, widows and orphans
These tenets should be familiar and agreed to by most of us; Jewish ethics are the ethics of most of us. The tenets of the “Dominionists” and others like them, on the other hand, run counter to the basic values we hold dear in this country and actually undermine them.
Antisemitism is evil. It utilizes warped religious values to intimidate, disrupt, discriminate and perpetrate violence and terror. Antisemitism must be combated in all its forms.
For Further Reading
Armstrong, Karn. A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 1993.
Brooten, Bernadette. Women Leaders in the Ancient Synagogue, Brown Judaic Studies no. 36, Chico, CA, 1982.
Carroll, James. Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
Goodenough, Erwin R. Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman Period (abridged version). Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992.
Leith, Mary Joan Winn. “Women in the Ancient Near East and Israel,” in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, eds. Oxford Companion to the Bible, 807-12. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Plaskow, Judith. “Feminist Anti-Judaism and the Christian God,” in Elizabeth A. Johnson, ed., The Strength of Her Witness: Jesus Christ in the Global Voices of Women, 86-99. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2016.
Schüssler Fiorenza, Elisabeth. Revelation: Vision of a Just World. Proclamation Commentaries, ed. Gerhard Krodel. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991.
Spong, John Shelby. Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1996.
Stendahl, Krister. Paul Among Jews and Gentiles. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976.
Sweet, John. “Revelation, The Book of,” in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, eds., Oxford Companion to the Bible, 651-55. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Verhey, Allen D. “Ethics,” in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, eds., Oxford Companion to the Bible, 202-05. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
White, L. Michael. From Jesus to Christianity. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004.