I have many friends who are Jewish and even a few who were born in Israel. I’m blessed to have been a participant in several Shabbat services here at Temple Beth-El in San Antonio and value the invitation and warm embrace I’ve encountered from the people of that community. I have studied the Torah with them, participated in a Bat Mitzvah, and have even attended a bris with a select group of friends and family members. That’s only one of the reasons why I cannot stand anti-semitic rhetoric. Twice already this week I’ve had to offer some serious push back on anti-Jewish commentary by online posters who are regurgitating old and dangerous tropes.
As a Christian, I’m mindfully cognizant of the immense debt of gratitude that I should have for Jews and Judaism. Jesus is Jewish. The Apostles were Jewish. The earliest Church received the Holy Spirit on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But as a Christian, I’m also painfully aware of the horrendous and atrocious anti-Semitic history I am connected to. Our kings and kingdoms forced Jews into ghettos across Europe. We murdered hundreds of thousands of Jews in Germany while our Crusading armies were en route to rid the Holy Land of Muslims. We’ve justified anti-Jewish sentiment in the United States since the days of our birth, regardless of anything we may have done during WW2. Yes, Christians are very much connected historically to anti-Semitism, and we have to admit it.
Fortunately for a few courageous Christians and Jews, that narrative hasn’t dominated all of our shared history. At the same time, many American Christians have conflated what it means to be pro-Jewish with what it means to be pro-Israel. In other words, a loud group of Evangelicals preoccupied with the Apocalypse have force fed us a narrative where to be pro-Jewish means to be pro-Israel, and to be pro-Israel means to stand by any actions Israel deems necessary for her own “survival.” This they see as a natural unfolding of Biblical prophecy.
Herein lies a profound problem for us as Christians, whose Kingdom is not like the Kingdoms of this world.
First of all, if we are followers of Jesus, we have no borders. It is the way of the world to parse out land, to subjugate peoples, and to conform them into norms. In a different yet similar way, we are a pilgrim people joined together by the unity of One Body, One Baptism, and One Savior. Our citizenship is in the Kingdom of Heaven first and foremost; therefore, while we are called to live at peace with all men wherever it is possible–we are also challenged with the possibility that being loyal to the Reign of God can possibly lead to living outside of peace with all men. In other words, following Jesus costs! But we are to count this cost and faithfully follow our King’s Kingdom nonetheless. This will inevitably put us at odds with the nations and governments of this world because their priorities and modus operandus requires conformity, not unity. It is maintained through the power of the sword, not the power of self-sacrificial love.
Second, if we are followers of Jesus then we are pro-humanity–not just pro-Jewish, pro-Christian, pro-American, pro-Palestinian–what have you. I don’t buy into the false dichotomy that one has to either be pro-Hamas or pro-Israel, as if Hamas represents every Palestinian and as if Israel is a monolithic entity without dissenting voices. The reality is much more nuanced than that. Just this week, I’ve heard Hamas conflated with all Palestinians and Israel conflated with Likud. But this isn’t a basketball game. There are Jews, Christians, and Muslim Israeli’s who want peace with Palestine and vocally disagree with their country’s invasion of Gaza. At the same time, one can hold Hamas to be a genocidal terrorist group and also hold all Palestinians in prayer. One can name Israel’s occupation and apartheid of Palestine as genocidal and also hold all Jews in prayer. Disagreement with Israeli policies doesn’t make one anti-Israel. Protesting Israeli bombings does not equal advocating for the destruction of Israel! As Christians, we must reject these false choices offered to us by self-interested, nationalistic, ethnocentric interest groups. Get past the false narratives and get real about loving all people.
Third, if we are followers of Jesus, then we know that God intimately cares about this earth, cares about Creation, and cares about real human bodies and human history. Apocalyptic Israel worship devalues this world because it believes that this world will be destroyed by God. If it’s going to burn, why take care of it, so the logic goes. Apocalyptic Israel worship devalues human life because it emphasizes the after life in an ethereal body. Apocalyptic Israel worship disregards human rights, Creation care, and stewardship because these things are ultimately held as expendable by a God who will violently destroy human bodies and His Creation at the end of the age. But Jesus is Immanuel–God with us. He is seated at the right hand of the Father in a human body–scars and all. God intimately cares about humanity because God created us in the Divine Image. God intensely cares about Creation because God has entered into Covenant with His Creation and has set us as image bearers to be stewards of that Creation.
In fact, the idea that we are made up of eternal, ethereal, incorporeal souls isn’t even a Christian doctrine that is presupposed anywhere in Scripture. It is a pagan philosophy presented to us by Platonic thought. That the God of the Bible who literally formed humanity out of the soil of this earth, the God of the Bible that entered into history and delivered the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt, the God of the Bible that became Incarnate to dwell among us, the God of the Bible who is in Covenant with Creation would agree with our Platonic obsession with the afterlife and incorporeal souls is utterly alien and unthinkable. Our obsession with “end of the world prophecy” has completely de-contextualized the way we read the Scriptures, and has rendered its prophecies devoid of any meaningful history to the point that any prophecy can be construed to mean something in the future and not something that has already happened. Thus history is unimportant; only the future matters.
Apocalyptic Israel worship will destroy us all if we let this narrative continue to dominate the worldview of the Church in America. Not only is this worldview not benevolent to the Israelis and down right hateful to Palestinians, it is profoundly anti-Christ. Jesus revealed God’s self-sacrificial love for us everyday of His life; ultimately on the cross and in the resurrection. God’s love is self-sacrificial, disinterested, and other-oriented. But Apocalyptic Israel worship is self-interested. It desires to usher in the End of Days. It disregards real human life and real human bodies. That’s definitely not the love of Jesus Christ.
Christians, we must repent of our obsession with the afterlife at the expense of ushering in God’s Kingdom here on earth as it is in Heaven. We must admit our violent histories and our complicity with war in the name of God. We must remember we belong to Jesus, to His Kingdom, and to God’s Reign before and above any earthly power. Failing to do so will only perpetuate injustice in the name of God. In fact, it might just be the end of us all.