The majority of Christians today would never condone the religious anti-Semitism that fueled centuries of discrimination, persecution, ghettos, and exiles in the heart of Christian Europe, nor the racial anti-Semitism embraced by Hitler which led to the horrific genocide campaign known as the Holocaust. There is no turning back.
However, there is a reason why historian Robert Wistrich calls anti-Semitism "the longest hatred." This evil pursuit of the Jewish people has continued for millennia, and every time it seems to be dying out it reinvents itself with a different look and a different name. The goal, however, is always the same: to rid the world of the Jewish people.
A new form of anti-Semitism is deceiving many. It is not religious, or racial, but political. Since a Jewish nation-state is antithetical to the ruling philosophies of our day—globalism and secularism—this modern form of political anti-Semitism is finding large-scale acceptance. It is directed not at individual Jews but against the Jewish state and is called anti-Zionism.
Religious anti-Semitism does still exist, but this time it is found throughout the Muslim world and is responsible for the genocidal rhetoric emanating from jihadist groups and the clerical regime in Iran. It is interesting to note that Muslim anti-Semitism is tolerated by secular Western leaders who would otherwise condemn anything religious. Instead, they blame its spread on Israeli policies, thereby exposing their own anti-Semitism!
Not all criticism of Israel can be considered anti-Semitic. However, criticism of Israel becomes anti-Semitic when it delegitimizes the state and questions its right to exist; when it uses anti-Jewish rhetoric and stereotypes; when it judges Israel by a different standard than for any other nation; or when it becomes an excuse to attack local Jewish individuals and institutions.
This new anti-Semitism, while rife in the Middle East and Europe, is trying to infiltrate America, including churches. The challenge is for the various Christian denominations that have denounced classical anti-Semitism, and sought a right relationship with the Jewish people, to recognize that the anti-Zionist campaign demonizing Israel is anti-Semitic. One cannot demonize a nation without that being a demonization of the people, and the Israeli people are a subset of the Jewish world. This is why a Jew can be attacked on the streets of Paris because Israel took defensive actions in Gaza.
Some of the mainline denominations in America have passed anti-Israel resolutions in line with this delegitimization campaign. Within the Evangelical ranks, we had a recent movement to be: “Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine, Pro-Peace and Pro-Justice.” This movement sought to “correct” the pro-Israel movement within Evangelical Christianity by entertaining an anti-Israel narrative under the banner of “love and peace” for all!
Exactly what does it mean for an Evangelical to be pro-Palestine? The Palestinian Authority is a corrupt government which discriminates against Christians, jails and tortures Muslim converts to Christianity, honors terrorists, does not allow freedom of speech, and fosters incitement in the public square based on lies about Israel. Is this really what the pro-Palestine Evangelicals are supporting?
In 2011, two ethics professors from leading Christian universities issued a scathing “Open Letter to America’s Christian Zionists” in which they accused Christian Zionists of being sinful for supporting Israel and encouraging Israel’s sinful policies. They went so far as to say that should “some nation” become “inflamed with resentment” at Israel and “make their land desolate,” noting that sounded like a “nuclear attack,” that Christian Zionists would bear part of the responsibility.
The ICEJ issued a strong response, but because of the growing influence of these voices, we went on to build this educational website to defend both Israel, and Christian support of Israel. The purpose of the IsraelAnswers.com website is to equip Christians to better articulate a defense of Israel, as well as of Christian Zionism.
But more than respond, we need to close the door to anti-Semitism altogether. There are two dangerous trends in the Christian Church in America that need to be addresses to stop this deadly influence.
Loss of Biblical Literacy
One door leaving the Church vulnerable to anti-Semitic teachings is the loss of biblical literacy in America in general and in churches particularly. Some of the mainline denominations denied the authority of the Bible long ago. They use it more as a devotional resource with wisdom for everyday life and not as historical and moral truth. These denominations are in rapid decline because they practice a religion that is void of its spiritual foundation and authority.
One of the core tenants of Evangelicalism is its belief in “scripture alone” as the infallible source of doctrinal truth. While evangelical Christianity, and its inherent support for Israel, is mushrooming in Asia, Africa and Latin America, it has plateaued in the United States (and Europe) and is losing its momentum.
Across America, pastors and ministers are confronted by a widening chasm of biblical illiteracy that in turn is contributing to the societal and moral breakdown engulfing the families in their churches. They struggle to know how to instill a conviction of the Bible’s truth and power to a biblically illiterate generation.
A growing number of prominent Evangelical voices are challenging the Old Testament and blaming it for the loss of faith in the younger generation. They are then leaving behind core biblical tenets including the definition of marriage, the nature of human sexuality, and the sanctity of life. As a result, some are throwing in the towel and advising their congregants to disregard the Old Testament altogether.
When a Christian throws away the Old Testament, God’s covenant with the Jewish people and the biblical significance of modern Israel go with it.
In this atmosphere of questioning or disregarding the Old Testament, replacement theology is gaining traction under various names and guises, one of which is fulfillment theology. Jesus said He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. However, fulfillment theology maintains that Jesus’ fulfillment did infact abolish the law, and with it God’s covenantal relationship with Israel. It also teaches that all of the Old Testament promises to Israel are fulfilled in Jesus, and thus they are no longer valid with regards to modern Israel. Although this view may lack the same degree of animus towards the Jews, fulfillment theology still winds up in the same place as Replacement theology – namely that God is finished with the Jewish people.
It is important to clarify here that just because someone holds a form of replacement or fulfillment theology does not mean that they are anti-Semitic. Some theologians simply interpret the New Testament in this way. Many pastors hold Replacement views as a theological assumption based on the lack of teaching on Israel and the Jewish people in seminary. Therefore, they begin ministry with the assumption that Israel and the Jewish people are irrelevant; it is all about the Church today.
While this thinking may be a vestige of replacement theology, it is not the anti-Semitic version of the past which went on to call for the persecution and demonization of the Jews. Nevertheless, it is the same theological foundation from which historical Christian anti-Semitism sprouted and we need to correct it in all its variants.
The pastor of one of the largest churches in America, with considerable influence amongst younger generations, recently published a book explaining that the Old Testament is completely irrelevant and has been replaced with the brand-new teachings, morals, and ethics of Jesus. His book clearly demonstrates the danger of replacement theology becoming anti-Semitic, because he went on to espouse anti-Jewish ideas. He described Judaism only in negative terms and called it an eroding influence on the early church and the cause for the sins of the church centuries later.
Many scholars agree that the Holocaust could never have happened had it not been for the centuries of Christian anti-Semitism rooted in this type of theology. Therefore, we need to be very concerned about its growth and learn to refute it.
Replacement Theology assumes four things:
- God does not know what He is doing because His Plan A failed. The people in Plan A (Israel) failed him, and He had to come up with a new plan with a new people. Yet, Ephesians 1:4-6 says that redemption through the death of Jesus was always plan A.
- God is unfaithful: He does not keep His covenants, nor His promises. Yet, Psalm 89:34 says: “My Covenant I will not break nor alter the word that has gone out of My mouth.” Jeremiah 33:37 says that only if God breaks His covenant with night and day, and with the moon and the sun, would He be able to break His covenant with the Jewish people. God’s Word is true and He is faithful to fulfill it.
- The Abrahamic Covenant has been abolished or spiritualized either in part or in whole. Yet, the New Testament confirms the Abrahamic covenant and its promises (which always included the Land) and assumes a future time of restoration in the Land as promised by the prophets. Jesus said that Jerusalem would one day be under Jewish sovereignty again (Luke 21:24). When asked, He did not deny his disciple’s hope in a future restoration of the kingdom to Israel, and instead he explained the timing of that event was something only the Father knew (Acts 1:6-7).
- God has rejected the Jewish people. Yet, the Apostle Paul in Romans 11:29 affirms that God’s call over the Jewish people as a nation is irrevocable. Psalm 89:33-34 is clear that even though God should punish the people of Israel for their sins that His lovingkindness would never be taken from them, nor His faithfulness, and He would never break His covenant with them.
By disregarding God’s promises to the Jewish people, and discarding the Old Testament as hard to understand and irrelevant to today’s society, the church is removing the very thing that makes the entire Bible come alive. Understanding God’s promises to Abraham and His dealings with the Jewish people throughout the ages connects the Old Testament to the New and underscores its relevance and immediacy to all of us today.
Israel, is the greatest single antidote to biblical illiteracy. Once a Christian understands the biblical significance of Israel and the Jewish people, they ‘get’ the story running throughout the entire Bible. Replacement theology robs Christians of this ribbon of truth and causes the very disconnect between the Old and New that it seeks to remedy.
You and I are part of an historic shift in Christianity. The largest segment of the Christian world, the Catholic Church, has embraced the Jewish people. The Evangelical world, which is the second largest segment of Christianity and is projected to one day be the largest based on current growth rates, has not only embraced the Jewish people but the State of Israel as well. I am hopeful that the bulk of Christianity will never go back to its anti-Semitic past.
However, we must recognize the dangerous trends and stand against the anti-Semitism of our day. The current political form called anti-Zionism seeks to rid the world of the influence of the Jewish people by challenging their right to be a nation. At its worst, this new brand of anti-Semitism condones the mass annihilation of Jews in their restored homeland.
Anti-Semitism’s goal in the modern Christian world is to rob Christians of the very root that sustains our faith and to separate us from a people who demonstrate the truth of the Bible and the faithfulness of God to always keep His word. As the Apostle Paul said, it is the Jewish faith that is the very root which supports us. To be separated from that root means spiritual death.
Therefore, the battle against this evil ideology is our battle. It behooves us to do everything we can to help churches recognize it for what it is and to stand against it.
Susan M. Michael is US Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.