When it comes to fundagelical Christianity, few things make as little sense to outsiders to that culture as its collective near-obsession with all things Judaism. That obsession has been fanned and encouraged by irresponsible leaders within the religion for decades now–with more attention being focused on it lately with Donald Trump’s controversial decision to move the United States’ embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing that city as the capital of Israel rather than Tel Aviv. A lot of strands go into fundagelicals’ raging boner for Israel, however, and it’s going to take a little time to unpack. I’m going to start the party off by showing you the widespread doctrinal belief of supersessionism, which explains why Christians have such a love-hate relationship with Judaism generally.
Supersessionism is the idea that Christianity replaced Judaism in every way when it came along as a religion. Jews were the Chosen People once; now Christians are. Israel was the Chosen Land originally; now America is. Jewish law had bound the Chosen People of their time; now the New Testament–and a few cherry-picked and quote-mined Old Testament verses to support the never-ending culture wars–bind Christians, who are the current Chosen People, in this era. The Old Testament god of the Bible had showered his blessings and protection–and often his rage–upon Israel long ago; now America receives his blessings, protection, and rage.
In a very real way, Christians decided at some point that they were totally Jews 2.0.
I first ran into supersessionism when I was just a wee li’l teenybopper Pentecostal lass getting her very first glance at what would be the first of many, many diagrams about the last days. That’s one of the super-dramatic terms for the end of the world according to Christianity, along with the Endtimes; technically it’s all called eschatology and it’s as reputable a field of study as, say, astrology, and for the exact same reasons.
I don’t even remember exactly what the diagram looked like anymore, either. They have a tendency to blur in the mind into a long wash of photocopied archaic-looking flowcharts and timelines, all adorned with line art of sword-wielding angels and big white palaces and sunbeams through clouds. Their designers could all have marched as a group straight into r/IAmVerySmart; their central appeal is that they make ludicrous notions sound a lot more reputable to people who don’t know any better.
Of course, the guys trading around those silly, pompous, overblown, officious doodles didn’t use those official, proper names. Supersessionism is a rather big word for a bunch of people who weren’t particularly well-educated, even (especially) in theology. We had other words for it: replacement theology, new/dual covenant theology, dispensationalism, and the like.
And just like every Christian everywhere does when they come up with some quirky new idea, my peers had a wealth of Bible verses propping themselves up here–as well as simple history. After all, on many occasions it seemed like the whole world had tried to destroy the Jews, to criminalize their practices and stigmatize their community, and yet here they were still existing and doing fine. In the same way, we feverishly predicted a time when all that would happen to us as well. We even imagined that this persecution was beginning to happen in our generation, and we trusted Jesus to keep us safe in the same way he had the Jews, and even to lead us to victory over all of our persecutors in time.
Always the Bridesmaids.
Here’s the kicker, though.
While thinking of ourselves as totally the same as Jews, Christians in my neck of the woods also knew very well that they’d been the firstborn, so to speak. They were the first to receive divine favor. Further, Israel itself was the first Holy Land, and it still figured very prominently in our various Endtimes fantasies. (We’re going to talk about that important part of their obsession with Israel next time, so just put a pin in that idea for now.)
So we gave a great deal of respect to Jews, and more than a few of my peers had a burden for them (that’s Christianese for super-wanting to convert them–and according to Christian surveys, fundagelicals still feel that way bigtime). A Jew for Jesus, which is to say a Jew who’d converted to Christianity by accepting that Jesus was the Messiah even though he really couldn’t have been, could book our days solid just by showing up to our churches or prayer groups.
We were also fascinated with Jewish customs and holidays and folklore and whatnot.
As one major example, I can’t even tell you how many fundagelicals I knew who owned at least one shofar. (Yes, of course Biff had one. He wasn’t very good it, though I reckon you guessed that already.) These are instruments made out of a ram’s horn that are blown for various Jewish religious observances and holy days. I think my tribe liked them because they were loud, distinctive, and very exotic-looking.
And they still do like them. They’re often used in conjunction with hardcore Endtimes fantasizing because there’s a Bible verse about these sorts of horns being blown by angels at the end of the world. Jim Bakker, who is peddling Apocalypse Chow lately to fundagelicals, simply adores them and his fearmongering videos are probably the easiest way to experience them. You can hear shofar blowing at the very beginning of this video mocking him–and even see them in use in the hands of florid-faced fundagelicals who clearly had no idea how much lung-power was going to be required of them:
(And it’s just so typical, to see how these fanatical nutbars have so misconstrued the shofar. Among other things, the shofar is part of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, blown “to rouse the Divine in the listener.” As another Jewish site puts it, “the sound of the shofar is more than just a sound of jubilation. It is the sound of the presence of God, and the sound we use to cry out to God when we need God’s intervention.” But fundagelicals use these horns now to gussy up their Endtimes revival sermons. These horns are now one of the most visible and conspicuous appropriations of Jewish culture by fundagelicals.)
Just a Little Cultural Appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is a term applied to someone in a dominant group who borrows something distinctive from another culture, especially one that is marginalized, without asking and in order to exploit it.
In America, typically we hear about cultural appropriation in the sense of white people doing it to people of color (POC). And typically what they’re appropriating has been around just forever in that other culture, moving along just fine under the radar of the dominant culture in this country until it’s discovered as the next big fad for white people to seize. The appropriators come off looking super-edgy, hip, worldly-wise, and cutting-edge, while the folks in the culture being appropriated gain nothing–not even admiration or greater compassion–through it.
Of course, nobody I knew was talking about going all-in on Judaism. They weren’t learning the Hebrew language or keeping kosher or adopting any of the hairstyle, dress, or adornment customs. They definitely weren’t learning why their beloved clobber verses1 from the Old Testament actually don’t even come close to supporting their culture wars against women’s rights or LGBTQIA rights. Nor were they going to start observing the Jewish Sabbath–hell, most of ’em don’t even observe the Christian Sabbath anymore! No, Christians in my group just liked some of the trappings of the religion and used them to look extra-Jesus-y to other Christians.
I am sure that the people using those trappings knew, deep down, that they really weren’t Jews at all. It was simply an accident of birth that they weren’t. But they thought they could adopt themselves into Judaism–graft themselves into the vine, as it were, as the Bible verse says–and feel just as entitled to their god’s divine favor as his first-chosen children.
The Roots of Replacement Theology.
Replacement theology is another term for supersessionism that, I think, more adequately conveys what’s going on with this doctrine. Simply put, the Christians who buy into this idea think, first, that because Jews decided not to go with Jesus as their messiah, they sorta threw aside their covenant with their god to be his Chosen People. (Except if it’s a covenant, as Christians say that it is, it doesn’t matter what the Jews did or didn’t do because their god can’t end a covenant just because one side broke the bargain…except this time, I guess?) So now all the stuff the Jews did and had has been transferred to American Christians in America.
The United Church of God thinks that Americans began thinking of their country as “a New Israel” starting with the colonists. That may well be, but regardless, a lot of them sure think it is now. You can find entire books written about this exact notion as well, and surveys routinely reveal that American fundagelicals in particular overwhelmingly think that their god has some sort of “special relationship with the USA.”
I really think that the reason for this belief is that something deeply narcissistic about the fundagelical psyche just can’t deal with not being the most special-est, most powerful, and most awesomest tribe ever.
So when confronted with a theology that clearly points to Jewish people being the Chosen People, American Christians decided that they’d simply step into that position and declare themselves the new ones by fiat–while still admiring Jews enormously, of course.
How Dare They Not Adore Us!
And the funniest thing about it all is that fundagelicals know that Jews themselves are not really friendly or warm toward fundagelicals in turn. Their indignant guesses about how that could possibly ever be are howlingly funny and completely, well, out-of-step with reality–just like every other guesses they hazard about everything else.
Of course, everything I’ve presented to you is not monolithic. Younger fundagelicals are increasingly not as gung-ho on Judaism as their elders, and lots of Christians argue vehemently about all of the doctrines I’ve presented. But those aren’t the Christians setting policy for the various fundagelical groups. Older folks, like those in their 40s-60s, are the leaders now, and they’re a product of the same obsession with Judaism I observed when I was Christian way back when.
There’s another reason for fundagelicals’ obsession with Judaism, though, and that’s the part they think that Jews and Israel will play in those Endtimes fantasies they have. Join me next time for a romp through the dustier, fustier side of Christian conspiracy theorizing–and yes, there’ll absolutely be some diagrams involved. How could there not be? See you then!
1 A clobber verse is a Bible verse that a culture-warrior Christian uses to fling at tribal enemies and justify a great deal of overreach and cruelty. They believe these verses wholeheartedly support their anti-rights pushes. However, all of the ones in use are uniformly poorly-understood, poorly-interpreted, and lifted entirely from context, and then, thus divorced from their real meanings, are used to circumvent the New Testament’s commands to love one’s neighbor and do all that boring stuff that Christians hate to do. The second a Christian wields a clobber verse, they mark themselves as being completely lacking in both discernment and compassion–not that they care what we think about them.
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