April 4, 2008


Jihad, Jew-Hatred, and Evangelicals and Jews Together (Keith Pavlischek, March 27, 2008, First Things

A more puzzling case of hostility involving Jews, however, is the dislike Jews have for evangelical Christians. The renowned sociologist James Q. Wilson has written a short piece entitled Why Don't Jews Like the Christians Who Like Them?

In the United States, the two groups that most ardently support Israel are Jews and evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. Jewish support is easy to explain, but why should certain Christians, most of them politically quite conservative, be so devoted to Israel? There is a second puzzle: despite their support for a Jewish state, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are disliked by many Jews. And a third: a large fraction of African-Americans are hostile to Israel and critical of Jews, yet Jewish voters regard blacks as their natural allies.

Evangelical Christians have a high opinion not just of the Jewish state but of Jews as people. That Jewish voters are overwhelmingly liberal doesn't seem to bother evangelicals, despite their own conservative politics. Yet Jews don't return the favor: in one Pew survey, 42 percent of Jewish respondents expressed hostility to evangelicals and fundamentalists.

Wilson helpfully summarizes the historical and theological reasons for the affection and support American evangelicals have for Jews and Israel. For many evangelicals and conservative Protestants such as myself, this is familiar terrain, but Wilson helpfully explains the tale for the uninitiated. He traces evangelical support for Israel to a certain strain of evangelical theology called dispensationalism. My only quibble with Wilson's article is that there are many evangelicals who reject dispensationalism but who nevertheless strongly support Israel on, they would argue, less dubious theological grounds-or on a clear understanding of the Jew-hatred in contemporary Islamism.

In any case, Wilson contrasts evangelical support for Israel with that of mainline (liberal) Protestants:

Mainstream Protestant groups, such as the National Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches, have a very different attitude toward Israel. The NCC, for example, refused to support Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, and immediately afterward began to protest victorious Israel's expansion of its territory. From that point on, the NCC's positions ran closely with Arab opinion, urging American contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization, for instance, and denouncing the Camp David Accords because they supposedly ignored the Palestinians' national ambitions.

"Why," asks Wilson, "do mainline Protestant leaders oppose Israel?" His proposed answer seems to me to be spot on:

That question becomes harder to answer when one recalls that Israel is a democratic nation with vigorously independent courts that has not only survived brutal attacks by its Arab neighbors but provided a prosperous home for the children of many Holocaust survivors. As with any other nation, Israel has pursued policies that one can challenge. Some may criticize its management of the West Bank, for example, or its attacks on Hamas leaders. But these concerns are trivial compared with Iran's announced desire to wipe Israel off the map by using every weapon at its disposal, including (eventually) a nuclear one.

The answer, I think, is that many Christian liberals see Israel as blocking the aspirations of the oppressed-who, they have decided, include the Palestinians. Never mind that the Palestinians support suicide bombers and rocket attacks against Israel; never mind that the Palestinians cannot form a competent government; never mind that they wish to occupy Israel "from the sea to the river." It is enough that they seem oppressed, even though much of the oppression is self-inflicted.

Wilson also notes that, according to several disturbing polls, "about one-third of U.S. blacks have very anti-Semitic attitudes, and this hasn't changed since at least 1964, when the first such poll was conducted." It has been "African-American leaders, not white evangelicals, who have made anti-Semitic remarks most conspicuously," but because "African-American voters are liberals," they "often get a pass from their Jewish allies. To Jews, blacks are friends and evangelicals enemies, whatever their respective dispositions toward Jews and Israel."
Why then do Jews not return the favor? "Why don't Jews," according to Wilson, "like the Christians who like them?"

Though evangelical Protestants are supportive of Israel and tolerant of Jews, in the eyes of their liberal critics they are hostile to the essential elements of a democratic regime. They believe that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and worry about the decay of morality; they must wish, therefore, to impose a conservative moral code, alter the direction of the country so that it conforms to God's will, require public schools to teach Christian beliefs, and crush the rights of minorities.

But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the beliefs and attitudes of evangelical Christians:

Christian Smith, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, analyzed four surveys of self-identified evangelicals and found that, while they do think that America was founded as a Christian nation and fear that the country has lost its moral bearings, these views are almost exactly the same as those held by non-evangelical Americans. Evangelicals, like other Americans, oppose having public schools teach Christian values, oppose having public school teachers lead students in vocal prayers, and oppose a constitutional amendment declaring the country a Christian nation. Evangelicals deny that there is one correct Christian view on most political issues, deny that Jews must answer for allegedly killing Christ, deny that laws protecting free speech go too far, and reject the idea that whites should be able to keep blacks out of their neighborhoods. They overwhelmingly agree that Jews and Christians share the same values and can live together in harmony. Evangelicals strongly oppose abortion and gay marriage, but in almost every other respect are like other Americans.

Whatever the reason for Jewish distrust of evangelicals, it may be a high price to pay when Israel's future-its very existence-is in question. Half of all Protestants in the country describe themselves as evangelical, or born-again, Christians, making up about one-quarter of all Americans (though they constitute only 16 percent of white Christian voters in the Northeast). Jews, by contrast, make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, and that percentage will shrink: as many as half of all Jews marry non-Jews. When it comes to helping secure Israel's survival, the tiny Jewish minority in America should not reject the help offered by a group that is ten times larger and whose views on the central propositions of a democratic society are much like everybody else's. Wilson surely is right that no good can come from repeating H.L. Mencken's accusation that fundamentalists are "yokels and morons."

Christophobia is so routine among American Jews that you'll hear it in polite company, as though there were nothing wrong with it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 4, 2008 8:56 AM

Here's a question: How do you reconcile Jews 'Christophobia' with a 50% intermarriage rate (I'll guess 95% of those intermarriage partners being Christian)?

Posted by: Matt Cohen at April 4, 2008 9:35 AM

That's easy. Jews have a love-hate, I mean hate-love relationship with practically everything and everyone. (They don't call us the Children of Israel for nothing.)

On a more mundane note, though, how about a roundup of what Lutherans think of Catholics?
And what Catholics think of Lutherans?
And what they both think of Baptists?
And what Baptists think of Methodists?
And what Northern Baptists think of Southern Baptists? And vice-versa?

And what they all think of Mormons?
And/or Jews?

Oh, and what some Jews think of other Jews (you now, those other Jews)?

This non-Juddeo-Christian is curious. Seriously.

(Or maybe we should all gather 'round and sing "We Aren't the World!!"??)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at April 4, 2008 10:28 AM

It's my impression that the anti-Christian attitudes of American Jews is because most of them are agnostic or atheist.

Posted by: b at April 4, 2008 10:38 AM


I don't know what exactly the Baptists think of the Methodists, but where I grew up the joke was that Methodists were Baptists who could read (I was raised Methodist).

When my Dad was a teen (the 1950's) he actually provoked the ire of the Baptist minister, from the pulpit, because he had thrown a dance party on Wednesday night that drew away some of the good young Baptist kids from the Wednesday night prayer meeting!!

(In defense of the town Baptists, their minister wasn't popular with them, either, says Dad.)

Posted by: Twn at April 4, 2008 11:15 AM

It's not just Jews. During the Republican primaries I heard several friends that usually vote R complaining about the candidates being religious. Of course, they are libertarian types so it was to be expected.

Posted by: Patrick H at April 4, 2008 11:19 AM

From a theological standpoint, the Evangelical/Jewish asymmetry is straightforward; Christians believe Judiasm is correct (so far as it goes), and Jews believe Christianity is a bizarre heresy.

Posted by: Mike Earl at April 4, 2008 11:25 AM

Mike's point is a good one.

"Evangelicals strongly oppose abortion and gay marriage, but in almost every other respect are like other Americans."

Doesn't polling show that these two positions are precisely those of most Americans?

And most Evangelicals would love to see Christian values *once again* taught in public schools.

+ + +

Posted by: Jorge Curioso at April 4, 2008 12:20 PM

The Democrat party has done an expert job at keeping Jewish and black opinion hostile to religious GOP-ers. That's why every election cycle you get the round of trumped up church burnings, James Byrd style scare ads and "disenfranchisement" fears (for black Dems) and warnings of impending Fallwell-based "theocracy" (for Jewish Dems). But I don't blame the Dems. The moment they give up stoking paranoia, they become a permanent minority party. The press is so obsessed with supposed GOP manipulation (The "Southern Strategy" and Bush's focus on patriotism) that they miss the real scandal. Of course, the probably want to miss it.

Posted by: Jaytee at April 4, 2008 12:53 PM


I think most polling shows the "other Americans" are "merely opposed" to gay marriage and abortion, whereas Evangelicals are "strongly opposed".

Posted by: EPT at April 4, 2008 2:04 PM

And for his answer, the prize goes to b.

Send him a book OJ.

Posted by: Genecis at April 4, 2008 5:13 PM
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