Jewish-Christian Relations

Though Jews and Christians have had a complicated and tense relationship, relations today are better than ever.

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But in recent years, the ties have been strained over the issue of Israel. Liberal Protestants tend to condemn Israel's policies toward the Palestinians; though they also condemn terrorism, many Jews feel that Protestant critics of Israel do not understand or sympathize with the big-picture political issues or the suffering of Israeli civilians. Protestant opposition to Israeli policies has been especially sharp in Europe, where there is greater support for movements seen as anti-colonial, including the Palestinian cause.

Evangelical Protestants

Over the last two decades of the 20th century, conservative Protestants became the culturally and politically dominant force in American Protestantism. It is with these evangelicals that today's Jews have the most complicated and surprising relationship.

There are sharp points of disagreement between Jews and conservative Christians. Though evangelical theologians have rejected deicide and supercessionism charges, long-held beliefs die hard, and the writings of theologians don't always trickle down to the pews, leading to occasional conflicts. In one period of 2001, the issue was repeatedly in the news when various public personalities were denounced by Jewish leaders for anti-Jewish statements; among those in the midst of the furor were a basketball player and a comic-strip creator, neither of them, of course, theologians or spokespeople for Christianity.

Evangelicals' belief that Christ provides the only way to salvation leads to what is perhaps the sharpest and most emotional wedge between them and Jews: proselytism.

In the 1990s, tensions flared between Jews and Southern Baptists--the largest Protestant denomination in the United States--when the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) announced plans for renewed evangelism of Jews. The SBC later issued a booklet with advice on proselytizing to Jews during the High Holiday period. Organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League denounced the booklet and the idea that any religion can have a monopoly on truth and salvation 

More troublesome to many Jews is the growth of so-called Messianic Jewish communities. Messianic Jews observe Jewish customs and rituals but believe in "Yeshua" (Jesus) as the Messiah, a belief anathema to mainstream Judaism. Most Jews do not consider Messianic Jews to be Jewish, while the evangelical world embraces them, often referring to them as Jewish Christians. The establishment of Messianic synagogues/churches in heavily Jewish cities and neighborhoods, such as Brooklyn, N.Y., and those groups' proselytism directly to Jews has inflamed tensions.

However, despite strains like these, evangelicals and Jews have forged an alliance over the issue of Israel. Because of their theological beliefs and conservative political leanings, evangelicals are strongly and vocally supportive of Israel, and are in many cases more hawkish than American Jewish Zionists. In evangelical eschatological theology, Jews are to establish a Jewish state in Israel as a precursor to the end-times; those Jews will then convert to Christianity, though that eventuality is less remarked upon publicly by Jews or Christians.

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Michael Kress

Michael Kress is the executive editor of Parents.com. He was also the the VP of Editorial and Managing Editor at Beliefnet and the founding editor-in-chief of MyJewishLearning.com.