My Problems with Jewish-Christian Dialogue

I have problems with Jewish-Christian dialogue. I’m not against people of different religions talking with one another or mutually learning. I just don’t like the barriers that political-correctness creates in the conversation. Allow me to give examples of what I mean.

1. First, there is the term “supersessionism,” which is the belief that the church has replaced the Jews as God’s chosen people. It is considered a dirty word. You don’t want to be a supersessionist. Many have argued that supersessionism was responsible for the persecution of Jews throughout history, which culminated in the Nazi Holocaust. My problem is that “supersessionism” has been applied to the belief that Christianity is superior to Judaism, as well as the view that the New Testament fulfills or supersedes the Old Testament as God’s way of doing things. Just look at the attacks on Ann Coulter for her “perfected Jews” comment! But what is wrong with Christians believing that their religion is superior to other ways of explaining the world? Why would they be Christians if they did not think that their way is better? In addition, while many Jews may not like the notion that Christianity is better than Judaism, there are people who may take offense at certain Jewish ideas. Some may dislike the concept that the Jews are God’s chosen people, since it possibly implies that God loves the Jews more than he loves others (I know that the concept is more complicated than that, but I’m saying that some may get that impression). At least supersessionist Christianity says that Jews and Gentiles are equal in God’s sight (see Galatians 3:28). Doesn’t political correctness want greater inclusiveness? So why is supersessionism a dirty word?

2. Often in Jewish-Christian dialogue, Christians are the bad guys because the Jews were historically persecuted under Christian rule. But there was a time when Jewish authorities persecuted the Christians. The New Testament is full of such examples, and even liberal scholars acknowledge that the New Testament was addressing an actual situation in history. Of course, the Jewish persecution of Christians was not as bad as the Christian persecution of Jews, but that was because the Christians had power for a longer period of time. Who is to say that Jewish persecution of Christians would not have been as bad if the shoe were on the other foot?

3. At times, I have gotten the impression that some Jews believe they have the right to dictate Christian doctrine because of what Jews suffered under medieval persecution and the Holocaust. And there are liberal Christians who are eager to meet their demands! When I was at Jewish Theological Seminary, a Christian was reading a paper about German churches abandoning supersessionism after the Holocaust. That generated a discussion, in which a Jewish student eventually said, “What Christians can do is present us with the revisions of their beliefs, and then we can say whether or not we like the revisions.” Was she saying that Jews should have veto power over Christian doctrine?

4. Then, there are liberal Christians and Jews who want Christians to dump parts of the New Testament that appear anti-Jewish. During the Passion of the Christ controversy, critics of Mel Gibson argued that the Gospels are not historically accurate on Jesus’ death, since the Romans played a bigger role in it than the Jews. That may work on liberal Christians, but if they are expecting conservative Christians to abandon the New Testament, then they are barking up the wrong tree. Conservative Christians see the New Testament as the infallible word of God, and there are conservative scholars who argue that the Gospel portrayal of Jesus’ death is historically plausible. If Jewish-Christian dialogue requires them to abandon this belief, then how is that different from Ann Coulter saying that Jews should abandon Judaism?

5. I once heard a Jewish professor say something like the following: “Messianic Judaism is not Judaism. It is Christianity. If Jews and Christians are to have dialogue, then they should get their terminology straight.” But what gives him the right to dictate the definitions of terms in the dialogue? Sure, Christians should understand that most Jews do not recognize Messianic Judaism as legitimate, since knowing what others believe is crucial to any discussion. But should Christians have to agree with opponents of Messianic Judaism? Who is to say that Messianic Jews are not real Jews? Messianic Jews see themselves as Jewish, plus the first Christians were Jews who believed in Jesus.

6. Many of you will read this and say, “How dare you say that! People just don’t say these things in academia. It’s not politically correct.” That brings me to my next point: political correctness hinders genuine dialogue. In today’s climate, intimidation reigns, and people are afraid to offend others (except for conservatives). As a result, there is not full honesty in most discussions. I remember two examples of genuine dialogue on TV. One was on an episode of A Different World (a spin-off of The Cosby Show), and the other was on an episode of Touched by an Angel. On A Different World, some white students and some African-American students got into a fight at a football game, and they were arrested. In an attempt to encourage dialogue, the security officer told them to express themselves. The white students said, “All you people do is sit on your lazy butts and complain!” and “Quotas are keeping me out of the Ivy League.” The African-American students replied, “But you guys had quotas–you excluded blacks from many opportunities.” On Touched by an Angel, John Ritter played a sheriff who had an African-American deputy. Both were involved in planning the Martin Luther King celebration, which Rosa Parks would attend. After a series of tragic events, the two had a discussion. “Why do you call me ‘boy’?” the African-American deputy asked. “I’m a man!” John Ritter replied that he always tried to use politically-correct terminology (“African-American,” “people of color”), yet there was still a part of him that had contempt for blacks. These are examples of true, honest, open dialogue! People got things out of their systems rather than hiding behind some phony politically-correct mask.

Dialogue should be honest and open. Jews should feel free to express their concerns about the New Testament and Christianity, but Christians should feel just as free to critique Judaism. Maybe some misunderstandings can be corrected, maybe not. In any case, both sides can get to the point where they at least understand one another, even if they do not agree. And they can love one another, an element that appears in both religious traditions.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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5 Responses to My Problems with Jewish-Christian Dialogue

  1. Mark says:

    Î agree with your point 5–If I may dictate what Jews should believe. The Jews who believed Bar Kochba was the messiah were still Jews, as are the Hassidim who have held out messianic hopes. It is sort of a reverse supercessionism to say that Jews who have faith in the Messiah are not Jews.
    Still, the reason supercessionism is wrong is that it implies that God has broken his everlasting covenant. Paul rejects this belief in Rom 9-11.
    I also don’t think we can treat the Shoah as some little blip on the radar, a relatively trivial event; and say like kids on the playground, “Well you persecuted us once.”
    I don’t know if the point of Jewish-Christian dialogue needs to be the question of whose religion is a better religion.
    By the way, doesn’t Ann Coulter look sexy on the cover of Godless?


  2. rabbiadam says:

    James, I must say that I am in complete agreement with you. I am also in agreement with Mark.


  3. James Pate says:

    Thanks for your comments, Mark and rabbiadam. Yes, Ann Coulter looks good on the cover of Godless. I got my copy last week (I know, I’m a little behind schedule).

    I’ll probably write a post pretty soon about Romans 9-11. It is a crucial passage about God’s relationship with Israel. My current belief is that the church is Israel, but God has not rejected “Israel after the flesh.”

    I hope that I did not trivialize the Holocaust. I know that it was a horrible event. I was trying to make a point, and I could not figure out a right way to do so. To be honest, I still can’t. Essentially, I feel that there is a lot of intimidation today. People are afraid to speak their minds because of victimology. In Jewish-Christian dialogue, Christians can not be fully honest because of the Holocaust. Critics of homosexuality are called homophobes and are likened to the murderers of Matthew Shepherd. The label of “racist” is casually tossed out. In the process, the people who see themselves as victims possess power in any dialogue. And the unfortunate thing is that anti-Semitism, homophobia, and racism still continue, only not overtly.

    We should absolutely recognize the severity of the Holocaust, but Christians should not have to change their doctrine because of it. If Christians had loved the Jews rather than seeking revenge or dominion, then the Holocaust would not have happened. And Jesus commands us to turn the other cheek and to love our enemies. However Christians saw the Jews, they should have followed that command.


  4. John says:


    thanks for being honest and forthright. Well, it’s one thing to be someone like Ann Coulter or Al Franken, who make a living saying things their respective bases want to hear, and saying them in pungent form.

    It’s another thing to engage in dialogue, which implies a willingness to hear the other side out and learn something new.

    Another detail. Supersessionism is a traditional pattern of thought in the world’s religions. It is not unique to Christianity. At some point, the truth question deserves to be posed. Furthermore, supersessionism is itself superseded in Paul, with his “all Israel will be saved.”


  5. James Pate says:

    Thanks for your comments, John. One interesting point to add to your comment on religions is an essay I read by Jon Levenson: he said that the Hebrew Bible presents the Israelites superseding the Canaanites.

    I agree with you on Romans 11. Supersessionism is wrong to say that God no longer loves the Jews or has a purpose for them. At the same time, I’m not entirely a dispensationalist, since I think that there is also a sense in which the church is Israel. But I’ll post on that soon.


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