It isn’t hidden. And, it isn’t found solely in well-publicised marginal sects typified by white supremacism. While many Christians would agree that white supremacist movements are disgusting, taking the step of condemnation is too easy and ignores some of the more pervasive ways that seemingly benign types of Christianity colonise and perform erasure. In fact, it isn’t just an issue of benign, middle-of-the-road Christianity falling into anti-Semitism. Seemingly ‘progressive’ Christians have the same problem.
This was on full display a few days ago when hip preacher Brian Zahnd decided to tweet some rather typical bumper sticker theology.
What an odd thread for several reasons. First, as some pointed out in the comments, why the hyper specific page numbering and the self-indulgent ‘Selah’?
These are strange. But, the rest is rather pernicious and illustrates the tone-deaf nature of celebrity evangelicalism. There is no sense in which Zahnd seems to be aware that, well, this ‘book’ isn’t simply a ‘book’. It’s a collection of diverse writings by multiple distinct cultural groups for different purposes. Perhaps this is why he decides to tweet later a quote from evangelicalism’s favourite Papa, N.T. Wright. Lo and behold, Wright has proclaimed that ‘The Old Testament is a story in search of an ending.’ Those poor Jews! They don’t even realise that the end to their story is Jesus! The salvation they seek is found within the big ol’ walls of Christendom.
But, even more important, it’s crucial to recognise that these writings are not ‘Christian.’ They aren’t, on the face of it, geared toward Jesus. The Tanakh isn’t owned by Christianity. The insistence that it is, and that the only proper and appropriate way to read these texts is to inject Jesus into it directly, illustrates the colonising nature of much Christian discourse concerning the Bible. Just because the early Church fathers did (and as we all know they sure did love Jews!), doesn’t make it ok.
And, this is just gross. Especially right now when anti-Semitism seems to be especially pervasive. It was barely a year ago when the Tree of Life synagogue was attacked, when 11 people were murdered and 7 injured.
While it may seem to be a large step between such hateful and disgusting terrorism and the type of appropriation we see from hip dude preachers like Brian Zahnd, it is important to recognise that historically one of the main forces of anti-Semitism has been Christianity, and therefore Christians should be very careful to police attitudes that erase or colonise Jewish people.
It is perfectly fine for Christians to re-imagine texts, and to employ diverse hermeneutical strategies for encountering texts. But, the moment Christians pretend to own these texts is the moment that the (inherent) colonisation is on full-display. It isn’t enough to come back 20 minutes later and try to clean up the mess.
Zahnd does try to qualify. He notes later that this is advice for how ‘Christians’ should read. And, while this may not fix all of the issues with the tweet, it is much better than what one finds in many corners of contemporary American Christianity. So, uh, kudos I guess?