If you are Facebook friends with enough American evangelical Christians, you’ve probably seen more than a few posts declaring support for Israel this week. If you aren’t within that culture and never were, you may wonder at the origin of this interfaith pep rally. Many evangelicals, especially those who espouse certain futurist views of Revelation, take Old Testament passages regarding the unique calling of the Jews, ancient Israel’s status as a theocracy, and the welfare of Israel/Jerusalem as proof that the righteous of any nation, and even nations as a whole, are called to support the Jews as a people and modern Israel as a nation. Personally, I think it’s incorrect, irresponsible, and even dangerous to conflate a modern and heavily secular nation-state with the biblical Kingdom of Israel simply because they share a name, but that’s a post for another day.
The revival of Christian Zionism up to “trending topic” level has came as a result of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress concerning Iran and the resulting partisan fallout. This surge also buoyed back up a concern that has been growing in my mind, until now bubbling beneath my ability to describe. Sometimes in the past when I observe Christians paying close attention to a Jewish speaker or author on a subject directly tied to their perceived “Jewishness” (and today regarding the Netanyahu speech, I have worried as to how we as Christians view Jews. Examples of such topics include but are not limited to the Israeli state, the Jewish diaspora, the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, the New Testament in relation to Judaism, and matters of religious wisdom and faith in general. I’m not convinced we always listen in a healthy manner.
Am I saying we as Christians shouldn’t heavily consider Jewish understandings of the roots of our faith? Absolutely not. No point in turning us all into Marcionites. But I fear the way in which we sometimes listen takes on the styles of one of the worst yet most persistent archetypes in film and pop culture: the “Magical Negro“. This purposefully disquieting and pejorative term describes the prevalence of black characters that move the story of the white protagonist along by contributing profound or even otherworldly wisdom. These characters can also possess mystical powers and, whether naturally or supernaturally, seem to exist outside the continuity of the community to which they contribute. The “Blind Seer” in O Brother, Where Art Thou, Bagger Vance in The Legend of Bagger Vance, and Louise the personal assistant in the Sex and the City franchise are strong examples of this stock character, each existing solely as a way to move along the white protagonist.
At first glance, there may seem to be nothing wrong with this character as it is a black person being portrayed in a positive light. But one has to question the sincerity of such a light when their very existence in the narrative is relegated entirely to serving the existence of the protagonist and their wisdom functions from a place of “otherness” all too easily colliding with their racial status. I grow increasingly concerned that we as evangelicals are treating our Jewish neighbors in a far too similar way. The combination of assuming they as a people possess some kind of direct or mystical wisdom that relates to our lives as Christians and valuing Jewish opinion as nothing more than a fount of wisdom in the story of our own faith journeys risks relegating them to a secondary status like that of the Magical Negro. Such treatment blatantly defies the Christian belief that all humanity is equally made in the image of God, injuring deeply those made in His likeness.
Christians, let’s please be careful to watch our motives and examine all things in light of Scripture and the guiding of the Spirit. When we read books or listen to talks attempting to read the two faiths together, look to Israeli politics and what it might mean to the wider world, when we rush to a Jewish-led Maundy Thursday/Passover service at our churches this Easter, or discuss Judaism with our Jewish neighbors (anecdotally, I’ve heard a worrisome number of Jews talk about how Christians seek out their opinion on complex religious matters in direct response to their ethnic or religious background), be careful lest we turn the Jewish people into our own form of the Magical Negro.