This is a rework of one of my oldest posts.
Before we begin, let’s get a couple of definitions out of the way.
Christians are people who follow the religion of Christianity. Christianity is a religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, also known as Jesus Christ (for more on this, I recommend my recent post NO, THE JEWS DID NOT KILL JESUS). Christians can belong to any race, ethnic group, tribe, or nationality.
Jews are an ethnoreligious group, nation, and tribe descended from the ancient Hebrews and Israelites in the region of the world now known as Israel/Palestine. Unlike Christianity, which is a universalizing religion, Judaism is the ethnic religion of the Jewish People, based on the ancient beliefs, traditions, mythology, and laws of the Jewish tribe(s) (for more on this, I recommend my posts JEWS & INDIGENEITY: A CONVERSATION WITH NATIVE JEWS, THE JEWISH PEOPLE ARE A TRIBE, and WHEN JEWS BECAME JEWS).
Jesus of Nazareth was a Jewish teacher and religious leader during the period of the Roman occupation of Judea (modern-day Israel/Palestine). Because of his controversial teachings and political positions, Jesus was arrested, tried, and crucified by the Roman authorities.
The Romans had long persecuted the Jewish People, occupying our sovereign land, massacring us, and enslaving us at various points.
In 313 CE, the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, and the persecution of Jews exponentially worsened, as Jews were collectively blamed for the death of Jesus (again, I recommend my post NO, THE JEWS DID NOT KILL JESUS).
In the Middle Ages, the situation for Jews in Christian countries drastically worsened. Jews were brutally massacred in Europe, Southwest Asia, North Africa, and the Americas during the Crusades and Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions.
Additionally, Jews were expelled (i.e. ethnically cleansed) from one country to another, never able to stay in one place for too long.
Many antisemitic tropes originated, were spread, and/or were actively encouraged by the Church. For a more thorough look into this history, I recommend my post A HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY & ANTISEMITISM.
Unfortunately, antisemitism was not limited to the Catholic Church and instead spread to virtually all other Christian sects and movements. A major example is that of the Protestant Reformation.
The Protestant Reformation was a movement during the sixteenth century that marked a split between the Catholic Church and what is now known as Protestantism. Some examples of Protestant denominations today include the Baptist Church, the Reformed (Calvinist) Church, the Methodist Church, and more. Evangelicalism falls under Protestantism as well.
The Protestant Reformation was led by Martin Luther, who published a thesis critical of the Catholic Church in 1517 and was formally excommunicated in 1521. Early in his career, Luther expressed sympathy and concern for the plight of the Jews, but when he failed to convert them to Christianity, he grew into a virulent antisemite.
Most infamously, Martin Luther utilized the printing press to publish virulently antisemitic texts. Most significant was a 65,000 word antisemitic proclamation called “On the Jews and Their Lies.” Luther’s antisemitic works deeply influenced the development of “modern” antisemitism in Germany, so much so that many historians argue that his work influenced Nazism. In fact, nearly every antisemitic book published during the Third Reich included references and quotations attributed to Luther.
In the 1800s, as antisemitism in Europe became much more racially-based, much of the rhetoric against Jews was based on that of the Church from centuries prior. For more on this, I recommend my posts YES, THE HOLOCAUST WAS ABOUT RACE and A HISTORY OF RACIAL ANTISEMITISM.
To reiterate: Jews were persecuted in the name of Christianity for 2000 years.
Which brings us to the term “Judeo-Christian.”
The term was originally coined in the 1930s by American progressive Christian interfaith groups, with the hope of combatting growing antisemitic sentiment in the United States and Europe in the lead up to the Holocaust.
However, following World War II, the term was co-opted by conservative American politicians as a catchphrase against “godless communism.” Ironically, during the period of McCarthyism, Jews were disproportionately targeted under the guise of anti-communism.
In the 1960s and 1970s, white Evangelical pastors further co-opted the term to use it as a rallying call against the Equal Rights Amendment and to oppose gay rights, the legalization of abortion, and more.
It’s worth noting that American Jews are the most pro-legal abortion religious group in the United States, even more so than Americans that are religiously unaffiliated: 83% of American Jews believe abortion should be legal in all/most cases, whereas only 73% of religiously-unaffiliated folks believe abortion should be legal in all/most cases. Only 33% of Evangelical Christians believe abortion should be legal in all/most cases. According to Jewish law, if pregnancy puts the life or health (including mental health) of the mother at risk, an abortion is mandatory. The life of the pregnant person comes first, because, unlike most Christians, Jews believe life does not begin at conception, but rather, at birth.
As of 2012, 77-81% of American Jews supported the legalization of same-sex marriage. By contrast, only 23% of Evangelical Christians, 57% of Catholics, 54% of Orthodox Christians, 26% of Mormons, 40% of Black Protestants, and 14% of Jehovah’s Witnesses support same-sex marriage.
Following the 1979 Iran Revolution, the term was once again co-opted by conservatives to spread Islamophobic rhetoric.
(1) Jews were violently persecuted in the name of Christianity for 2000 years. The term “Judeo-Christian” is a violent whitewashing and Christian-washing of history.
(2) in many cases, “Jewish values” and “Christian values” are simply not the same. This is reflected in the radically different views between Jews and Christians on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, as well as different voting patterns.
(3) the term “Judeo-Christian” was coined by white Christians, who have always held systemic power over Jews, and was later co-opted by racist, antisemitic, and Islamophobic conservatives whose values differ significantly from those of the majority of American Jews.
(4) Christians continue to use the term to this day, all the while ignoring input from the overwhelming majority of Jews.
For a full bibliography of my sources, please head over to my Patreon.