Politicians love to borrow words from religion, as if somehow those words by themselves convey some mystical sense of ethics when their own actions convey none at all. One Jewish woman, writing on Medium, called on everyone to stop using the term “Judeo-Christian values”–in that the “Judeo” part is being improperly appropriated by Christian politicians.
She’s right. It is.
Here’s one of the author’s–Katie Simpson–problems with the term:
Yet, this idea of values keeps coming up for issues that my Jewish values don’t support. Ted Cruz claimed that he would return us to these values when he won the Iowa caucus. Apparently, those values include voting against the Violence Against Women Act. Judeo-Christian values for him don’t seem to include Pikuach Nefesh, which state that every life, whether LGBTQ or Native American, is precious.
The real problem is that the term has lost all meaning. You could no more cite Ephesians 5:22-23 to support repeal of rape laws, or Leviticus 18:22 to make homosexual practice illegal. Oops–I guess Leviticus is a Jewish book, being part of the Torah and all. The problem is one of scale: Biblical law does not scale down to political prescriptive invective.
Levitical law, which led to Talmudic law, has many prescripts that apply only to national Israel. For example, in modern Israel, elevators switch to “Shabbat mode” on Friday evening, where the elevators randomly move up and down. When one opens, you get in, and stay in until it reaches where you’re going. No buttons–because operating machinery is forbidden on the Sabbath. My oven at home in Georgia also has a “Shabbat mode.” Despite keeping the Sabbath, I never use it.
And what of people like me, who follow Christ but are Jews? We don’t even count, because “Jew” and “Christian” are mutually exclusive to many who use “Judeo-Christian.” The Christian politicians who use the term are acknowledging the Jewish “roots” of Christianity (Jesus was a Jew), without acknowledging the binding principles.
Jews also have a problem with joining the political with anything containing the word “Christian.”
Shared values rose in prominence again in the 1980’s. The Religious Right began to fight against secularism for the sake of “Judeo-Christian values” and the rhetoric hasn’t stopped. It’s become foundational for the ideology behind prayer in school, opposition to same sex marriage and women in combat. The term was an imaginary umbrella, claiming Judaism for a predominantly white and evangelical majority. Even today, Christian faith leaders claim that Trump will restore Judeo-Christian values.
(Not all Christian leaders say that about Trump; many claim the opposite. But the criticism is valid.)
The statistics, however, undermine the Religious Right’s claim to shared values with Jews. Orthodox Jews are the most likely to identify with the Religious Right but make up only 10% of the American Jewish population. Jews of other denominations don’t join this coalition of faith.
Much of this is rooted in the ways our faiths differ. Christians have focused on correct thought. For Jews, faith has been rooted in correct practice. Christianity has fought bitterly over dogma and correct interpretation. The Talmud, one of the most important Jewish texts interpreting our bible, is full of argument and disagreement. What was important for a religious life became very different in each of these religions.
Much of this is true. A truly “Jewish” understanding of Scripture is a very Eastern dialectic process, that never really resolves itself. Christians are more tied to creeds and confessions of faith. But all of that still ignores the main connection between the “Judeo” and the “Christian.”
A much, much better term to use would be “Biblical ideals.”
Biblical ideals include what President Obama refers to as “universal values” without reference to where they originate. Without the Bible, there’s no more predilection to love your neighbor than to eat him. Without God, there’s no more definition of “good” and “evil” than mere opinion or some pro-programmed survival determinism. And if everything is determinism, then it doesn’t matter how we convince anyone to believe what we believe–if they’re going to believe it, they will. (That’s my main issue with Calvinism, by the way, it conflicts with the idea of global evangelism in a very basic way.)
Biblical ideals include a knowledge that the purpose of mankind is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. This is a very Jewish ideal, embodied in the “Sh’ma” (Deuteronomy 6:5), which Jews are commanded to read every morning and every evening. Boiled down, Biblical ideals support the Golden Rule, another Jewish ideal: Love your neighbor as yourself.
One cannot love God and deny Him as the lawgiver. One cannot love God and ignore His commandments (Jesus said this in John 14:15).
Biblical ideals are first personal, then familial, then societal, then evangelical, in that order. The problem with claiming “Judeo-Christian values” is they work in reverse. We apply them first in evangelism, then society through laws, then to our family in teaching, and last (if ever) to ourselves. “Do as I say not as I do” is the creed of the politician claiming “Judeo-Christian values.”
“Follow me as I live as a faithful servant of God,” is the result of Biblical ideals. Nobody is perfect, but you can see the fault in the former claim versus the latter.
Jews like Simpson should be scared of Donald Trump, not because he himself hates Jews or has nefarious intent toward them, but because his followers appropriate him as the defender of “Judeo-Chrisian values” in the worst sense of the term. Trump is no more an example of a good Christian (or Jew!) than Bernie Madoff. Yet many Christians elevate him as a paragon of what will “Make America Great Again.”
Politicians should stop using the term “Judeo-Christian values” because it has become utterly meaningless in personal application. It’s simply a buzzword for whatever that person believes and wants to impose on others.
Either a person holds to Biblical ideals, or they don’t. God cannot be mocked. He also cannot be corrupted or coerced for man’s purposes. It’s time we stopped trying.