When people ask my what my doctorate is in, I tell them Semiotics. The response is usually a confused look, at which I give the textbook definition: “the study of signs.” If one knows the field, they can understand the misconceptions that this can construe. Misconceptions is actually what led me to this post: a misconception of imagery within the Christian church today as well as a misconception that resulted of me posting the below image on social media without enough context. That said, I shall now provide the necessary context…
Part of my doctoral research is a series of custom coursework related to the Jewish people. In one of my courses, Jewish History & Culture, what came of my studies is witnessing a long history of where the Jewish individual is chosen, but often chosen for persecution and loss. For the average Jewish individual, depending on where they grew up, there are several misconceptions about Christianity and the New Testament. From the point of the destruction of the Temple around 70 AD, anti-Semitism has been closely associated with the Christian church, both Catholic and Protestant. Rome kicked out the Jews and forced a diaspora. Constantine took up the Christian mantle and integrated the then-Messianic religion into a Hellenist-merged religion called Christianity. One unfortunate result is that the Jews were to blame for the death of Jesus (even though said death would have been necessary for the purpose of the New Testament Gospels).
This view, that the Jews are the Christ-killers, still exists today. Need proof? What do you think of when you hear the word Pharisees? Contempt? Frustration? Holier-than-thou? Would you be surprised to learn that Jesus, known as Yeshua, was a Pharisee? He was. In fact, Pharisaical Judaism was the only form of Jewish faith to survive Rome, so the Orthodox Jewish views today are based on that. Also, the current Christian church most closely resembles the Pharisees (the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection, the Zealots wanted to fight back, and the Essenes believed in communal living much like the Amish today). The contempt for this form of Judaism in the Gospel accounts reflects the anti-Semitism that sparked two thousand years of suffering. The Council of Nicaea, in 325 AD, met to discuss important matters such as confirmation of canon and the Trinity. The Trinity is a different theological topic altogether, but a little-known result of the council meeting was changing the Christian holiday cycle. While it was already main practice to have Christmas and Easter cover up pagan holidays, Easter still coincided with Passover each year. Not to rely on any rabbinical sources or be affiliated with Judaism any regard, the council moved to change the calendar. The result? Most times Easter will coincide with Passover (Pesach), but sometimes, such as 2016, they were an entire month apart.
The crusades were an ugly affair for the church. While Christianity wishes to move on and ignore its past in this massacre, the rest of the world still feels the pain. In addition to Muslims, Jews were forced to either convert or die. Conversion required public denial of HaShem, subscribing to Jesus as Savior, and being forced to eat non-kosher (treif), specifically eating pig, in front of Christians. Additionally, Hebrew blessings (bracha) had to be dropped and not used again. The result? Many Jews died. Some died from being found to not have authentically converted, but many died by the sword out of their refusal to violate the commandment to worship another god or idol.
Catholicism is to blame for much of this, so Protestantism may claim their separation to have been a clean start. Unfortunately, the Protestant movement was led by the wrong man. A conspirator of murder, Martin Luther is famous for his theses. What he is less-known for, but well-known in the Jewish community for, is his anti-Semitic views. After failing to convert Jews to the Christian mission, Luther wrote a flaming pamphlet that called for the burning of synagogues and Torahs, redaction of travel passports, and monitoring of Jewish people in Ghetto-like environments to ensure no Jews could practice their faith. Sound familiar? At this point, it is more than fair to fast-forward to the Holocaust. Adolf Hitler, regardless of his personal beliefs, is associated with Christianity and Protestantism. Additionally, neo-Nazism is prevalent among evangelicals in America. Didn’t know that? Deborah Lipstadt, a Jew, is well-known for her trial in the UK, in which the Holocaust was put on trial because of a history-revisionist and Nazi. In January 2017, Lipstadt accused Donald Trump of being a Holocaust denier, the result of failure to acknowledge the Jewish people (not even once!) in the White House address of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Trump is mainly supported by evangelicals, and one of his office appointees, Steve Bannon, is known for his Nazi and KKK associations (Breitbart news as well).
Throughout history, the Christian church has been associated with anti-Semitism, and it shouldn’t be. There are many Jews, enough to be an average, that believe that Christians are anti-Semitic and that the New Testament is a book on how to kill Jews. Believe it or not.
This backstory, or context, brings us to the point at hand: marketing. If Christianity believes it has a mission to reach the Jews, then their marketing needs to change. Imagine, a Jewish individual, having their knowledge of the Nazi association of the church, is told their view is wrong. To see, they visit a church website or stop by a church service and see a worship setting. For the Christian, it is authentic spirit-led worship. For the Jew? All they see are Sieg Heils. This image captures the difference wonderfully:
Marketing is everything. What is the sign being signified? That is a semiotic question. For the church, this means adapting and changing how they do things because the world simply does not have the same view they do. I’m not talking about postmodern adjustments – I’m talking about removing a barrier that prevents the Christian church from doing what it claims is its very mission: to reach every people.
Instead of images of worship, focus on community. Show a meeting at a coffee shop with a Bible, or a group hanging out on a hike. Curate content that means what you want it to mean to the audience you need to reach, not the audience that you find yourself in. Market effectively, and help change misconceptions.
Also published on Medium.