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We are not often afforded a glimpse into our future, but that might be exactly what we have with the emerging crisis faced by conservative Jews in America. As The Atlantic‘s Emma Green writes, a group composed mostly of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly met in late June to discuss whether or not they would change their position on marriage between a Jew and someone outside of the faith. While that specific issue is not of great significance for Christians in America, the circumstances in which many feel a change is necessary are all-too familiar.
Conservative and Orthodox Jews have long held that the marriage of someone inside the faith with someone from a different religious background violated the tenets of Jewish Law. Such a union typically led to ostracization from the larger community, but that’s no longer the case in many circles. The primary cause for the unofficial shift is the realization that, as rabbi Felicia Sol put it, such policies mean that “We could lose a generation, if not the future of Jewish life.”
Still, others struggle with giving up such a central belief in the name of appearing more open to the larger culture. David Wolpe, the senior rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, spoke for many when he told Green “To bless an intermarried union is . . . to in some way betray the very thing that I’ve given my life to, which is to try and maintain the Jewish tradition.”
He would go on to add that such a marriage “may be beautiful, it may be loving, it may be worth celebrating on a human level. But on a Jewish level, it’s not fine, and it can’t be made fine.” While a person would have to “have a heart of granite,” in Wolpe’s words, not to sympathize with those in such a union, that doesn’t change the fact that it goes against his understanding of God’s will and law. As he concluded, “I don’t necessarily feel that someone else’s need is my obligation . . . Someone else may need a rabbi to bless that union, or may want a rabbi to bless that union. It doesn’t mean that I have to do it.”
While it would be easy to remain focused on the issue of marriage and some of the parallels it has to frequent discussions of a similar sort within evangelical circles, the larger picture is more important. You see, Conservative Jews got to this point by slowly conceding theological ground over a long stretch of time. It wasn’t so much any one decision that led them here but rather a shift in attitude that placed a greater emphasis on staying relevant to the culture around them than on adhering to their understanding of the law.
That delicate balance between relevance and faithfulness seems difficult for us to consistently walk as well. Scripture is clear on where our loyalties should lie when forced to make such a choice (Matthew 10:32–33, 37–39) but, as a church, we’ve grown increasingly adept at expanding that grey area between absolutes to include matters on which the Bible speaks more clearly than we might prefer to believe. And the error is usually one of motivation over an ability to understand God’s word.
When we approach Scripture looking for evidence that it’s alright to go along with the culture on an issue rather than taking our question before God’s word, with as little bias as possible, and desiring its honest answer above everything else, we are bound to eventually stumble. Many in the Jewish faith are now beginning to pay the consequences for such a choice, but perhaps part of God’s redemption for those mistakes is to provide us with a glimpse into our future unless we actively set out to follow a different course.
Most of us have a pet sin or two that we prefer to overlook or rationalize away. We may know deep down that Scripture teaches such an action or belief is wrong, but we’re pretty good at either ignoring that reality or finding some way to convince ourselves it’s simply not so. Oftentimes we compound that mistake by speaking harshly against the specks in the eyes of others in order to take the focus away from the log we’ve grown comfortable with carrying around in our own lives (Matthew 7:1–5). Such a path can only hurt our witness and our relationship with the Lord, but far too often we walk it gladly.
C.S. Lewis once remarked “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different.” One of the greatest problems facing our church is an unwillingness to look back and honestly assess how far we’ve drifted from the foundation of God’s word. Day by day, our beliefs and practices look much the same, but the truth is that every time we choose relevance over truth or the easy path over the one God has set before us, we lose just a tiny bit more of ourselves to the enemy’s delight and our Lord’s disappointment.
We don’t have to look far to see where this destructive path will lead, but the choice is ours whether or not we will continue to follow it. So choose this day whether you will serve the gods of culture or the God of truth (John 14:6), and then know that it’s a choice you’ll have to make every day between now and eternity. Choose wisely.