Blacks and Jews in the United States share a painful history.
As the descendants of slaves—Africans in the U.S. and Hebrews in Egypt — both groups faced persecution and prejudice. They fought alongside one another during the Civil Rights Movement, a struggle against oppression and for racial justice and dignity. Jews were members of and financially supported organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Urban League, and some were beaten and killed with black Americans during that turbulent time.
Some of the most well-known black leaders of the movement were Christians. The Civil Rights Movement had its beginnings in an appeal to Christian love and the universal brotherhood of men. The black church, as a source of strength and education, played an important role during that era. Churches in the black community were and in some cases still are centers of political activity.
During the “black power” movement of the late 1960s, however, relations between blacks and Jews deteriorated as tension crept in. Even today, this tension is evident. But what about black Christians? Do they believe Israel maintains the promises and blessings of the Abrahamic covenant?
Eric Redmond, a black Reformed pastor in Maryland, says he’s not as pro-Israel as some evangelical Christians seem to be, but he believes “there is a future for ethnic Israel.” He added: “Presently, political state-Israel is simply another political state that needs to work with other nations to live with some sense of peace in the Mid East and the broader world community. Present political-state Israel needs to see Palestinians as people with (God-given) human dignity.”
Glenn Plummet, pastor, co-chair and CEO of the Fellowship of Israel and Black America (FTBA), and founder of the Christian Television Network, seeks to reestablish and strengthen the connection between black Christians and Jews. He urges the two groups to “join hands in fellowship and friendship.”
The shared history of slavery between blacks and Jews is clearly revealed in song. According to FTBAs web site, many Negro spirituals came from Hebrew scriptures. Black Americans used phrases like “Crossing over Jordan,” “Heading toward the Promised Land,” and “Go Down, Moses” to parallel their exodus from slavery and legalized racial discrimination with the Jewish exodus.
There are two schools of thought on Israel’s role in God’s redemption plan. According to “replacement theology,” the Christian church has replaced Israel in God’s plan because of Israel’s rejection of Christ. They believe God’s promises to Israel will be fulfilled in the church. The other school holds that the church is separate and distinct from Israel. That is, the Jews are still considered God’s chosen people, and that Gentiles are spiritual heirs.
Romans 11 teaches that Gentiles are like ingrafted branches of an olive tree. The tree represents God’s covenants with Israel, and Gentiles share in the “nourishing sap” of the tree’s roots. But the Apostle Paul warns us not to boast.
“You do not support the root, but the root supports you… Do not be arrogant, but be afraid For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.”
Black Christian blogger Darnell McGavock doesn’t believe the Bible teaches replacement theology. He adds, bluntly: “While every Jew [who] refuses to accept Christ today will go straight to hell with all others who refuse Christ, God has promised men that one day he will again call them to Himself, and they will embrace Christ. There are Messianic Jews [in Israel] fighting the good fight of faith, and they need more of our support.”
God promised he would restore the Jews as a nation and that a remnant would be saved. Part of the restoration has taken place. Israel was declared an independent Jewish state in 1948. But the spiritual restoration is yet to come.
“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse,” God said to Abraham, “and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3) Black Christians, who once marched for freedom alongside Jews, ought to be at the forefront in blessing God’s chosen nation.
Whether physical slaves to human masters or spiritual slaves to sin, everyone needs to hear the Gospel to receive true freedom, found only in Christ. Black Christians, descendants of slaves and ingrafted branches on the olive tree, have a unique opportunity to bring this message to the Jews.
Originally published in the The Jerusalem Connection, January – February 2008
Photo credit: All rights reserved by Daniele Giovannoni