Religion & Beliefs

10 Things We Can Learn From Evangelical Christians

I live in the Bible Belt, so I know a thing-or-two (or twelve) about the Religious Right in this country. The one thing I know for sure: they are smart as shit. Am I saying that I want to leave … Read More

By / August 12, 2009

I live in the Bible Belt, so I know a thing-or-two (or twelve) about the Religious Right in this country. The one thing I know for sure: they are smart as shit.

Am I saying that I want to leave the Chosen People for Protestant Paradise? Fuck no! But I do have to give credit where credit is due.

See, the Evangelicals in this country are amazing communicators, sales people, networkers. All the things that Jews pride themselves on being, Christians have managed to do, times one-thousand. And it’s time that we learned the secrets of the Christian world, in order to better improve things for our slice of society.

What I have done is laid out ten things that I watch my Evangelical neighbors do, that I feel would strengthen the Jewish community. Call it, "Habits of Highly Effective Hebrews."

FreeBreakfast: if you want to see the smartest Christian ministry inthe world, visit The site of The Courageous Church (an urban, contemporary evangelical ministry),"Free Breakfast Church" offers free breakfast every Sunday, open to the public. You are invited afterwards to attend services, but are not compelled. It’s better than one of those Timeshare Condo deals! And it works. The church is growing like a wildfire. 

The funny part is, they stole this from the Jewish tradition; oneg is an important part of the Shabbat ritual. So why not take the oneg concept, and flip it on its head. "Free Dinner Synagogue" could open up the floodgates to new people taking part in the Jewish experience. To stay in accordance with kashrut, meals would be vegetarian…or better yet…vegan! A Kabbalat Shabbat with vegandinner would be huge in metropolitan areas!

Having Some Fucking Pride: an annoying thing about the Christian Evangelicals: they’re just so full of themselves. And damn right for it. They think they have the monopoly on the afterlife. Wouldn’t that make you feel proud, too?

Jewish pride is a strange thing. We’re proud about surviving Hitler and our kugel recipes, but you never see Jews openly talking about the transformative experience of lighting a menorah or watching your child’s bar/bat mitzvah. Christians will go on for hours about how great Jesus has been in their lives. Jews  will go on for hours about how they saved money on their car insurance. The bottom line is that we need to make Jewish spirituality so magical that it makes you bust apart at the seams.

Make Denominations Irrelevant: luckily this is already happening,although the different "brain trusts" in the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and Reconstructionist movements are trying their best to combat it. The Evangelical movement is decentralized,yet they talk about "The Church" as if all Christians, regardless if they go to Faith Harvest Ministry or Harvesting Faith Ministry, are a part of one body. 

Jews tend to pick their shul based on family background, location, whether ornot they feel like they "fit in" with the congregation andif the synagogue addresses their issues the way they want them to. But in reality, the distinction between Conservative and Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal is blurred beyond belief. This will help us a lot by getting more Jews involved in fewer congregations. This concentration of power, with the right tools and leadership, could create a Jewish Spiritual Renaissance. 

Getting Involved: it’s all about Tikkun Olam, baby! The problem is, when we try to repair the world "Jewishly", our Jewishness tends to overshadow the good we are trying to do. Saving Darfur is great, but relying on Holocaust guilt and the local Jewish Museum to help is not the way to do it. And come one, people, not everything has to dowith Israel or Zionism!

If you look at Christian ministries that work in social activism, the heart of "why" they do it is the love of G_d. When you look atwhy Jews do social activism, it seems to be less invigorated. We dothings because its "the right thing to do" but this doesn’t have the spiritual power that it needs to convey the importance of the mission. Instead of saying, "Jews believe in Tikkun Olam, so we started an anti-hunger program, hope you like it", Jews should say, "G_d commands us to feed every poor person in the world. By donating to the food bank, you are doing G_d’s will on Earth. Would you like to be a part of G_d’s plan?"

Reaching Out To Young People: Christian Hardcore was the best thing that happened to the Christian community in the past twenty years. And they capitalized on it: Christian record labels, the Christian version of Youtube, Rock For Life rallies. This is all an effort to bring people to Jesus through a medium that works.

Jews could do this. Websites like break the mold of Judaism by injecting youth culture into Jewish tradition, in a spiritually positive way. I hope that the lyrics I write in my band Can!!Can do the same. JDub Records is another great leader, introducing the worldto new artists that give a pro-spirituality spin to the otherwise secular Jewish world.

The key to reaching young people is to not have an agenda, speak their language, and be honest. Church basement shows do not involve preaching,tattoos and piercings are welcome and the music is good. Sure, limits are placed on drinking/smoking/violence/foul language, but other than that, it’s a free for all. There’s no reason why synagogues couldn’t do the same thing.

Create New Traditions: this is something that I’ve seen the Evangelical World do, really well. Ever heard about "Hell Houses", the Evangelical version of a haunted house which literally scares-the-devil-out-of-you? Or what about Promise Rings and Abstinence Pledges? These are all the new traditions of the Christian faith, and Jews could do the same thing. And in fact, some already do.

I love the line, "the spirit of our tradition is innovation." I stole that from Rabbi Josh Lesser, the openly gay rabbi at Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta. Rabbi Josh has done some cool stuff over his ten-year tenure at CBH, including the Mount Sinai Mountain of Ice Cream on Shavuot and the free-form Passover Seder, where the entire congregation was asked to shout out the Passover story, in any order they chose with Rabbi Josh simply connecting-the-dots to create a linear tale. This guy is a great example of creating your own tradition, when there isn’t one already there.

Reach Out To People: Jews have this bizarre "if we build it, they will come" attitude about houses of prayer. We somehow think that if we create a congregation and let Jews know about it, that people will naturally come in. Once we have them in, we just worry about keeping them there. 

Christians see it differently. They see any opportunity to get-the-word-out about their church as some kind of divine mandate. When I go to the county fair, I’m surrounded by church booth after church booth, many of the same Southern-Bapti-Costal blood. But they push and push to make themselves known.

Jews, traditionally, don’t care. We get some families together, pool somemoney together for siddur and oneg, and hope to one day have a building with a bitchin’ Judaica giftshop and day care center.

If we really cared about what we are doing, we’d get out there more! So many secular, atheist and unaffiliated Jews would have interest in what your synagogue had to offer, if only you would throw them a rope. People don’t often go "searching" for a spiritual home. Often, it takes a caring person to bring them in.

So myquestion to you is, which of these habits are you going to pick up?