Handling the Christian Seder Controversy as a Christian
Christian Seders are usually hosted with good intentions, but many find them culturally insensitive.
As more and more churches began hosting Christian seders, many Jewish people and their allies criticized this practice. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg called Christian Seders “appropriationistic, problematic, and also not historically accurate” on Twitter in 2019. Although Ruttenberg has no issue with Christians going to Jewish Seders, especially when invited to do so, the rabbi sees Christian Seders as a way to make Jewish people seem like relics of the past rather than people who coexist in the same spaces and in the same timeline.
Some Jewish people find themselves agreeing that Christian seders appropriate their traditions, but others disagree and have even attended Christian seders themselves. Rabbi Ben Greenfield argued in 2021 that borrowing from Jewish tradition for Christian purposes is a form of appreciation and acknowledgement of this faith’s history. Greenfield even went on to say that Passover traditions were borrowed from Greek culture at the time. While these controversial feasts take place, many people wonder who got the idea to Christianize seders and how they got popularzied in the first place.
Christian seders have become more popular and more known in recent years, but have been hosted for decades. Their exact origins of Christian Seders are difficult to pinpoint, but some sources have speculated that they started sometime after World War II. A 1964 example from The Living Church offers text for attendees to follow the progression of the service. Reverend Lisle B. Caldwell hosted this event intending to both honor Christian tradition and promote awareness of shared Jewish and Christian history. These services do not typically aim to replicate Jewish seders, but instead draw upon Jewish tradition to spread a Christian message.
Regardless of the nebulous origins of Christian seders, many Christians, like their Jewish counterparts, have their own opinions on the use of the Seder in this manner. One Episcopalian bishop, Deon Johnson, prohibited his diocese from hosting Christian Seders. In his open letter, the bishop saw Christian Seders as a form of supersessionism, a Christian doctrine in which Christianity is a fulfillment of Biblical Judaism. He went on to say that Christian Seders “objectify our Jewish neighbors” as well.
As a Christian myself, I personally wouldn’t partake in a Christian Seder. For one thing, most online voices, both Jewish and Christian, seem to be against Christian Seders. It also makes me uncomfortable think about how many Christians would take part in these events one day while doing nothing to combat antisemitism the next. With that said, I do not wish to speak over or minimize the Jewish people who are fine with Christian Seders. Rather, I want my fellow Christians to listen to be more mindful of the potential impact when borrowing from non-Christian traditions.