Thursday, August 25, 2005

They'll know we're Christians by our...hmmm....

If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't think any oil shipments will stop.
(the now-infamous comments from pseudo-Christian Pat Robertson calling for the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (spoken by the guy Robertson is supposed to be following, in John 13:34-35, NIV)

When will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

(the chorus from the folk song, "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?")
The word on the news is that the media misconstrued what you said, Pat. Yeah...it sure sounds like folks misconstrued your statement. After all, you were pretty ambiguous there, buddy. If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.

The good news is, you now have a lot more in common with former president Bill Clinton tonight than you ever did, Pat ol' boy...because now you are both debating the definition of what "it" is. There's some real irony in that...

All in all, it's just another brick in the wall, I guess. Over the weekend, my good friend Tom S. was waxing somewhere between philosophical and opinionated about the way Christians have either actively persecuted the Jews, or looked blindly aside as Jews were being persecuted or murdered. Even in his small-town-Wisconsin upbringing, there were enough hurtful memories to rouse an impassioned response, decades later. Then he caught me a little slack-jawed when he said something to the effect of, "I sleep with one eye open around Christians."

I don't know if my face said it, but my very first thought was, "I'm a Christian...do you feel that way about me?" Then I thought, "As a matter of fact, your partner is a Christian, many of your good friends are Christians..." Then I thought, "Well, that depends on what you call Christian, doesn't it?"

Many times, I've wanted to say to people, "Yes, I'm a Christian - but not like them." Tom and I have had this same kind of discussion about Lutherans, and Luther - how at the end of his life, Luther wrote some hideously bitter, vitriolic crap about Jews being "the Christ-killers" (which he did, sadly) which was later used by Hitler as justification for turning millions of Jews into air pollution. And, of course, the majority of the Lutheran church (and Catholics, and the whole of Christianity except for bold saints like Dietrich Bonhoeffer) stood silent as it happened.

It's at times like this that I've wished that there was a way that the 90% of Luther's theology that focused on justification by grace could be preached (and lived) while actively denouncing the tragic anti-Semitism that colored the last years of a triumphal life. I hope that's what I'm living - but evidently it doesn't show.

And of course, Tom sees the loving, caring, accepting way that 95% of the Christian church reacts to gays, and justifiably sees his Jewish history happening to him all over again. The voices of evil are very loud - especially in the church - and the voices of good are ever so soft. I can't remember who said it, but it's true: The only way for evil to triumph is for good to be silent.

On another front, the 50th anniversary of the August 28, 1955 murder of Emmett Till has been in the news here lately. Emmett Till was a former Chicago resident, and much of his family was still here, though he was living in Mississippi when he was kidnapped and brutally murdered by racists. The trial and acquittal of the accused murderers galvanized the Civil Rights Movement and forever changed American society. In the Chicago media lately, there has been this same kind of very justified talk among the black community: "They did it to Emmett...they've done it to lots of us...and if they get the chance, they'll do it to us again." They see the collapse of the institutions which fought for civil rights, the erosion of the government policies designed to protect those rights, and they wait for the white men to come. And I, as a white man, become one of "them" by default.

Over the years, I've had friends. Some have been Jews, some have been Catholics, Protestants, straight, gay, black, Hispanic...it hasn't mattered. No matter the social gaffes I've made, the innate prejudices and attitudes that I've been raised with, I was always raised to accept people on their actions, not their appearance - and I was never raised to hate anyone. So it smarts (more than a little) to be tarred with the same brush as racists, anti-Semites, and gay-bashers.

I deplore violence; very early on, I fell in love with Isaac Asimov's great line, "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." But because I'm white, male, and believe in Christ, there is the assumption that I'm part of the ones who will be coming for the Jews, the blacks, the gays, the women, the underprivileged and the powerless (or I'll stand aside while others do the dirty work) - because that's what white Christian men have always done.

So the sin of guilt by association goes on. I guess I was a little hurt by Tom's comment on Saturday - but after some reflection, I can see how he (and a lot of folks) justifiably feel that way. I shouldn't be surprised when people who supposedly know me can look past my present actions and see a long history of injustice, abuse and violence, and "sleep with one eye open."

I just wish there was a way to denote follower of Christ* or white* or male* or American* that carries the asterisked footnote, "...but not like them." I guess the old song is really true, in the end - only way they'll be able to see the true Christians is by our love.

God, let me show that love today - let my actions speak louder than other people's preconceptions.

14 comments:

hazelorbs said...

i hear ya...my soul friend who has some close gay friends has experienced this. they always are wary and shocked to know that she is a christian because she accepts them and loves them regardless of their sexual orientation. they expect her to treat them like they have a disease. instead, she spends time with them...laughs and cries with them. they see a genuine difference in her and in turn, have come to feel some of god's real love. it's amazing....and sad that those who are "real" get lumped with the "righteous do-gooders" who judge and hate "in the name of Christ." hopefully, people will see our true selves...followers of god's pure love in spite of the crowd of hypocritical christians.

Michael said...

Because I am reading several books and researching sites online for work, I don't know where I saw this, but I think it addresses some of your points. The author (whoever, sorry!) was asked by a Middle Eastern Muslim, "Are you Christian?" The author -- assuming the man did not know English well enough to ask "Are you a Christian?" but that that was what he meant -- replied, "Yes." Later he got to wondering though. I am a Christian [noun]. But am I Christian [adjective] in my behavior, words, omissions, etc? A question most of us need to ask.

I said elsewhere recently that we need to describe ourselves rather than define ourselves. "I am a Christian" (for that matter, "I am a gay man") may fall too easily into the category of potentially misleading definitions. More accurate might be to say, "I live thus and so, according to the Word of God as best I understand that Word. I do this, I do not do that."

If I advocate political assassination -- murder --, no matter how I define myself, that advocacy is not Christian. When a Doctor of the Church like John Chrysostom says that synagogues are whorehouses, that statement does not become Christian, much less doctrine, because the person who said it was a Christian theologian bishop. It is non-Christian. At the same time, because it masquerades as Christian, Christians have a responsibility to disavow it immediately and forcefully. By failing to do so, we lend silent assent to the damage it does.

The rapid rejection of Pat Robertson's remarks by Christians was the appropriate and timely one. How sad that we let so many other outrageous and non-Christian remarks by Christian "leaders" go unchallenged!

Steve F. said...

OK, in just a few hours I had to clean a BUNCH of comment-spam off here. If anyone has a clue about how to prevent this nonsense, please email me.

I just don't have enough people readin' this stuff to draw these kinds of flies...oh, well, can't take it personal, eh?...

Syncretist said...

Brother Roger: May he bless us all from the ring of Saints seated around the Father. I never met him but made a retreat in his grace-filled monastery at Taize France in 1965.

Francis George,OMI: May The Father of us all guide him out of fear and rigidity. He belongs to the religious order I chose to leave in 1975.

My young friend, the Father has gotten a hold on you and will not let you go.

Allison said...

It's not my favorite option, but you can remove the anonymous setting from comment posts, and most spammers won't bother. Unfortunately, that also means that for non-Blogger people like me, instead of directing people straight to my blog, they'll go first to my blogger profile (and I'd have to add a link there).

I completely agree with you on Robertson. What the hell was he thinking?

Natala said...

i too have no idea what he was thinking...

and spam - i've had soo much trouble with it - they are getting so tricky...

Dave said...

Ww, I didn't know anything about that. I think I told you in a comment on another of your messages what he said in 1993 about the floods in central Missouri at that time. He's such a dip s%!t.
Personnaly, I think he's the anti-christ. Everyone else says Bill gates but I'mm thinking ol' Pat. He fit s the bill much better. I'm doing a great deal today to embrace my Christianity but am also embarassed to tell anyone I'm a Christian. I glad to know others more seasoned have the same problem. Maybe I can be a little less embarassed now. :)

Steve F. said...

Maybe you can be a whole lot less embarassed now, Dave. The fact that you are "doing a great deal to embrace Christianity" is more than many so-called "Christians" are doing...

Damien, brother, thanks for the clue about the word-verification box. I hate to have to do it - but comment spammers are just plain annoying. Hopefully that will be the end of that for a while...

Tom Scharbach said...

"Tom and I have had this same kind of discussion about Lutherans, and Luther - how at the end of his life, Luther wrote some hideously bitter, vitriolic crap about Jews being "the Christ-killers" (which he did, sadly) which was later used by Hitler as justification for turning millions of Jews into air pollution. And, of course, the majority of the Lutheran church (and Catholics, and the whole of Christianity except for bold saints like Dietrich Bonhoeffer) stood silent as it happened."

The middle is missing here, Steve, and the "missing middle" is the reason why I keep one eye open when I'm around Christians.

Although the Holocaust was driven by evil outside the Christian movement, without the long history of Christian anti-Judaism and Christian violence against Jews -- specifically, in the case of Germany, Catholic and Lutheran anti-Judaism and violence against Jews, officially sanctioned, Nazi ideology with respect to the Jews could not have taken hold nor could it have been carried out.

As you note, almost all Christians in Europe during the Holocaust remained silent. And too many Christians participated in, or were sympathetic to, Nazi atrocities against Jews.

The Holocaust could have happened had the soil not been well tilled by a millennia of anti-Judaic teaching by Christians in Europe, Catholic and Lutheran alike. Europeans were conditioned for the Holocaust by centuries of anti-Judaic theology, teaching and practice. Christian theology, teaching and practice were a contributing factor -- not the direct cause, but a significant contributing factor -- in the Holocaust.

The "missing middle" is an acknowledgement and examination of this history by Christians, collectively. Christian statements to date, by and large, opt out of the "missing middle" along one of three paths.

The first path is the "mistakes were made" path, an acknowledgement that Christian history includes statements like Luther's (among them, "Letters to Splatin", 1517, and the infamous "On the Jews and Their Lies", 1543), and that the statements were mistaken, but without acknowledgement or examination of the fact that such statements (1) were part of a body of ancient and medieval anti-Judaism, reflecting the standard teaching of the time, and (2) were influential in shaping the attitudes of European Christians toward the Jews during that period and into modern times.

The second path is the "a few individuals" path, an acknowledgement that Christian history includes numerous examples of oppression and violence against the Jews, but without an acknowledgement that Christians, including Popes, bishops and religious leaders like Luther, were speaking with an official voice for the Christian bodies that they headed up. In the Catholic tradition, this denial takes the form of "sinless Church, sinful members", and in the Protestant tradition, this denial takes the form of "each alone before God", as I understand it, an unwillingness to acknowledge that there is and official canon of teaching.

The third path is the "that was a long time ago" path, an acknowledgement that Christian history includes virulent anti-Judaism, in theology, teaching and practice, but which asserts that those days are ancient history and no longer reflect Christian theology, teaching and practice. Maybe that is true -- I hope so, certainly -- but I think that it is important to keep two things in mind.

The first is that a "long time ago" wasn't all that long ago. I can remember the echoes of that theology, teaching and practice within my own lifetime (find out when your denomination formally changed the teaching that Jews were responsible for the death of Christ -- the Catholic teaching did not formally change until the 1960's). You may be too young, but I am not.

The second is that whatever the teaching of various Christian denominations may be with respect to Jews and Judaism in the modern day, Christian anti-Judaism took root in the Christian tradition because of underlying theological factors, just as Nazism's atrocities took hold in Europe because the soil had been tilled for that phenomenon. Christians need to look at the theological underpinnings of Christian religious culture -- exclusivity, triumphalism, supercessionism and the like -- because the underpinnings of anti-Judaism are also the underpinnings of a Christian tendency toward the "anti-" -- the current demonization of gays and Muslims, for example, by so many Christians.

The crux of the matter is that each of the paths by which Christians avoid the "missing middle", individually and taken together, are roadblocks to serious examination of Christian history by Christians. None answers the core question that the Holocaust presents to Christians: "How did it happen in Europe, the center of Christianity, and what did Christian theology, teaching and practice contribute to it?"

It is axiomatic that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it, and that is why I keep one eye open around Christians. Unless and until Christians look hard and long at their own history of anti-Judaism, reflectively and collectively, I do not have reason to believe that Christians have uprooted the sickness.

"And of course, Tom sees the loving, caring, accepting way that 95% of the Christian church reacts to gays, and justifiably sees his Jewish history happening to him all over again."

I might be forgiven for saying, "again, and again and again", to paraphrase FDR. Christians have a long history of demonizing peoples and ideologies that stand in opposition to Christianity. Secularists, gays/lesbians and Muslims are, I guess, the current targets of demonization, but the targets shift over time. The constant is demonization, and Christians will not cure themselves, rid themselves of their soul-sickness, unless and until Christians look into their history -- and theology, teaching and practice -- deeply enough to find out what underlies their history of demonization.

And that, too, is something that bears keeping an eye open over ...

Steve F. said...

Tom, I'm grateful for your comments. As always, they are deeply reasoned and well supported by your knowledge of history and theology. To what you've written, I'd say "Amen, and ever amen."

If there's one point I'd emphasize, it would be that "Christians have a long history of demonizing peoples and ideologies that stand in opposition to Christianity." And you mention the causes earlier in your comment - the theological underpinnings of Christian religious culture -- exclusivity, triumphalism, supercessionism and the like. Resistance to those things are what is missing in so many contemporary Christian educations today. That's one of the reasons I've always been troubled by the Left Behind series, and why I'm enjoying the copy of The Rapture Exposed that your partner shared with me.

It's just a wee bit annoying to be tarred with the same brush, I guess. When it happens, it's not surprising, or unexpected - but there are days when it gets tiring to always have to prove that I'm not one of the ignorant, racist, chauvinist, heterosexist, violent bastards. I'm not saying I'm not without prejudice or cultural bias (I'm pompous and grandiose, but not THAT pompous and grandiose). I just hate the assumption that I am guilty of all those things, until proven innocent.

Tom Scharbach said...

"It's just a wee bit annoying to be tarred with the same brush, I guess.

"I keep one eye open around Christians ..."

I am not, by saying that, suggesting that you, any other individual Christian, any particular Christian denomination, or even Christians in general, are, at this point in Christian history, actively anti-Judaic or even anti-Semitic (the two are, in origin and nature, distinct).

What I am saying is this: Christians, singly and collectively, have the potential -- a real, not theoretical, potential -- to repeat their own history with respect to Jews and Judaism.

The reason that they have the potential is that (1) anti-Judaism is a significant factor in Christian history, (2) the history of Christian anti-Judaism and the effects of that history on Christians and the larger "Christian society" is unexamined and unowned by Christians, for the most part, and in many cases, denied or evaded, and (3) because Christians do not own their history -- know it and accept its reality -- Christians have few tools at hand to see the warning signs, to sense when they are headed for the ditch, before they fall back into darkness. Because Christians aren't well equipped to understand their own past, present or future in this regard, Christians bear watching, and I watch them. So do a lot of other people.

We keep one eye open ... but that is not to "tar" indiscriminately. It is to make the statement that Christians have, in the past, singly and collectively, done immense harm to Jews, and may well do so in the future, the best of intentions aside. To keep one eye open is to be watchful and alert to danger, a danger that has ebbed and flowed, historically throughout Christian history, in periodic cycles. I hope that the pattern is broken, now that Christian Europe has descended into evil and emerged, but I have no way of knowing, and I do not see the signs in most Christian denominations that would assure me that Christians have removed the danger of a new cycle.

Christians have it in their power to remove the danger. Christians can, if they choose, use the Holocaust and Christian contribution to the Holocaust, as a "defining moment", a window into a sickness that existed -- and, I suspect, continues to exist -- within Christian theology, teaching and practice. The danger is present, and only Christians can remove the danger. The only thing non-Christians can do is to wait, keep a watchful eye, and raise the alarm whenever and wherever that history begins to repeat itself, whether with respect to Jews or others.

However, and this needs to be said to bring us full circle, I cannot and will not deny the reality that some Christians and Christian denominations are and will continue to be actively anti-Judaic in theology, teaching and practice.

A couple examples from among many:

(1) The Reverend Bailey Smith, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, a large Christian denomination in our country, opined in 1980: "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew." Smith later enlarged on this comment by saying: "I am pro-Jew…I believe they are God's special people, but without Jesus Christ, they are lost." Reverend Smith's theology is rooted in Christian supercessionism, a theology shared by many Christian denominations.

(2) I see a significant body of Christians espousing a theology of end times that posits that the Jewish people will be the trigger-point for end times. Evangelical Christians, for the most part, ascribe to this theology, and it plays out in "support" for the people of Israel. But it is a false support, a manipulative support, because it plays the Jewish people as pawns in a Christian game.

I do not have to scratch the surface much to find deep and virulent resentment among many Christians about our country's "decline in morality", the entertainment industry, our mainstream newspapers, the ACLU and similar groups and movements, and to find, lurking beneath the "politically correct" surface of that resentment (secularists, gays/lesbians) to find deep and virulent anti-Semitism of the modern variety. While distinct from anti-Judaism, anti-Semitism is alive and well in our country, burbling away about an inch below the surface. You know it, and I do, too.

I believe that there is an intersection between Christian anti-Judaism and cultural anti-Semitism. I might be right about that, or I might be wrong, I guess, but it seems self-evident to me that anti-Judaism tills the soil for anti-Semitism. And that gives me reason to be watchful of Christians.

So back, for a second, to your comment "It's just a wee bit annoying to be tarred with the same brush, I guess." What you are feeling might have to do more be your own sensitivity as it does with what I said the other night and am saying now.

I have not, over the two years I've known you, heard you utter an anti-Judaic or anti-Semitic remark, as I have not heard you utter an gay-bashing remark, for that matter. If anything, you take the other tack, and actively denounce anti-Judaism and gay-bashing when you hear or see it. Not as loudly, sometimes, as you might, but inevitably and consistently. And that's to be commended.

But we are "tarred", to some extent, by the company we keep. I am Roman Catholic, and because I am Roman Catholic, I have to carry the baggage of the Catholic Church's anti-Judaism, and all that it entails, including but not limited to the role it played in bringing about the Holocaust. Similarly, I have to carry the baggage of the recent, virulent turn in Catholic statements about gays and lesbians, turning a once gay-accepting Church onto its head into an active enemy of gay and lesbian equality under civil law. I do, as you do, actively and vocally stand against both anti-Judaism and virulence toward gays and lesbians within my own tradition. But as long as I remain Roman Catholic, I am going to be "tarred", and that's a fact.

The real question, I guess, is not the company we keeps tends to get us "tarred with the same brush" -- it does -- but instead when our association with the company we keep moves into the realm of cooperating with evil.

I wonder about that question with respect to my continued membership in the Catholic Church, although I am "on sabbatical" because I cannot, in conscience, continue my former teaching ministry without actively cooperating the evil of the Church's current opposition to gay and lesbian equality under civil law. And, to some extent, I mitigate the problem by standing in vocal, public opposition to the Church and its teaching on the question.

But sooner or later, and it looks like it is sooner, I have to ask myself the question that Log Cabin Republicans must ask themselves -- even though I remain a member of the Catholic Church for reasons unrelated to its current and ugly teaching with respect to gays and lesbians, the fact that I am identified with the Church lends credence to the Church, despite my opposition. At what point does my membership constitute cooperation the the evil that the Church is perpetrating?

I don't have an answer. But the question needs constant examination and re-examination.

Stan F. said...

In a rare and exclusive interview with under-the-Radar.blogspot.com today, Jesus the Christ said that Pat Robertson was right to call for the assassination of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

"In fact, I told him to say it," Jesus said, smiling, "Pat would never tell anybody that. He likes to keep it a secret about how close we are."

But Jesus is speaking out about the relationship, even if Robertson never would. The Lord explained that in their daily conversations, he has been able talk with Robertson in a way he has been unable to with any other person in the last 2,000 years. "He really understands me. He does have ears to hear," Jesus said.

"We'll walk through the garden on Pat's mansion and just talk about all kinds of things. Some days I'll tell him the latest scheduled date of my return. Lately we've been talking a lot about the appointment of justices to your so-called Supreme Court. Then like the other day, we'll discuss who I want assassinated."

"There's a lot of give and take," Jesus said. "I'll suggest a despicable dictator, for example, but then Pat will remind me he has millions invested in the guy's government controlled business. So Pat will suggest somebody, and then we'll talk it over and make a decision together. I really value his opinion, but again, Pat's too humble to let anyone know that."

"Pat's able to understand and even trust me like few others. I've been able to teach my good friend that what so many people believe are my words in the Bible aren't really mine at all," Jesus said. "He knows what I truly truly said."

"People don't realize that your Scriptures went through so many editors," Jesus said. He leaned forward in his seat and added with obvious irritation, "The whole process became like a bad game of post office. I said one thing, and by the time those folks were done, I had been seriously misquoted."

"Take my Sermon on the Mount for example," Jesus said. "Matthew supposedly quoted me as saying, 'love your enemies.' Who in God's name would think I'd ever say something like that!"

"What I preached to the guys - and I mean I was preaching - 'You have heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say, don't just hate them. Get a group of your beer buddies together, kidnap your enemy under the cover of darkness and then crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!'"

"But somehow that all got twisted."

Innocent translation errors have not been the only problem in getting Jesus' real message across, he said. "There were other times when people just didn't like what I had to say and thought they knew so much better than me. You remember Peter and what a pain in the -- well I can't say it because I am Jesus after all - but you remember how he was one. Anyway, they deliberately misquoted me."

Jesus stated Mark changed his words when the Gospel writer set pen to papyrus. "That part about loving your neighbors as yourself - well, he didn't include the whole quote."

The Lord went on to explain, "What I said was 'Love your neighbor as yourself - except when your neighbor lives in a way that irritates you or says bad things about you. When that happens, get some of your beer-drinking buddies together, kidnap your neighbor under the cover of darkness and then crucify him! Crucify him! Crucify him!'"

"But Peter told Mark to change that part because it seemed so un-Messiah like," Jesus added. "Then when Matthew and Luke got lazy and copied off Mark, people took it for the Gospel truth, like it was even my personal creed or something."

"When I pointed this out to Pat, he was able to understand why I wanted Chavez assassinated," Jesus said. "I love your country far more than any other on the earth. When I saw you letting that little Venezuelan dog sneer at you like that and jacking up his oil prices, I knew I couldn't let him mock my beloved like that. He had to die."

The Son of God went on to say how frustrated he was at the attacks by the liberal media on Robertson, a one-time presidential candidate for what Jesus referred to as "God's Own Party." He added, "I mean I picked him myself, but like always, the press refused to believe and just laughed at him."

Jesus also expressed his anger that "The media really fried Pat over his comments about 9-11. Remember how he said the terrorists were instruments of my dad's judgment because of all the feminists and homosexuals running freely through your country? Well who do you think told him to say that?"

"Don't they know that when they persecute one of my followers they persecute me?"

Jesus revealed for the first time that it was the media's treatment of Robertson that led to the creation of the FOX network news channel. "Dad said he was mad as hell, and he wasn't going to take it anymore," Jesus explained. "So he told the Holy Spirit to create a fair and balanced news station. With a breath of hot air there was FOX, and dad saw that it was good."

Jesus quickly ended the interview saying he didn't want to be late for his walk with Robertson because it frustrated the televangelist. "He has such a hold over me," Jesus said.

As he left, Jesus stopped at the door, turned and faced this reporter and said with a mischievous grin, "Wait until you hear what I tell him to say today."

Poor Mad Peter said...

This is a great thread--I've learned much.

Judaism, Christianity and multi-faith relations are much on my mind right now, because yesterday, after many delays, we hosted soferet Aviel Rothschild and her husband Joel, both Orthodox Jews who were speeding on their way to Winnipeg to arrive in time for Shabbat services. Aviel is one of the very few women Scribes (soferim) in recorded Judaic history and is creating a Torah copy for a Seattle synagogue.

It was a wonderful visit, altogether too short, but promises friendship. The glow of that visit is still with us, the next morning.

My wife Joyce is a minister of the United Church of Canada, and I am actively involved in our congregation, Westminster United Church. Both our Christologies (how we see the "Christ") are on the low side (Jesus is Rabbi, not God), and while I do not any longer call myself Christian on that account, my wife still labels herself so.

Where I'm going with all this is that our particular theological/christological positions do not insulate us from the history of Christianity or the faith's genocidal, murderous history. As Tom correctly pointed out, much of the theological underpinnings of both anti-Semitism and other Hate-based actions are alive and kicking, and i would say that Jews are right to keep one eye open around Christians; I would add that Biblical literalists are probably more dangerous than the rest of us, but I wouldn't close that eye in any case, Tom. I am sorry to have to say this, but I endorse Tom's position as an unfortunately prudent one to take.

Whether we call ourselves Christians or not, we need to face what's there in Scriptures and in our history and define for ourselves a non-toxic faith stance.

Don't nobody hold their breath...

Tom Scharbach said...

Poor Mad Peter: "I would add that Biblical literalists are probably more dangerous than the rest of us, but I wouldn't close that eye in any case, Tom."

I think that the experience of Christians in Europe demonstrates the banality of evil. The Christians who acquiesed in the Holocaust were mainstream Catholics and Lutherans, not members of cult groups. Hatred of Jews was almost certainly not the driving factor -- none of these people was raised to hate Jews, but they were raised to see Jews as something "other", something lesser than Christians.

I think, though, that it is important to keep in mind that we are speaking of the good, sober citizens, and good solid Christians, for the most part, living in what was, at the time, the European country that had most thoroughly assimilated the Jews as citizens. Germany was not England, where non-religious anti-Semitism was relatively open, or Poland, where the Jews were kept apart in ghettos in many cities, or France, where the Dreyfus affair continued to drive anti-Jewish sentiment, but Germany, the most benign nation in Europe at the time.

But, even so -- and this is what makes the thing so baffling -- these good, sober, solid German Christians from mainstream Christian denominations stood aside, without protest or even, apparently, much thought at all, while neighbors were "disappeared" into "work camps" over the course of a decade, cooperating in a great evil, allowing that evil to take root and play out.

The whole thing has the flavor of boiling a frog -- if you put a frog in cold water and simmer it, eventually the water will boil and the frog will not even notice that it is being cooked. It has the flavor of the experience of combat soldiers, too -- after you've seen enough bodies, you can walk right over a dead human body without any more feeling that you might feel for a dead deer carcass.

I wonder if, similarly, the long, constant, steady exposure to ordinary, routine Christian anti-Judaism desensitized German Christians to the horror that was right in front of their eyes.

I suspect that Catholic and Lutheran anti-Judaism led German Christians to see Jews as "other", a lesser form of human -- Judensau, to borrow from the religious imagery that was popular from the 13th Century onward and borrowed by the Nazis -- and that anti-Judaism was, truth be told, not only a contributing factor, but the primary contributing factor, to silence and acquiesence on the part of German Christians.

It is the banality -- the ordinariness -- of it all that is so striking to me -- the ordinariness of the Christians involved and the ordinariness of the constant, steady dripping of anti-Judaism that set the stage.

In a way, Peter, I have less to fear from the haters than I do from the good, solid, sober, ordinary Christians. I can confront the haters. But how do I confront the ordianry Christians, the good, solid, sober Christians? What are they doing but "going along", acquiesing to Christian teaching?

"Do you mean me? I'm not that way. I don't hate anyone. I'm not part of it."

Well, they weren't actively involved. But it is precisely because the good, solid, sober Christians don't think that inaction and silence made them part of it that allowed the evil to take root and become reality.

Moving this to another area, when I look at the relationship of Christian voices to the struggle for gay and lesbian equality in civil law, I see, as Steve noted in the blog itself, the "Judensau story" being played out in front of my eyes, this time with a different target.

The most extreme Christian voices -- extreme, but representing 75 million Christians in this country, if you add the Catholics and the Southern Baptists, so hardly a few haters on the fringes -- are portraying gays and lesbians as hedonistic, self-centered, destructive of marriage and family, a danger to children and all the rest. Other, more moderate Christian voices -- the "mainstream" Christians, so to speak -- are not depicting gays and lesbians in such starkly inaccurate terms, but are nonetheless resisting basic equality under civil law for gays and lesbians, declaring gays and lesbians too "other" to be considered for ministry on the same basis as straights, and so on.

And the ordinary Christians -- the good, solid, sober Christians in the pews -- are going along, not thinking too much about it, quietly, silently.

I am not, mind you, suggesting that the political situation in this country is anything like the political situation in German after Krystalnacht. After Lawrence, only a few are suggesting a return to sodomy laws and other coercive measures against gays and lesbians. But I am suggesting that I'm seeing a concerted, consistent and constant effort on the part of a large majority of Christians to portray gays and lesbians as "other", as "outside", and as "dangerous", and to deny gays and lesbians basic rights on an equal basis with straights.

At the heart of the effort is a string of lies about gays and lesbians. Gays and lesbians are defamed on a daily basis in our communities, by our political leaders, and in our churches.

Take me for an example. I am the father of four, and I raised those four plus another to successful adulthood, and yet I am portrayed by my own Catholic Church as having inflicted "spiritual violence" on my children, and by senior political leaders as being a danger to the children I raised. I am told that I am not fit to adopt children in several states, or to be a foster parent in others, even to the children who are tossed on the garbage heap by their upstanding, religious parents, tossed because the kids came out as teenagers. I am told that I am promiscuous and hedonistic, when I have had five sex partners in my entire life, far fewer than most straight men. I am told that when I seek exactly the same legal protections my straight neighbors have as a matter of course, I am seeking "special rights", as if holding a job or living in an apartment or buying a house is a "special right". A combat veteran, I was told that I was unfit for service at the time I served, and others, in combat as we speak, are told that if they do not hide the fact that they are gay, they will destroy the combat effectiveness of their units. I am told that I cannot marry at civil law because allowing me to do so will somehow destroy the "sanctity" of straight religious marriages, but I am never told why or how this is supposedly so, and I am told this, just to point out how insane this is, by Protestants who do not even understand religous marriage to be a sacrament. And on and on and on.

Lies, all of them. Lies spread, I might add, by Christians, unchallenged by any meaningful number of Christians, at least in public.

Think, for a moment, about what it means for gays and lesbians to listen to lies about themselves, their families and the lives they live, day in and day out.

And then think long and hard about what it means for straight men and women -- men and women of good heart and good intentions, but who don't know much about gays and lesbians, for the most part, and haven't had to think about gays and lesbians too much -- to hear those lies, day in and day out. How long will it be before the lies become truth?

Now, if Christians are not willing -- or maybe, blinded by the "Do you mean me? I'm not like them ..." response, and therefore unable -- to look at what happened in Germany -- examining how the frog got boiled -- what are the chances, do you suppose, that Christians will be able to see the danger signs of the present day?

What do you think are the chances that ordinary pew Christians will do what needs to be done, in their own churches, with respect to gay and lesbian efforts to obtain legal equality under civil law? What do you think the chances are that the bishops, ministers and lay leaders who spread the lies are going to be called on it, confronted, by the good, solid, sober Christians who make up the bulk of the membership?

I do not discount the possibility that this country could erupt into an orgy of anti-Semitism at any time. I don't think that it is probable, but I don't think it a remote possibility, either. Gays and lesbians are the current scapegoats, at least in public, but the anti-Semitism that was expressed in the infamous Nixon-Graham conversation that came to light a year or two ago still lurks in the tinder-pile and could be ignited by the right spark.

But I do see the same story being played out, now, with respect to gays and lesbians. The resentments and language are too similar for me not to see it, in a flash -- gays and lesbians have a "homosexual agenda", gays and lesbians have infiltrated themselves into positions of power and influence, particularly in the news and entertainment industries, gays and lesbians are trying to marginalize Christians and Christianity, and so on. It is exactly what was said thirty and forty years ago about Jews in America.

Well, enough said, I guess.