The Arrogance of Everyday Evangelical Anti-Semitism
Marion D. Aldridge
The most obvious examples of intolerance in contemporary America are the obnoxious bigotry of the Westboro Baptist Church (of “God Hates Jews and Fags” fame) and the hate-filled prejudice of other white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups. Fear, paranoia, and clannishness are the usual culprits, resulting in a worldview of Us versus Them.
Such hostility has been largely outside my ecclesiastical sphere, except when I see it on television. Though I’ve been to thousands of Christian meetings over my seventy years, I’m grateful I have no memory of hearing overt anti-Jewish political propaganda at any of them. I read about obsessed fanatics and the events in which they’re involved only when they emerge from the dark corners of humanity, committing some newsworthy atrocity against their neighbors.
Anxious, angry individuals, not part of any organized movement, also qualify as xenophobic and anti-Semitic. Hidden from public view, these shriveled spirits go unnoticed until they write anonymous letters to say something like, “Your type doesn’t belong in our club.”
Unfortunately, however, there is a subtler path that results in anti-Semitism, one not based on fear or paranoia, but on theological arrogance. It is created from the cavalier assumption that all Jews (as well as all Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims) who have not converted to Christianity are going to spend an eternity tortured by their Creator in a horrifying hell.
This is fundamental to the theology of many evangelical Christians. They thoughtlessly accept this belief as temporarily harmless dogma concerning a far away future. This doctrine, however, is a social malignancy, a casual contempt for our neighbors who do not share our faith. It is not a benign belief when a segment of the population contends that God condemns all Jews or Muslims, casting them into eternal torment because they are not “saved.”
Many of those same individuals will read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl or Elie Wiesel’s Night, and be appalled that such events actually happened. They may visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and genuinely be moved by the displays there, finding it beyond comprehension that six million Jews were slaughtered during the reign of Nazi Germany.
Then they return, time and time again, to a hostile, hellish, and humanity-diminishing theology.
A survivor from a Nazi death camp may have visited their classroom when they were studying World War II. They were sickened by what they heard. Maybe they listened to the horror stories and saw the videos from the liberators of the concentration camps. They would quickly disavow any relationship of their Christian faith to such cruelties.
Yet they slip back into the habit of accepting, never challenging, the cruel, deadly doctrines concerning the perpetual punishment of Jews they were taught as children.
Some well-traveled Christians have visited the sites where the terrible events of the Holocaust occurred—Buchenwald, Auschwitz, or Dachau. There are no words to describe what they saw there. They returned home and mentioned the experience to their friends when they attended church the next Sunday. They might have even felt uneasy when the preacher insisted that everyone who is not a born again Christian is going to hell.
But their brutal theology never wavered. They had been taught, and so they believed, that Jews were not destined for heaven. They may remember that over half their scripture consists of the Hebrew Bible—from Genesis through Malachi. They may feel slightly uncomfortable when they realize there would be no Christianity unless there had first been Judaism. It might dawn on them that not only are Abraham, Sarah, Moses, and Miriam Hebrews, but so also are Mary, Paul, and Jesus.
Nevertheless, they compartmentalize their lives—Jews (Them) over there and Christians (Us) over here.
Some Christians build sophisticated theological arguments around acknowledging Jews were God’s first “chosen” people. But, according to their worldview, Christians are now God’s favorites. The bottom line is that those who are not selected for inclusion as full partners into God’s Kingdom are secondary, not valued, worth less.
That sounds like the dictionary definition of anti-Semitism.
Making decisions about the eternal destiny of other people is above my pay grade.
What can I do?
“[God] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6: 8 NRSV)
(First published in the Holocaust Remembered supplement to The State Newspaper, April 6, 2018.)