Take a deep breath everybody, because this one is a mess. And much like the responses to yesterday’s post about Hezbollah’s Death Shrine, in which the genuinely Islamophobic responses (really hateful stuff) are running neck and neck with dangerously apologetic excuse-making, this one is all about the deep currents of fear and resentment that run beneath so many people who happen to be of different faiths.

And if you want to see what I mean, just check out Steven Waldman’s post about Sarah Palin and the Jewish vote, and some of the comments posted there. Let me be clear, there is much about the Republican Vice Presidential nominee that disturbs me, but it has little to do with where she worships, and nothing at all to do with the fact that she listened, without objection (“horrors”, he said sarcastically), to a sermon by Jews for Jesus leader, David Brikner.
It’s probably true, as Steven points out, that this will scare some Jewish voters. But neither that fact, nor large chunks of his analyses are anything to be proud of. While there is much to critique about Jews for Jesus, and I plan to write about them some other time, let’s first look at the panicked and hostile response which they evoke far in excess of whatever threat they may pose. For starters, let’s understand that if they are correct, then their evangelism is actually a favor to us. And if they are not, then who cares what they say? It’s not like we are actually going to Hell because they believe we are, right?

To glib, you say? Well, before you say that, please ask yourself what threat they actually pose. Is it any greater than the threat posed by any evangelical group, including Jews who want to “fix” other Jews by changing their religious practice? And how is it that in summarizing their aims for the Jewish community, someone as sharp as Waldman, includes their desire to “convert us to Christianity”? Clearly that is wrong. They see themselves as Jews! If anything, they would like to Judaize Christianity!! You will note that in his speech, Brikner had the church singing in Hebrew, not a roomful of Jews calling on Jesus. Maybe it’s them who should be nervous, not us….
And to compare Governor Palin listening to a single sermon with Senator and Mrs. Obama listening to years of hate speech from Jeremiah Write, as people are starting to do, is just plain wrong. We have no idea what she thinks about Jews for Jesus, the Jewish people, or anything like that. We know she is an avowed Evangelical Christian, which raises a raft of issues about the place of religion in public life, the place of other faiths in this country, etc. But to compare those questions, which should be addressed to her, with the rage-filled outbursts that defined Jeremiah Write’s tenure in the pulpit, would be inappropriate.
There are real questions to be asked of the nominee, about many topics, but clouding that process with the fear and resentment that are evoked in so many Jews whenever anyone pushes the “Jesus button”, is not going to help any of us get the answers we need. It will only help some of us to feel good about our own hostility toward the candidate and her beliefs, which is ironic since it is that feeling directed at our own beliefs which got this whole thing going.

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