Bill Donohue’s comments in his debate with me on MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country” last week has proven deeply shocking to decent Americans everywhere. Not that it didn’t take a while. When the president of the Catholic League said on national television that “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular,” it was I who was initially criticized for calling him and my other Catholic assailant on the show, Jennifer Giroux (who was saying that the Jews killed Jesus) “ignorant peasants.” After all, Scorsese, Coppola, Lucas, Di Nero, and Pacino are hardly Jewish names.
But after a few days, the pit of press hell opened for Donohue. First there was the Daily News article on Wednesday that said, “Jewish viewers are still agog over Catholic League President William Donohue’s comments on MSNBC’s ‘Scarborough Country’ the other night.” Then, Frank Rich of the New York Times attacked Donohue for his anti-Semitic diatribe with the words, “For Shame,” and John Stewart replayed the debate as a lead-in to his “Daily Show” and called Donohue an expletive.
For my part, I invited Donohue, with whom I normally share a warm and friendly relationship, on to my radio show twice, affording him the opportunity of retracting the offensive slander. Sadly, he chose to defend and explain the accuracy of the comment instead.
Christians throughout the United States had better get used to the idea that much of what they say and do scares the hell out of Jews. And people like me, long defenders, apologists and admirers of religious Christians, are losing our ability to convince the Jewish community that evangelical Christians are our brothers with whom we should work to create a more moral America.
Certainly, it does not help that evangelical Christians, who so love and support the state of Israel, also believe that Jews who lead exemplary lives but don’t believe in Jesus are going to hell. It also doesn’t help that all-too-many evangelicals are extremely vocal about this offensive belief that utterly dismisses the Jewish faith as spiritually useless. Of course, every religion is entitled to its beliefs, and people should be judged by their actions rather than their dogma. But increasingly, since President Bush’s election, religious Christians are showing an insensitivity to Jews and Judaism that is causing further distance between the two communities.
When I wrote an article arguing that passive Christmas displays – like “Merry Christmas” signs and Nativity scenes – ought to be allowed in public places, but not active displays that would have Jewish youth in public schools forced to sing “O Holy Night,” I was surprised to receive many e-mails from my evangelical Christian readers telling me that we Jews have to respect the will of the majority, which is Christian. If the public schools are filled with mostly Christian kids, then why should they be denied singing Christmas carols to accommodate the Jews?
Are Christians really so tone-deaf to Jewish unwillingness to participate in Christian ritual? We’re not Christian, for goodness sake, and while we respect and revere the Christian faith, we have no plans of joining. How would Christian parents feel if their children were forced to sing songs denying Jesus’ deity or messiahship? And what would they feel toward those Jews that made it a campaign to force these tunes upon their kids in school?
This disappointment was followed by a God-fearing Christian friend sending me an article by an evangelical author Edgar Steele that was floating around the Internet accusing Jews of fighting to abolish Christmas in the United States. Here is the meat of the column: “We all know about the lawsuit to remove ‘under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance. Filed by a Jew. Remember the lawsuit to remove the Ten Commandments from the courthouse foyer, then to remove the judge who put it there? Filed by Jews. Remember the lawsuit last year to force New York public schools to take down colored lights? Filed by Jews. Remember the huge Jewish uproar about Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ”? That backfired badly for Abe Foxman and company, but was a piece of the overall strategy to deChristianize America. It’s a Jewish strategy, of course. That’s why the lawsuits are all brought by Jews.”
It is imperative that evangelical Christians – whom I know to be good and godly people – repudiate this kind of drivel lest it spread. As more Christian representatives like William Donohue and Edgar Steele point an outrageous finger at Jews for secularizing America, Christian spokesmen must rise to the occasion and condemn this malicious garbage. The enemies of values in America are not secular Jews, lapsed Catholics or apostate Christians, but any man or woman,regardless of how religious they claim to be, who doesn’t condemn such horrendous bigotry.
Christianity in America will undermine its otherwise noble goals of spreading values and ethics if it sounds in any way bigoted, homophobic or just downright nasty. It is possible to advocate for heterosexuality, and even for the sinfulness of homosexuality, without hating gays. After all, Christianity believes in the sinfulness of sex outside of marriage, but does not hate the huge percent of heterosexuals who practice it.
There are far too many religious Christians who are undermining Christian aims by appalling public statements that deeply discredit the wholesomeness of the Christian message. Those fraudulent TV evangelists who are more interested in money than souls are obvious culprits, but so are abominable mutterings like that of Jerry Falwell, who said two days after 9-11 that the United States was being punished for its sins.
Religious Americans have a propensity for blaming the secularism of American society on atheists, but seem blind to how their own bad example can contribute to the public’s rejection of a spiritual message.
I would love for our country to be more religious and for our lives to be more God-centric. Christianity has an absolutely central role to play in America in achieving that aim. But Christian leaders are far to savvy to believe that this is going to happen by sounding judgmental, bigoted and exclusionary.
In the TV debate with Donohue, I told Pat Buchanan, who moderated the debate, that “the reason why many Jews – I’m not among them – are fearful of Christianity is that they’re tired of Christians saying that we’re a bunch of Christ killers.” It is time for Christian leaders to reach out to Jews as partners in faith rather than as perpetrators of a crime. Give those voices in the Jewish community who have championed the cause of Christian-Jewish brotherhood some proof that the real enemy of Judaism in the United States is not Christianity but secularism.