Social Issues, Theology

Choosing a religion that persecutes you

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When my brother mentioned casually at the dinner table that he was interested in Buddhism, neither of my parents thought it was strange. In fact, in recent years there has been an increase of interest in Eastern religions among the Jewish community, and there’s nothing shocking or heretical about it (unless maybe you’re Orthodox).

My more-than-causal interest in Christianity was met with the exact opposite reaction. It was a tragedy. A scandal. More than that, it was a betrayal.

Of course, Jews would not see Christian conversion this way if not for Christianity’s bloody history of persecuting and murdering Jews. And who could blame them? It’s like a vegan falling in love with a hunter.

In my early days as a new believer, I tried to separate the hateful apples from the rest of the bunch. I understand why Christians do this — we don’t want to admit that hate-filled bigots are worshiping the same god we do. At times I am convinced that that is, in fact, the case: that I worship True Jesus, and the “bad guys” worship MAGA Republican Jesus.

Except those groups — the pogroms, the Crusaders, Inquisitors, and synagogue-shooters — aren’t fringe. They are far more pervasive than Christians want to admit. They may be part of a toxic brand of Christianity — one that bears little resemblance to the Jesus who preached the Sermon on the Mount — but they identify as Christians, so we have to deal with them accordingly.

I still wrestle with feelings about being a traitor to my people rather than someone who bravely followed her heart — especially after tragedies like the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania last weekend. Do I still have the right to grieve with Jews, as a Jew?

My family had this dry motto growing up: we weren’t very religious (actually, not much at all), but we were Jewish enough for Hitler, and would have been marched to the gas chambers alongside the most devoutly Orthodox. Twisted though it may be, it remains true today. Neo Nazis don’t really care about individual spiritual beliefs. They’re more about blood, about lineage. And despite my Christian beliefs, that part of me has not changed.

So I am still Jewish, on a technical, ethnic, cultural level. Why, then, do I still find Christianity (the Episcopalian tradition in particular) so compelling?

My reasons are actually quite simple. While I acknowledge the right of Neo Nazi types to identify as Christian, I am not wholly convinced that we are worshiping the same God (did they forget, or choose to ignore, that Jesus was Jewish??).

No matter how atrociously Christians have acted in the past, and continue to act today, I remain attracted to the idea of God in the flesh; an all-powerful king who chose to be born into poverty (to a woman stigmatized by out-of-wedlock pregnancy, no less), and somehow managed to turn the world’s concept of justice upside down. The weak are the strong, and the powerful, weak.

I have learned to separate the good fruit from the bad. I have learned that you can’t always judge a religion by its followers.

I also have to remember that Judaism is not without its bad apples, either. Recently, an Israeli pizza shop owner told a gay customer to leave, allegedly because he was wearing regalia from a Pride parade.

Ugliness exists in every tradition. Christianity’s ugliness gets more media attention than most, but I’m inclined to believe that anyone who would shoot up a room of innocent people already has callous disregard for human life, with or without religion goading him to do it.

I wouldn’t continue to call myself an Episcopalian if I didn’t see evidence with my own eyes that decent, genuine, non-MAGA-chanting Christ-followers exist. They are, admittedly, sometimes difficult to find. But they exist.

For every anti-semitic murderer, I do believe there are a dozen more church groups going out of their way to love their neighbors in the gritty, messy sort of way that Jesus intended. I am fortunate to belong to a denomination known for exactly that.

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash
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