Reflecting Badly

When I was growing up in Anderson, Indiana, fewer than 30 Jewish families lived there, and there was a fair amount of anti-Semitism. The attitudes displayed by my schoolmates ranged from benign bemusement (“So you don’t go to church on Sundays?”) to suspicious curiosity (“Do Jews live in houses like real people?”) to outright bigotry (“My mom says you’re a dirty Jew.”) (For the record, each of these is a real statement made to me while I was growing up.)

Now, when you are a member of a marginalized group, and you know people will evaluate that group based in part upon your behavior, you tend to be sensitive to the consequences of your public actions and careful not to act in ways that might confirm stereotypes. I can still remember cringing at restaurants if a group of people who “looked Jewish” were being loud, or excessively demanding of the wait staff. I didn’t want their boorish behavior to reflect badly on other Jews. Many of my gay friends have reported similar reactions to inappropriate GLBT behaviors.

Obviously, a lot of Christians don’t have those kinds of concerns. Probably because Christians are in the majority in this country, Christian “bad actors” don’t seem to consider that appalling behavior in the name of Christianity necessarily reflects upon their co-religionists. And more well-behaved Christians usually give their fellow believers a pass–they rarely speak out to distance themselves from nastiness masquerading as Christian piety . Evidently, they don’t worry about being lumped into the same category with their more outrageous brethren. But really–shouldn’t they disclaim at least some of the folks who claim to speak for their faith?

For example, there’s a religious right activist named Gary Cass, who is a former Republican Party official in San Diego. He currently heads up a group called the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, and spends most of his time attacking the usual suspects–President Obama, Muslims,gays, and (interestingly) Mormons. I recently came across a clip of him delivering a long rant in which he accused Americans of having a “broken moral compass.” The evidence of our moral decline? We have been electing politicians who support things like reproductive choice and marriage equality.

Cass says the nation’s colleges and universities are “perverted factories of unfaithfulness,” especially Harvard which is now “animated by the spirit of Antichrist.”

My favorite, though, was this:  “you can’t be a Christian if you don’t own a gun.” Cass evidently believes that gun ownership and Christianity are inextricably entwined.

Perhaps my Christian friends don’t consider Cass and his ilk worth cringing over, or disavowing. (As a Jew, I want to make it clear that– if Jesus really requires that his followers be armed–he was reflecting badly on the rest of us Jews.) But criticism from members of other religions or none simply aren’t going to stop the “Christians” (note quotation marks) who are turning policy debates into religious wars.

Some good Christians need to tell the Florida pastor who burned the Korans that he is not speaking for them. Good Christians need to speak up when Mike Pence wraps himself in the mantle of faith in order to justify denying poor women access to medical services, or when Richard Mourdock defends his “God intended that pregnancy” remarks by claiming critics are “attacking his faith.”

We need more Christians willing to join the Nuns on the Bus.


  1. Amen. I’ve been heartened to see a noticeable increase in Christians doing more than just cringing, and speaking out against the misuse of Christianity for political purposes. First and foremost are Faithful America (, Jim Wallis’ Sojourners, and Tony Campolo’s new Red Letter Christians, but there’s other groups out there working alongside the writers and bloggers who work on these issues every day. Not to mention local groups like Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (IRCRC).

    One problem is that the media has decided that Christians outside of the rightwing political agenda don’t fit the narrative, so we go unmentioned. As a result, the work that is being done is happening online and in faith communities, and not as public as it should be.

  2. Guess I am a non-Christian (much to my surprise) because I do not own a gun and, my uncle is Don Davis of Don’s Guns. I have curiosity about other religions; would like to know more about Jews than I read in Leon Uris books, understand little about Muslims but know terrorists and extremists are not true Muslims, don’t believe all Catholic priests or gays are child molesters and certainly do not believe all those professing to be Christians are Christians simply by observing their behavior. This Republican presidential campaign has been based on proselytization. It must have been difficult for Joe Biden to profess total honesty regarding his Catholic religious beliefs but believing women have a right to choose their own health care, including birth control and abortion if necessary for their own reason. Organized religion disappointed me many times but did not destroy my faith in a spiritual being; a being known by many names and accepted by those true to their religion. Fools like Cass, Limbaugh, etc. and millionaire-backed politicians do not sway me with their convoluted (my preferred word here is stupid) opinions about what God wants of us, especially women. I have to ask again; where are the intelligent thinking Republican women and why do they not speak up? I speak up but my voice seems to fall on deaf ears – or dead brains – and this election has me scared to death for the salvation of the entire country.

  3. Seems like this is the trend of small-town Indiana, especially if you dont represent the status-quo of the local area’s inhabitants. I remeber when some local (redneck) tried to chase me and my friends out of Nashville, Indiana because we were from Indianapolis. Apparently, according to his logic that all men from Indianapolis are homosexuals and subsequently began to call us “F**gits” and “queers”. So if you dont wear a camo hunting cap and a sleeveless T-Shirt, than you are a socialist homosexual bent on destroying their trailer park way of life. Sad but true perceptions of alot of these folks.

  4. Given that Nashville was (and to some extent still is) an artist’s colony, which has played host to more than its “fair share” of faggots and queers (including gay members of my family), that guy has no idea what he’s talking about.

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