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.