Grist For Bigotry

I remember an angry call I received back when the scandal of Catholic priests sexually molesting children was unfolding with a new revelation almost every day. The caller was sincerely concerned and worried that her beloved Catholic Church was being irreparably stigmatized and harmed by the publicity and that it was devastating that many non-Christians believed that every priest was a pervert and that every Catholic supported keeping the scandal quiet, at any costs. The truth is that the great majority of priests are not pedophiles and most Catholics want the bad clergy weeded out and punished. But the taste has lingered and the damage has been deep and the church was forever tainted. This is the stuff that feeds bigotry.

There were similar reactions last year when a number of ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jewish congregations and leaders ignored the COVID-19 warnings about hosting large gatherings of people without protective masks. Hasidic leaders brazenly turned away from health warnings and have urged followers not to get the COVID 19 vaccine and they saw the number of positive COVID 19 cases and related deaths rise in their insulated communities. There were people who thought this was a mainstream attitude among Jews. It wasn’t and most Jewish people follow the health guidelines and will get the COVID 19 vaccinations. People who are not Jewish may not be aware of the many differences in the religion, from reform to conservative to orthodox and from mainstream to Hasidic in its many forms. As with all bigotry, lack of information is a key ingredient. This, too, is the stuff that feeds bigotry.

Trump has had strong support among orthodox Jews but the mainstream Jewish community opposed Trump as they have tended to vote Democratic for many years and has traditionally have had strong positions on civil rights, immigration and other human rights issues. The strongest Trumpers approved of his relocating the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement and recognizing Israeli legal rights in the West Bank settlements among other pro-Israeli acts. But most Jews could not accept Trump’s racism, xenophobia and sexism, regardless of his professed support of Israel.

Most recently, you’ve seen the rioters at the Capitol who carried signs with Christian symbols that read “Jesus Saves” and “Jesus is my Savior. Trump is my president.” One of the rioters even stood on the Senate rostrum and led a Christian prayer. These Christian extremists broke through the Capitol windows and doors, arm in arm with white supremacists, anti-Semites with swastikas and other hate mongers. The presence of Christian evangelical extremists was not a surprise as there is a long history of racism and evangelicals, think cross burnings and the Ku Klux Klan. But they do not represent the majority of evangelical Christians. And this, too, is the stuff that feeds bigotry.

Evangelical leaders have recently been speaking out loudly against radical Christian nationalism and see it for what it is, a dangerous infection that is leading many people to link support of Trump with their Christian faith.

Prominent white evangelical leaders have been among Trump’s most vocal supporters and evangelicals were and are still critical to Trump’s base. The links between Trump and evangelical Christians are rooted in the alliance between the Republican Party and the major branches and subcultures of conservative evangelicalism — Southern Baptists, Pentecostals and the televangelists. Race is a major factor as evangelical leaders have a long history of supporting white supremacy. And yes, many voted for Trump and supported his racist, misogynist views but many voted against him because they reject racism and sexism. This, too, is the stuff that feeds bigotry.

Mainstream evangelicals have four core beliefs including: The Bible is without error in all of its claims about the nature of the world and the nature of God; The only way to salvation is through belief in Jesus Christ; Believers must become converted also known as “born again”; and the fourth cardinal belief is the need to proselytize or “evangelize.” Most evangelical Christians are not radical and want to live their lives according to their seminal beliefs and for most, there is no room for racism and hatred, just as the majority of Catholics and Jews want to live their lives to the fullest, without inflicting hurt on others.

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