After Pittsburgh

November 5, 2018 at 12:59 pm | Posted in antisemitism, Catholicism, Judaism, racism,, Uncategorized | 3 Comments
Tags: , ,

Last Thursday, five days after a white nationalist killed eleven Jews and three others in a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh, was All Saints Day, one of my favorite feasts. Priests from a new Jesuit ministry, the Jesuits of Brooklyn, have been celebrating some of the liturgies at my diocesan parish, Our Lady of Refuge, and one of them said the 9 AM Mass that I attended that day.

I was deeply grateful to the priest, who shall go unidentified, for immediately starting his sermon by addressing the massacre in Pittsburgh, which has been characterized as the worst anti-semitic hate crime in US history. After describing what happened, he went on to remind the congregation that some of the most important figures in the New Testament were Jews: Jesus, and Mary, and Joseph, and Mary’s parents, and her cousin Elizabeth, and St. Paul, among others. He then told a story about sitting near a young Orthodox Jewish man wearing a yarmulke and tallits (tassels) while riding on the subway soon after the murders and expressing his deep sympathy to him. He also asked the young man how he was doing, and the young man replied that his people were told to do one act for the good of the world every day. Our preacher was moved by this response. He then urged the congregation to reach out to Jews at this dreadful time, something that is much more possible to do in our religiously and racially diverse Brooklyn neighborhood than in other parts of the country.

As I said to the Jesuit afterwards, it was extremely meaningful to me that he directly addressed such a devastating event.  I had attended the Jesuit church of St. Francis Xavier in Manhattan for a while in 2017 but ceased to do so when the pastor there, an artist and musician, got up and gave a beautifully prepared sermon the morning after the Charlottesville riot without ever mentioning it. My hunch is that he had already written his beautiful sermon and didn’t want to mess it up with bad news.

But as I said to the preacher at Our Lady of Refuge, as grateful as I was that he had addressed the murders in Pittsburgh, there’s one small problem with what he said, or rather, what he didn’t say. The Christian tradition, and particularly the teaching of Jewish “deicide,” that with the crucifixion the Jews killed God in the person of Jesus Christ, is the historic root of antisemitism. In particular, the supposed act of deicide is inscribed in Matthew 27:24-25:

24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!

Many Scripture scholars and historians now argue that this isn’t what happened; that only a very few Jewish leaders may have been involved in Jesus’s death, and that the author of Matthew’s Gospel fictionalized this part of the story. And at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Catholic Church renounced this teaching, as have a number of other Christian churches. It could also be argued that if Christianity had not happened, with the conversion of Constantine in the early fourth century,  to become the dominant religion of the Roman Empire,–if Christianity had remained a minor religious sect split off from Judaism–the horrific impact of antisemitism might never have occurred.

But Christianity did become the dominant religion of the Roman Empire, and it went on teaching the “blood libel”–that Jesus’s blood is on the Jewish people–for a millennium and a half after Constantine. It’s hard to believe that Hitler, a baptized Catholic, didn’t pick up some of his antisemitism from this tradition. And the Catholic Church continues to read those verses  from St. Matthew’s passion during Holy Week, as well as other New Testament passages that echo its hostility, throughout the year.

So speaking in a kindly way on the subway to a young man in a yarmulke after an antisemitic bloodbath is a fine thing to do. But something more is required: preachers must address those passages after they are read at Mass, explaining the harm that they have done, and repenting of them on behalf of the Church. And if they don’t address the Christian antisemitic complicity inscribed in those texts, the people in the pews need to call them out for failing to do so

 

Advertisements

Teenage Innocence

October 4, 2018 at 2:01 pm | Posted in racism,, Uncategorized, women | 5 Comments
Tags: , ,

I have been trying to stay out of the discussion over Brett Kavanaugh; surely enough has been said without the addition of my two cents.

But one element of the conversation, not to say brawl, that caught my attention was the assertion by some that the actions of a person during his (I use the word advisedly) teenage years shouldn’t be held against him. I sat up straight when I heard that because trying teenagers as adults has been a major component  of the US criminal (so-called) justice system, especially since the year 2000. Admittedly, there have been legislative moves recently to roll some of this back, but there are still many thousands of juveniles who have been tried as adults in this country; a good number of them are in prison right now. And I’m sure you will be shocked! shocked! to hear that a disproportionate number of these juveniles are black or brown.

The day after I had been thinking about all this I was down on the living room floor doing the exercises for my deteriorating back disc while listening to “Democracy Now” with Amy Goodman, and presto! Goodman  began talking about the same thing: the claims that the accusations against Kavanaugh were over-the-top because he had been a mere teenager when whatever happened happened. She then interviewed three activists involved in the educational justice movement, which, among other things, fights the “school to prison pipeline.”  But what blew me away about that particular news segment was that the activists Goodman interviewed explained that the “school-to-prison pipeline” did not begin with teenagers being tried as adults but with pre-school students–three and four-year olds–being suspended for misbehavior. And kids who have been suspended earlier in school, we learned, are much more likely to end up in prison later in life. And guess who the vast majority of pre-K kids thus suspended are? Black and brown boys.

Now let me clarify a few things here. I have a lot of sympathy for teachers trying to keep control in the classroom. I taught school for three years, between 1970 and 1975, and it was the hardest work I have ever done. And I was teaching the fourth grade–nine and ten-year olds. I simply cannot imagine trying to work with pre-schoolers.

I should also admit that the hardest of my three years as a teacher was in a Black parent-run community school in Harlem, though part of the reason for that was that there were 40 kids in the class, while the other two classes I taught had 20 and 12 students respectively, and most of them were white. I was also fairly clueless about inner city culture.

But the real reason for my difficulty, in Harlem and the other two schools, was that I just wasn’t very good at teaching kids. And as I am given to saying, one day the Lord Jesus appeared to me and said,”Marian, you are terrible at this!! Stop it!” So I did.

This leads us back to the very idea of three and four-year olds getting suspended, or even eight or nine-year olds for that matter. And they are not getting suspended for bringing guns to school, or even fighting; they’re getting suspended for “insubordination” and “defying authority,” an interpretation of behavior common to children that age that is applied to kids–boys–of color much more often than to white boys.  What does it do to a kid’s attitudes and expectations if he gets suspended at the age of four?

This brings us back to the national conversation about Brett Kavanaugh. Americans may, and do, hold different positions regarding the accusations against him. But surely we can all grasp the hypocrisy involved in suggesting that such actions shouldn’t be held against a privileged white teenager when three and four-year old children are getting suspended for talking back to a quite possibly incompetent teacher?

 

 

 

 

Crucified by Racism

August 25, 2018 at 10:39 am | Posted in Christian theology,, colonization,, racism,, religion | 3 Comments

 

The following is my review of a new book on the relationship between Christian theology and racism by Fordham theologian Jeannine Hill Fletcher. It appears in the August 24-September 6 issue of the National Catholic Reporter.

THE SIN OF WHITE SUPREMACY: CHRISTIANITY, RACISM, & RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY IN AMERICA
By Jeannine Hill Fletcher
194 pages; Orbis Books, 2017. $28.00.

Never for a moment did I buy the notion that with the election of Barack Obama as president, the United States had become a “post-racial” society. But even for a skeptic like me, the statistics from the 2016 presidential election were difficult to absorb: Eighty-one percent of white evangelical Christians and 60 percent of white Catholics voted for Donald Trump. How could Christians vote for such an unabashedly racist candidate?

As we attempt to answer that question, it’s hard to imagine anything timelier than Jeannine Hill Fletcher’s new book. In The Sin of White Supremacy: Christianity, Racism, & Religious Diversity in America, Hill Fletcher draws on her expertise in interreligious theology as well as extensive research into the history of Euro-American Christianity to lay out the devastating connections between Christian theology and the ideologies of racial supremacy that underpin our current political crisis.

Then, thank God, she presents a theological paradigm to help us move toward racial and religious transformation.

(Continue reading on the NCR webpage).

 

 

 

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.