A Christian at the Jewish Community Center

January 12th, 2017

Several years ago, my husband and I joined our local Jewish Community Center, primarily for access to the fitness equipment and pool. Just like non-Christians frequently join the YMCA for their fitness and programming, so we joined the JCC for its convenience and amenities. While we were being given a tour of the facilities and campus, the employee pointed out the various security features of the campus, including armed guards. At the time, this struck me as a bit of overkill, but with children on-campus, perhaps it made sense.

This week, while I was out running errands on my day off, my mother texted me to stay away from the JCC because there had been a bomb threat. Sure enough, I had an e-mail from the JCC informing me that campus was being evacuated due to a bomb threat. Then I learned that other JCCs in the eastern half of the country were similarly targeted. I was shaking and furious.

Thankfully, the building and campus were swept and nothing was found; the threats were a hoax. But in that moment, I came face-to-face once again with my Christian privilege, particularly as a majority in the so-called Bible Belt. I remembered how I initially thought the security was overkill, knowing now how necessary it was. After all, the history of attacks and marginalization of the Jewish community, even in the United States, is not so distant.

Anti-Semitism is unfortunately alive and well in our country, and far too often, the Church facilitates an anti-Jewish mindset, apparently forgetting that Jesus himself was a Jew, a religious minority within the Roman Empire. On January 1st, while everyone else was sleeping off their hangovers, the Church celebrated the Feast of the Holy Name, otherwise known as the Feast of the Circumcision, when Jesus was physically marked as a Jew eight days after being born.

And yet too many Christians continue to blame the Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion and make overly simplistic statements about the Law and the Old Testament. It is simply untrue that the God of the Old Testament is an “angry, vindictive” God, and the God of the New Testament is a “loving, all-forgiving” God. If we don’t first believe that they are the same God, we are guilty of the heresy of Marcionism, which the early church rejected.

In an increasingly secular world, I feel more camaraderie with faithful, practicing Jews and Muslims than I do with the non-religious. As a member of the JCC, I have shifted my workout schedule to accommodate closings for High Holy Days and noticed when, during Passover, the vending machines were covered in opaque paper. Ritual, fasting, and the observation of holy days that don’t necessarily line up with our secular calendar are not foreign to me. I understand ordering one’s life in a way that does not always make sense to the broader culture.

This week, the increasing violence and hostility towards marginalized groups hit close to home, not just because I am a member of the JCC but because my neighbors, my friends are. As Christians, as the Church, we must reckon with our history of anti-Jewish interpretation and preaching. We must condemn acts of discrimination and violence against other people of faith. After all, even some churches have been defaced in the wake of the election.

We are fortunate and blessed to live in a country that has enshrined our freedom to worship however and whomever we choose in its founding documents. We cannot sit back and passively watch as our fellow people of faith are bullied and intimidated by inciting fear. As for me, this Christian clergyperson will continue to join my Jewish friends and neighbors in recreation at the Jewish Community Center.

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