Shocked but Not Surprised


Temple De Hirsch Sinai synagogue in Seattle was vandalized with Antisemitic slurs and images this week. I am shocked but not surprised.

I am certain that every person who receives our emails is saddened by this and stands with our Jewish neighbors. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Print out the sign attached to this blog and put it in your window.
  • If you have a Jewish friend, share a brief message of support.
  • Encourage your own community to develop a relationship with a Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Indigenous, or other community.

I talked about Antisemitism with a group of pastors this week. We were discussing how to interpret some texts in the Christian Scriptures (the terms Old Testament and New Testament function to increase Antisemitism) in such a way as to counter Antisemitism. All of them have been working on this.

One pastor asked a question: “Aren’t we logical creatures who can remember that Jesus was Jewish, and so being Antisemitic is against Jesus’ teachings?” This is a version of the same questions I hear all the time.

There are many layers to this. One very important one:

Human beings are not primarily logical creatures. We have quick, gut-level reactions based on ingroup/outgroups and our associations about the outgroups. We tend to take in information that supports our view, and to reject that which does not. We then select information that further supports our attitudes and actions toward others, and seek to justify our actions through after-the-fact logic.

Other layers of our experience that increase and perpetuate Antisemitic attitudes:

There are problematic texts in the Christian Scriptures. And we have a history of Antisemitic attitudes, ideas, and actions in Christian churches. Therefore, most people in our congregations need intense education as well as constant reminders about how to begin to become conscious about, recover from, and make restitution for our collective Antisemitism.

We also need to recognize that political leaders, social media, podcasts, YouTube, family members often repeat narratives that blame Jewish people for keeping White Christians down and supporting people of color who “steal from below.” When we read a text which blames Jewish leaders for the death of Jesus, they are importing all of these messages we’ve received into our hearing of the text. When clergy are silent, these pre-loaded (often unconscious) narratives take over and we look for confirmation of them in the Scriptures. Thus, negative associations and gut-level reactions against our Jewish neighbors become stronger and stronger – increasing the chances of Antisemitic actions, separation from Jewish communities, or silence in the face of violence.

Since Antisemitism is at the core of the web of racist narratives, to strengthen it strengthens racism against Muslims, Sikhs, Indigenous people, all people of color.

We are logical beings, but we are not entirely logical. Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and racism of every kind are not logical. They get fed through narratives and associations that are at work on us even when we are not aware of it. We are all pre-loaded with prejudice in ways we often do not realize.

This is painful.

I love my Christian practice. The Creator has connected to me in this tradition. Yet we often forget his tradition begins with a call to “change our direction.”

Every tradition I have come in contact with in the last decade has a similar message.

Faithfulness to the core of the Christian tradition includes changing our direction about how Christians as the majority wisdom tradition respond to Antisemitism – in ourselves, in our wisdom communities, and in our world.

Every leader in every tradition is called to examine the ways we contribute to the narrative that makes vandalism and other forms of violence more likely. It will take a lot of work. But we will each be more faithful to our own traditions when we do so – and be restored to one another.

Report from King 5 News about Vandalism

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