The week ahead includes Yom Kippur. Jews have a single task on this day: to repent. In the service of that mandate, we spend the day in prayer, we deny ourselves pleasures from food to sex to fashion, and we confess endlessly a roster of transgressions. That list of sins is meant to be comprehensive (at least when it was composed hundreds of years ago), but it also serves the purpose of deflecting personal shortcomings that get obscured by all those things we did not do specifically. (I am certain I did not engage in “forbidden trysts” or loan money at “oppressive interest.”) True, I can connect the dots to every wrong in society from my lack of attention or blissful ignorance, but Yom Kippur is less about our economic system and political dysfunction than it is about getting myself right with God and those around me. We have a year less a very few days to work on the world and its troubles. Yom Kippur is about proximate repentance.
My most pressing sin is impatience. Things are changing around me in ways that challenge the very comfortable life I have aged into. Things I find funny are considered inappropriate. Compliments I believe to be laudatory are considered predatory. And figuring out the intersection of preferred pronouns and my attention to grammar prompts me mostly to keep my mouth shut – to the relief of many, I am sure. The internal frustration of these and other matters leads me to an internal landscape that is pocked with judgmental attitudes and quietly (mostly) smoldering resentment.
The first step to penitence is recognizing the wrongdoing. But immersing myself in my own improvement does not and should not absolve me from the collective effort of atoning with and for a transgressive world and the community I claim as my own.
During these recent years I have made a conscious effort to reach out to a different community. If I am impatient with the change around myself, then how much more must evangelical Christians find themselves unmoored. Set aside the aggressive question of whether they have it coming. For every proud boy and oath keeper and gun-toting elected official there are dozens who are horrified by the perversion of what they believe about the teachings of Jesus. They don’t always find themselves in the congressional districts that turn the scoundrels out, but they are organizing to combat “white Christian nationalism.” You can unpack that phrase as you please. I want to be a good ally in that effort, so I show up in every way my integrity allows.
But I am coming to the reluctant conclusion that the efforts by some Christians to undo the influence of other Christians is akin to the recitation of the alphabet of sins on Yom Kippur. They are correct in condemning the moral failures at the center of those groups with whom they disagree. But proximate repentance? The abject lack of it results in this struggle to be one for the type of Christian supremacism to which they aspire. Not quite so white, not quite so nationalistic, but also not one that addresses the embedded desire they continue to promote to establish their version of the Kingdom of God.
My personal affection and/or respect for so many of these genuinely good people make me reluctant to cite examples that will hold them up to criticism unfairly – after all, the work they are doing is deeply motivated out of their understanding of love for humanity and service to God. But I will mention one because it was not public – a gathering of faith leaders, most evangelicals of many backgrounds – who had come together to discuss how to resist “white Christian nationalism.”
In the course of three hours of discussion, there were mentions of institutionalized racism, Nazis, the Holocaust, and Jesus as “a man oppressed because he was brown and member of an oppressed and enslaved community.” There was condemnation of the racism and homophobia of otherwise beloved preachers. There was a brilliant three-word summation of the tactics of white Christian nationalism (Fear. Hate. Violence.). But until the very end (see next paragraph), there was no mention of the Jews, not even obliquely. (To be completely accurate, one person reported they were not allowed to have Jewish friends as a child.)
The last comment from the audience began with these words: Do not feel sorry for the Jews, not in the Old Testament, not in the New Testament, not at all; they are oppressors.
No one responded. (Except me, to be honest. I caught up with the guy and did my best to shame him. Unsuccessfully, of course.)
I have not used the common term for prejudice against Jews, and I won’t. It devalues the term to equate what I pray is a lack of self-awareness with chants of “Jews will not replace us” and accusations of globalism and puppeteering, let alone fear-hate-violence.
But the unwillingness to examine these supremacist tendencies and the quiet acceptance of erasure of the Jews (who are, ironically, the most reliable allies against “white Christian nationalism”) is the proximate sin of my evangelical Christian friends.
There is a paragraph in the liturgical prayer that ends every Jewish worship service expressing the hope that everyone in the world will come to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and forsake their idolatrous practices. I confront that challenging aspiration every day, and I plant my feet physically and spiritually between a historical reality (the prayer) and, I hope, an enlightened and evolved understanding that different is not automatically wrong. I must remember the collective sins so that I can (try to) refrain from the personal ones. Repentance is not only about regret. It is also about prevention.