What goes around, comes around. And so it is with the persecution of world religions since days of yore. Today, we are facing a world where Christians now face discrimination more acutely than Jews; Religious oppression is alive and well. The persecution of Jews, well documented and discussed, is an acute dilemma that needs our focus and fighting spirit. At the same time, the last years have seen a steep increase in the persecution of Christian populations. The diverse arena of Christians includes Evangelicals, Protestants, Catholics, Coptics, Pentecostal and many more. This year, the charity Open Doors, reported than an average of 180 Christians around the world are killed each month for their faith. Of the ten nations who are on the 2014 World Watch List because of their extreme persecution of Christians, nine of them are Muslim countries. The more things change, the more they stay the same
Rabbi Adlerstein is Director of Interfaith Affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center and teaches Jewish Law and Ethics at Loyola Law School as well as high school girls at Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles. Immersed in teaching updated opinions to the Jewish community and in the broader American psyche, Rabbi Adlerstein has also developed a meaningful voice in the media arena.
Rabbi Adlerstein spoke to The Jewish Home and explained, “The countries who are most intensely persecuting Christians include North Korea and the countries of the Middle East, excluding Israel. These events have left many Christians with a new awareness that they have become a beleaguered group. This is hard for Jews to process, given the long history of conflict between the two religions. Jews with memory and knowledge of history have a disconnect with the new reality that we are on the same side as Christians today and in the longer run, the greater threat to our existence is not religious oppression but atheism and social chaos.”
Now we have a world that has legalized same-sex marriage with its promise of moral superiority and easier happiness for atheists over G-d fearing people. A Pew Report shows that the number of Americans who align themselves with Christianity is down this year to 70%. That’s 14 points lower than in 1990. Is this because of the liberal Christian inclination to meet culture and fashion half way, whereas traditionalists refuse to do so?
Rabbi Adlerstein clarified the status quo, “The media is playing out religious negativity and presents mainstream America as being hostile to religion. Most recently, the decision by the Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage has left Christians, for the first time since white people arrived in America, on the opposite side of the cultural norm. The WASP was the quintessential American but a majority of Supreme Court justices dismissed the centrality of the nuclear family in his heritage.
“Several thousand years of culture and the American religious experience was transformed. Protestants woke up to a new world where their value system was labeled as primitive. They are suddenly presented as a throwback to cave people who lack the maturity to change with the times.
“You can’t talk about Christians in one voice because there are so many different denominations but there has been a split where some have gone the way of Judaism and have embraced the oldest traditions and religion has become a central core of their beliefs. Then there are others, perhaps Episcopalians and Congregationalists, who have very little left of the religion of their grandparents, perhaps a few hymns and slogans. The ones who take the Bible seriously are the ones whose churches are full and growing – the evangelicals specifically – and they don’t feel under attack. Still, even the more traditional denominations are feeling the sting of rejection as activists target their congregations and values. This pattern is bad for religion and it’s very bad for Western civilization.
“It’s hard to think in those terms, but in today’s complex world, this is the status quo. There is a generational gap where young people are eagerly becoming part of US mainstream and picking up liberal talk. Without religious education they are articulating misinformed opinions. The Simon Wiesenthal Center is working with Christian schools who are training the new generation of pastors and in speaking at these learning academies, there is a greater and more accurate understanding of what we have in common and what we can do for each other.
“So many young Christian leaders have no knowledge of the politics of religion and they need to be informed in the right way. A large Christian conservative college was recently invited to a model Seder where the liberal Jewish Rabbi explained that Jews don’t really believe the Exodus happened. For liberal Episcopalians this cool talk could work but it left bible-knowledgeable Pentecostals heavy with confusion and alienated by this very liberal opinion. The challenge is that it takes the best of our Jewish leaders to build bridges to tomorrow’s world.”
Coptic Christians in the Middle East are struggling to cope with persecution, fear-mongering, torture and ISIS killings on the rise. In fact, Christians were in the region before the Arabs took power and for many years they have lived with the painful subjugation of their religious freedom. Now, their voice was represented until 2012 by an apparently anti-Semitic Pope Shenouda III, who was vicious in his condemnation of all things Jewish. Should this limit our ability to support the Coptic need for help and survival?
Again, Rabbi Adlerstein elucidated the reality, “We should understand that when religious leaders are held on a shoestring by their puppet masters, their words are often a presentation of the law of their masters. The Chief Rabbis during the time of the old Soviet regime were sent to America to laud the success of communist policies and it was only behind closed doors, far from microphones and media,that the truth came out. A leader will take on painful and lonely acts in order to safeguard the well-being of his community. Today there are many Coptics who are looking forward to a relationship with the Jewish Community. It is important as Jews that we stand up for people whose lives are in danger.
“The Jewish family teaches their kids about the painful rejection Jews faced by the baseless behavior of the global powers during the years of the holocaust. Where was world support? Today, the Christian groups are also facing a crisis of survival. It is crucial that Jewish organizations choose to be morally responsible and show their support and meaningful concern for those persecuted. Securing the goodwill of Christian groups is also goodwill for Israel.”
Simon Wiesenthal’s Rabbi Cooper visited the White House several years ago and surprised the politicians with his guests who were two Christians. They went to plead for help for the Christians who have been dying in droves and gradually the government is acknowledging the situation of religious minorities. There is now an office at the State Department which looks into the affairs of persecuted religious groups. Rabbi Adlerstein added, “They do not have much clout yet, but this is just the start.”