Christian Proselytizing as a Form of Oppression

Televangelist Pastor Mark Burns, a Donald Trump surrogate who often travels with his candidate around the campaign trail, warmed up the crowd at a rally in Hickory, North Carolina by calling on Democratic presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, to have a "come to Jesus" moment. Speaking in front of the audience before New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's on-stage question-and-answer session with Trump, Burns declared that Sanders needed to be "saved":

"Bernie Sanders who doesn't believe in God. How in the world are we going to let Bernie? I mean really? Listen, Bernie gotta get saved. He gotta meet Jesus. He gotta have a come to Jesus meeting."

Earlier in the campaign, Sanders talked about his connection to his Judaism: "I am very proud of being Jewish, and that is an essential part of who I am as a human being." He related that his father's family had been brutally murdered by Hitler during the Holocaust for being Jewish.

While on stage, Trump did not distance himself from Burns's inflammatory and offensive remarks, but, instead, characterized his rallies as "love fests."

Though I had thought by this time in the campaign season that Trump had come to the end of his list of individuals and entire social identity groups he would offend, but I was, in fact, sadly mistaken. He has now added Jews to his catalog of offended group, which previously included women, Muslims, Chinese, Mexicans, all people from Central and South America, Dreamers, members of the Black Lives Matter Movement, numerous world leaders, his current and past Republican Party rivals, John McCain, the Republican "establishment," Communists, Socialists, Liberals, Progressives, all Democratic party leaders and supporters, and, ranking toward the top, President Obama. So where is this Republican Party "Big Tent" I keep hearing about?

By not standing up to Burns, Trump stands complicit in attacking not only Bernie's faith, but the faith of the entire world Jewish community. We have, however, seen these anti-Jewish attacks before by leaders on the political and Christian theocratic Right.

On the day of his inauguration as Governor of Alabama in January 2011, talking at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church -- where the Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached - Governor Robert Bentley proclaimed:

"[I]f you're a Christian and you're saved ... it makes you and me brother and sister....So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother."

Interviewed by Jewish TV host Donny Deutsch on the CNBC show "The Big Idea" in 2007, columnist and conservative political pundit, Ann Coulter, said that everyone on earth should be Christian and that Jews needed to be "perfected....It is better if we were all Christians."

While many Christians view proselytizing as offering the gift of Jesus to the "unbelievers," many if not most individuals of other faiths and many non-believers consider this as not merely an imposition or as manipulation, but, in fact, consider this as a form of oppression. Christian proselytizing rests on a foundation of Christian privilege and a deep sense of entitlement in a U. S. context.

For the most part, Christian privilege involves the notion that one does not have to educate oneself -- to become familiar - with the religious beliefs and customs of other religious communities. On the other hand, members of these other, often invisible, communities need to be familiar with Christian traditions and customs not only because of the massive promotion (hegemony) of Christian religious and cultural practices, but also as a necessary condition for emotional and often physical survival to negotiate between the dominant Christian culture and their own ethnic and religious cultures.

This privilege and sense of entitlement figuratively hit me in the face when I was serving as a tenured professor at Iowa State University just a few years ago. In my course, Multicultural Foundations in Schools and Society, a required course for undergraduate pre-service teachers, a number of students, in their writings, seemed to come virtually to the same conclusion.

On the final course paper over various semesters, some students from conservative Christian backgrounds wrote that though they enjoyed the course, that their professor had a great sense of humor, and that they gained some valuable information for their eventual classroom teaching careers, nonetheless, they informed me that "Dr. Blumenfeld will be going to Hell for being a practicing homosexual." These students either stated explicitly or implied that homosexuality and transgender identities are sins in the same category as stealing and murder.

Other students went further by insisting that "even if Professor Blumenfeld had been heterosexual," since I am Jewish and I do not accept Jesus as my "personal savior," I will go to Hell regardless of my sexual identity and expression. Anyone who doubts this, said one student, "Only death will tell!" This student concluded by asserting that the real Christian privilege is "To suffer and die in the name of Jesus Christ."

Another student writing on the final course paper entirely dismissed the notion of Christian privilege by asserting:

"[A]s a Christian I am called to not be tolerant. I am not called to be violent, but am called to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28). When I look through all of the information I have been given in my life...I come to the conclusion that America was founded as a Christian nation...Separation of church and state was created to keep the state out of changing the church, not to keep the church out of the state."

This student's misunderstanding of the First Amendment of our Constitution aligns with the majority of U.S.-Americans who believe that the United States was created as a Christian nation (First Amendment Center, 2010, 2007, 2013).

Let's imagine similar scenarios as those I outlined, while taking out the words "Christian," "Christianity," and "Jesus," and substituting "Islam," "Muslim," "Judaism," "Jewish," "Allah," "YHWH," or "HaShem."

"Bernie gotta meet Allah. He gotta have a come to Allah meeting."

"[I]f you're a Jew, it makes you and me brother and sister....So anybody here today who has not accepted HaShem, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother."

"Everyone on earth should be Muslim, and Christians need to be perfected....It is better if we were all Muslims."

I can only imagine how instantaneously these speakers would find themselves shut down, denounced, and condemned.

And I wonder how many Orthodox Jews were prohibited from casting their vote in the numerous states holding presidential caucuses and primaries on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Just sayin'.