So, let me start by saying that I am conflicted and don’t know where I want this post to go: I’m just going to write a bit and explore what comes up.
Robert Jeffress, a man of truly horrible behavior, is a right-wing pastor that does not believe in freedom of religion. Today he gave a christian prayer as the celebrated invocation at the opening of the new US embassy to Israel in Jerusalem. He has also repeatedly insisted that all faithful Jews are going to hell. Now while he’s also condemned just about everyone else to hell, I want to focus on his antipathy towards Judaism for a moment.
First, can we all agree that religious supremacy has caused harm on the same order of magnitude to racial supremacy, and that, indeed, for crimes such as the genocide of indigenous peoples by Christians in a huge number of locations religious supremacy and racial supremacy were inextricably linked. In fact, there’s good reason to believe that religious and racial supremacy were also inextricably linked in Japan during the rape of Nanking, the sexual slavery of Korean “comfort women”, and the entirety of WW2.*1
Religious supremacy, especially but not only when it occurs with racial supremacy, is highly dangerous. Jeffress clearly advocates religious supremacy. He clearly advocates that his religion is superior to the Jewish religion and that those who are faithful to Judaism will burn in hell for succumbing to Lucifer’s deceptions and thus failing to convert to Christianity. His teachings, then, clearly include that Jews are traitors to his oil-covered Jesus and deserve the harshest possible punishment.
Is there any time when Jews have been particularly susceptible to the mish-mash of racial and religious supremacy? In a word: yes. The pogroms were justified on explicitly racial terms as well as explicitly religious ones. As was the Holocaust. That’s right, the German advocates of a “Master Race” also degraded Jews on religious grounds, with the combination of those two justifying the infamous Final Solution.
So think, then, about what it means to have the religious supremacist Robert Jeffress invited to give the invocation for the new Jerusalem building and its new mission. Mission is, of course, a technical term with specific meaning inside the international diplomatic community. But it has other meanings as well, and I don’t think that the meanings of “purpose” or “project” or “intention” are inappropriate here. Trump is consciously reframing the US toward the Arab and Iranian Middle East, but he is also reframing US policy toward Israel. Though I have strong criticisms of the Israeli policies enacted by the government to which I am connected through my association with Judaism, there is no justification for Jeffress’ religious supremacy and quite a number of reasons to believe it is reckless if not malicious.
Jeffress represents a minority Christian community that welcomes the possibility of war in Israel because it sees that war as the culmination of their god’s plan to kill the muslims, kill the jews, kill everyone that isn’t the right kind of Christian, and then set the remaining right-thinking Christians up in a new paradise.
It is more than disturbing to think of a house of diplomacy being granted its dedication by someone who will not be content until war destroys the land on which that house of diplomacy rests. In a phrase, the mission of the new US embassy is murder-suicide if it in any way shares Jeffress’ views. This seems impossible, yet as reasonable as our diplomats may be, they work for an unreasonable man, someone who thought this man, this religious supremacist, this proponent of genocidal war should be the one to provide our embassy to Israel its religious dedication.
Yes, we could make mild criticisms of Trump chastising him for his tone-deaf selection of a virulent religious bigot who celebrates the coming war to kill all the jews who don’t convert, but this truly requires a much stronger response. This dedication should be terrifying to anyone who cares about preventing war.
*1: Though I know little about Japanese culture, and would be happy to hear from those who know more even if it proved wrong my supposition that it is reasonable to believe the two were linked in Japan at that time.