Even in Delaware

by

Check out this article on one Jewish family’s struggle to be treated fairly in the Delaware public schools. I didn’t talk to the Dobriches directly, but I did talk to the legal director of the Delaware ACLU about the Indian River school district problem when I was at Americans United. This story is the kind of thing I heard every day in that job (well, that and the nutjob e-mails). Reading it now still makes my blood boil. The lingering resentment I have against Christianity comes precisely from this story, which plays out every day in schools and communities across the country. A lot of people who call themselves Christians are hateful, bitter, tribalistic people. They’re fine with you (as long as you’re white, but that’s a separate story) until they find out you haven’t accepted Jesus as your personal lord and savior — or that you don’t vote Republican, wave the flag, etc., or, God forbid, that you have pro-choice leanings. Then, they raise their eyebrows in disapproval; but you can stay in their communities if you’re willing to accept the fact that you’re a second-class citizen, if you “know your place.” You have to be willing to accept the harassment of their vicious children and take it with the good humor that a lost soul should. But if, like the Dobriches, you want to be treated as a full member of the community and you fight to get that, the gloves come off and the vitriol comes out. Make no mistake about some of the more extreme of this group. They will threaten your life, they will kill your pets, they will break your windows, they will slash your tires. Most likely, if you report this to the police, nothing will be done about it. Heathens don’t deserve police protection, you see, and the folks who commit these acts are just standing up for God, so they aren’t really crimes. But most of all, these people will say things that it is beyond the bounds of decency to say. I will never forget the story of Lisa Herndahl, a mother of five in north Mississippi who wanted to be the one to teach her children religion, not the schools. Many, many things happened to her and her children, but nothing worse than when, after her young daughter lost her hand in an accident, was people in town telling Lisa that it was God’s punishment for participating in a lawsuit against the school district.

Where does this level of hatred come from and why are so many people who don’t feel it still complicit in it? I have never understood it and still don’t. No one should have to endure this kind of treatment.

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12 Responses to “Even in Delaware”

  1. juvenal_urbino Says:

    I find this an oddly hopeful story, Sandi. Not only because an evagelical pastor pushed back on these trends with a truer Christian message, but because only 20% of his church walked out because of it.

    It’d be interesting to see, though, as time goes by, how many of those who remained oppose his message just as bitterly as those who left, but chose to retrench rather than retreat. It’s hard to guess which way that church will go, now. It could be this dispute is over and they can now get on with being Church. Or they could be in for a long, ugly guerrilla war over control.

    As for where the hatred you describe comes from, it comes mostly from fear, I think. Partly, too, it comes from laziness. We like to have a clearly defined, purely evil enemy; it gives us a handy shorthand by which to measure (and thus be certain of) our own goodness. A nice Us vs. Them, with clearly defined battle lines, is a fight we don’t have to think too much about. We can just wade in swinging and know that whatever damage we may do, we do it on the side of Right.

  2. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Oops. I guess my comment conflated your 2 posts. The story I find oddly hopeful, obviously, is the one from your other post.

  3. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Ah, the dreaded triple-post.

    This story reminds me that, last Sat., I was listening to “What Do You Know?” on the radio. (It’s a comedy/quiz show kind of a thing on NPR.) They were taking calls from people to nominate their town for Best Overlooked Place in America. And — what are the odds? — somebody from Searcy, AR, called in.

    When asked what the selling points for Searcy were, the caller said, “It’s a good Christian community.” That was it. That was the only selling point the caller could come up with for Searcy. That was what he called in to say.

    The show’s host, who is Jewish, said, laughing goodnaturedly, “What about the rest of us? It doesn’t sound like I’d fit in very well. Would, say, a Muslim be welcome in Searcy?”

    The caller’s response was, “Well, I guess they have a right to live here just like anybody else.” In other words, “Yes, they could live here, but no, they wouldn’t be welcome. This is a good Christian community.”

    This is what families like the Dobriches and Herndahls often face. It’s not that people like the caller particularly hate Muslims or Jews or what have you. It’s just that their life experience is so narrow, they literally don’t know what to do with someone who is truly different from them (and everyone they’ve ever known). They’ve lived their whole lives thinking there’s a huge difference between Churches of Christ and Baptists. When a Jew or a Muslim (or an atheist or a . . .) comes along, it’s like a talking unicorn just moved to town, and the complication is discomforting.

  4. Terry Austin Says:

    Maybe the caller misunderstood the contest.

    I know when I think of cities that are best overlooked, Searcy is near the top of the list.

  5. Mystique Free Says:

    It seems that for some people any attempt to make public spaces comfortable for people of all faiths (or nonfaith) is somehow anti-Christianity.
    I was particularly disturbed by the onlooker who told Ms. Dobriches to tell her son to give his heart to Jesus if he didn’t want to be called Jew-boy anymore. Where the hell does this kind of stuff come from? Fear? Anxiety? The need to control?
    I was reading about Mel Gibson’s anti-semitism and thinking – WTF? Jesus was a Jew. His followers were Jews. The gospels was written to show the Jews killing Jesus to distance later Christians from Jews and show the Romans in a more positive light, but even if you read it literally … well, who do you think Jesus’s disciples and followers were? Pagans? No, they were Jews, and probably didn’t start to think of themselves as belonging to a new religion until several years after the crucifixion.
    Um. I may have digressed a bit.
    Still, hatred and ignorance seem to walk hand in hand and the most obvious message of Christianity, “Love your neighbor”, gets tossed aside in favor of drama and stupidity.
    People irritate the cr*p out of me sometimes.

    Speaking of Searcy, if that’s in the area I’m thinkign of I would have said that the location was the best thing about it. The ozark mountains are beautiful.

  6. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Let’s all stand together and sing, shall we? Neighborhood of B. (If you don’t know it, just follow along.)

    “Near the foothiiiiills, of the Ozarks…”

    There is some nice scenery in the area, but Searcy itself is, overall, a hole.

  7. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Not my alma mater, Juvenal!!! When I went to UA, I found it funny that its alma mater (song) mentioned God while HU’s didn’t!

    Anyhoo…

    Keep preaching, Mystique! I’ll just sit over in the Amen corner!

  8. juvenal_urbino Says:

    That’s no excuse. You know the song (who could ever forget it?), so you have to sing.

  9. Terry Austin Says:

    Harding has added a new stanza to its alma mater to correct that issue.

    Also making cameos in the stanza are Ann Coulter and Oliver North.

  10. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Glad they managed to get the whole Trinity in there.

  11. Mystique Free Says:

    Oh, I’m out of things to say on this one, Al. I have to think of things to write for my own durn blog 😛

    You preach, and I’ll sit in the Amen corner.

  12. David Says:

    In response to the “where do these attitudes come from?” question, an interesting post on David Byrne’s blog about a new documentary called “Jesus Camp.”

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