Opinion: We must stand up to Christian nationalism

By Elliot Ratzman
“In the scriptures, it says that children are a reward, they’re a heritage, they’re a blessing,” is how Ohio Rep. Melanie Miller explained her opposition to abortion. “They are not a burden, but they are a gift from God.” We have come to expect such anodyne sentiments misconstruing reproductive care as “anti-child” and “anti-family.”

However, last summer, The New York Times podcast, The Daily, interviewed an anti-abortion activist and pastor, Jeff Durbin, whose organization was committed to introducing legislation to charge women who received abortions — and the doctors who performed them — with homicide, possibly incurring the death penalty.

“It’s a command of God to rescue those who are being led to the slaughter,” he explained. “That’s in Proverbs Chapter 24. So that’s not a request or a suggestion.”

In many cases, anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ extremists, who assert that life begins at conception, or that gender is binary and immutable, cite “Old Testament” passages to justify their positions.

Infuriating. Ohio’s Jews must oppose this both as citizens committed to democratic pluralism, but also, clearly, publicly, and forcefully, as Jews.

After the Dobbs decision, we hear that anti-abortion extremists, nearly all Christian, who along with seeking a nationwide abortion ban, even of mifepristone, are also targeting legal birth control. We see the storm brewing here in Ohio in the attempt to thwart the reproductive freedom referendum.

It is not just abortion access that is under threat; at Pride parades and events all over the country, we have, for decades, seen messaging by anti-gay activists citing Leviticus or referencing Sodom and Gomorrah.

Organized hate to gay, lesbian, and transgender people continually refers to our Scriptures for support.

We are living in times when legislation against reproductive rights and gender-affirming care is being organized by the Christian right, imposing a fringe religious agenda on Jewish bodies, and citing “Old Testament” texts to add insult to injury.

Let’s connect the dots.

Crusades against abortion rights and transphobia are grounded in a Christian “supremacist” logic laced with antisemitic tropes. While the majority of mainstream Christians support reproductive freedoms and are supportive of LGBTQ issues, the activist core of the religious right is, in essence, Christian nationalist. They reject the separation of church and state, recast the American project as the story of a “Christian nation,” and demonize liberal opponents with religiously tinged dog-whistles, framing them as harming children and killing babies — a new sort of blood libel.

Anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ extremists explicitly seek a theocracy, a rule by alleged “laws of God.” Christian theocracy has a long bloody history, and Jews and other perceived heretics, eccentrics, and misfits do not fare well under such regimes.

Even the Catholic right, while not strictly Christian nationalists, insist, absurdly, that their narrow views on reproduction, contraception, and gender are grounded in “universal reason” accessible to all, rendering all others, including the vast majority of American Jews, “irrational.”

Christian nationalism also seeks to expand mass incarceration, criminalizing healthcare providers, parents, and those who seek abortion. In the name of “protecting children,” Christian right bills contain heavy penalties for families who seek proper reproductive and gender-affirming care. The claims that children are being murdered and mutilated by doctors draw on age-old Christian superstitions and antisemitic conspiracies.

Within the conversations of the Christian nationalist right, Jews are already being divided into “good” and “bad”— Soros and liberal Jews are demonized. Liberal Jews are scapegoated and their spaces are under threat as was the case with Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life murders.

By contrast, the Christian right is more than happy to embrace Jewish conservatives, the Ben Shapiros, Marc Levins, and Josh Mandels, who will buck Jewish values on social issues, and whose stated positions on abortion and gender-affirming care are indistinguishable from the Christian right.

As Jewish ethicist Michal Raucher points out, “Unless you support a person’s right to bodily autonomy, then you are supporting a system wherein someone else determines what you or anyone else can do with their bodies.”

At Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, we agree and insist that bodily autonomy is a Jewish value. This extends to trans people’s gender-affirming care.

Some Jews believe that making common cause with White Evangelicals is “good for the Jews,” either through their desire for public funding of religious schools or in Christian support of the State of Israel. On June 8, AIPAC tweeted that it “mourns the passing” of Pat Robertson, one of the architects of the modern religious right. Commentators have insisted that, on Israel, American Jews will have to forego their social liberalism for this unholy alliance.

Other Jews may perceive the burden will fall primarily on poorer women, women of color, the disenfranchised, those who cannot access health care, or afford arrangements in states where abortion or gender-affirming care is legal. While this is true, it is our Jewish obligation to stand with those most vulnerable, both on principle and out of a larger sense of self-interest. Jewish history is familiar with the costs of social exclusion.

Our role as Jews, as an organized Jewish community, should not be to stand with the wicked and the powerful out of misplaced self-interest, but those populations at risk—women, people of color, LGBTQ—who are the targets of Christian nationalists and their anti-abortion, anti-“woke” legislative agenda.

True security for Jews means living in a pluralistic society, not one guided by toxic extremists who would use the state to deny us rights and freedoms.

There is plenty to do. In the short term, gathering petitions for Ohio’s Right to Reproductive Freedom amendment, mobilizing the vote for August, and opposing anti-trans and anti-“woke” legislation.

In the medium term, we must join in coalition with others—African Americans, the LGBTQ community, liberal Christians—to contain the threat of Christian nationalism.

While disrupting pernicious legislation is crucial, while standing in coalitions is incumbent on us, we also need to turn to our Christian nationalist neighbors in dialogue and discussion.

By doing the hard work of engagement, we will get to the heart of these retrograde hostilities to social pluralism, religious freedom, and misunderstandings of the Hebrew Bible, and to accompany their journey out of hate toward mutual understanding and democratic pluralism.

Whether the efforts of the coalitions for reproductive freedom succeed or fail in their efforts this August and November, Jews must be central to the organized resistance to Christian nationalism in Ohio in the coming years.

Elliot Ratzman is a professor in the religion department at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. He is part of the leadership team of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action — Ohio.

To read the complete July 2023 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

Previous post

Animals tell tales

Next post

Mazel Tov!