When Journalists (or op-ed writers) Get Biblical

Speaking of credentials for ministry, I am not sure it’s a positive development when any Tom, Maleek, or Kasheena can give speeches or write columns with the idea that they know what the Bible teaches. Bonnie Kristian (seriously) decided to challenge Mike Pompeo for a speech in which he referred to Iran’s hostility to Israel as a carry over from the way Persians regarded the Israelites in the book of Esther. In this contest, Kristian has some expertise on foreign policy and has written a book on “flexible” Christianity with a foreword by Gregory Boyd and endorsed by Jonathan Merritt (excuse the genetic fallacy). Meanwhile, Pompeo is a member of an Evangelical Presbyterian Church. He also operates under the hardship of being a member of the Trump administration.

Here is the point of contention: Pompeo doesn’t understand Esther.

The linchpin of Pompeo’s CUFI treatment of Iran was the scriptural book of Esther, which in his telling is evidence that Iran has for centuries been a hotbed of anti-Semitism. “That same twisted, intolerant doctrine that fuels persecution inside Iran has also led the ayatollah and his cronies to cry out, quote, ‘death to Israel’ for four decades now,” Pompeo said. “This is similar to a cry that came out of Iran — then called Persia — many, many years ago. The Book of Esther teaches us about this.”

No, it doesn’t. As Duke Divinity professor Lauren Winner has explained, Esther is rich in themes worth exploring: “There are a lot of lessons about how power works in this story,” challenging us to examine “our own displays of power in our own smaller empires, even if the empire is no bigger than … than our own heart.” And “Esther is also a story about exile,” Winner adds, “about being an exiled Jew, an exiled person of faith, and what it means to live in a place that is foreign, to live in a place where you are foreign, where you and your kinsman are aliens. Esther is a book about how to live with your community in a place that is indifferent to you or hostile to you.”

Kristian goes on to state that Esther is also a story about courage and she supplies a link to a piece by Rachel Held Evans.

Bottom line: Pompeo’s use of Esther is “inexcusably misleading.”

The editors at The Week actually know enough about the Bible to conclude that Kristian is on firm ground? Kristian herself appeals to a Duke Divinity School professor, with a terminal degree in religious history but who is also an Episcopal priest, and a parachurch blogger to be able to say with such certainty that Pompeo is wrong? Couldn’t a better point have been that the Secretary of State should simply use assessments of the middle East from the contemporary world rather than trotting out a part of Scripture that is likely to provoke Christians, Jews, and Muslims?

But if Kristian is going to enter the fray of the authoritative interpretation of Esther, at least let Christopher Guest have a stab:

Jewish Americans and Thanksgiving

While some are wondering how to include native Americans in this day’s preparations and festivities, David Swartz reminded readers that Southerners were not so comfortable with a holiday rooted in New England’s heritage:

In his book The First Thanksgiving, he writes, “White southerners associated the holiday with New England, and that made it suspect in their eyes.” If he’s right, sectional rivalry explains why these old articles from Kentucky seem so strange and ahistorical, as if Thanksgiving comes out of nowhere. Southern narratives eliminated Pilgrims from the holiday’s history because they were from the North.

Indeed, northerners often encouraged the association of their region with antislavery. In the decades leading up to the Civil War, politicians endorsed the abolition of slavery in their Thanksgiving proclamations. Antislavery societies sometimes took up collections at Thanksgiving services. Abolitionists from New England connected the “Pilgrim Spirit” to John Brown’s raid in Virginia.

One frustrated writer in Richmond, Virginia, complained that “it is a common notion of New England, that it is the hub of the whole creation, the axis of the entire universe, and that when it thanks God that it is not as other men, everybody else is doing the same. . . . What a race these sycophants are!”

When I think of Americans who are ambivalent about Thanksgiving, my thoughts run to Jewish Americans. Barry Levenson captured the awkwardness in Avalon:

Then Christopher Guest ran into trouble with making a movie called “Home for Purim” that needed to be rebranded as “Home Thanksgiving.”  Why?  Because marketing a Jewish holiday movie is impossible:

Leave it Woody Allen to be the Jewish-American most comfortable with the Yankee holiday in “Hannah and Her Sisters”:

Forget football. See a Jewish-American movie about Thanksgiving.