There are meeting of Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Clutterers Anonymous and, of course, the granddaddy of them all, Alcoholics Anonymous. I would like to suggest a new addition – Bigots Anonymous, and Rabbi Joshua Hammerman should head the effort to get it off the ground.
Rabbi Hammerman has apologized for his twisted remarks about those who applaud Tim Tebow’s public declarations of faith. The New York based newspaper, Jewish Week, which published his thoughts rather than sending them back to him with a big red X through the offending article, has apologized as well. I am quite sure that both the newspaper and author were taken aback at the furor their words provoked, and I am willing to concede that the apologies may be authentic rather than simply backpedaling to get out of trouble.
Pretty much anyone who speaks or writes publicly, including my husband (and even me!), has occasionally said something poorly in a way that leads it to be misconstrued. Other times one sometimes gets a reaction which stems from the fact that the reader is reading poorly, bringing tons of chips on his shoulders to the writer’s words and reading things which no objective observer would see. Case in point – I was recently accused of racism for my blogs , Dear O and Lucy, Lucy and Herman Cain . I wasn’t sure if I had been insensitive – though I thought racist was a bit strong – or if my accuser was over-sensitive. After re-reading my words and not seeing anything I wanted to retract, I asked the reader to please post her comments publicly so that others could let me know what they thought. As of yet, she has not done so.
There is another experience one can have after articulating an idea. Strong negative reaction can cause one to step back and re-evaluate. Perhaps one’s convictions are entirely wrong! In one of my blogs, I used a word for which I was taken to task by a reader. I honestly had no idea that the word had a reprehensible history and so his comments taught me that a word which I assumed was benign actually wasn’t. Or perhaps an author or speaker discovers that something which one assumed was a standard, perhaps universally accepted concept actually isn’t. This happened to both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. The former’s comments as a candidate trying to share in the pain of the public, “Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?” reflected a lack of awareness that arugula is not as American as apple pie and that Whole Foods isn’t quite Safeway. The latter candidate similarly showed that his thinking isn’t instinctively that of most of us when he threw out the sum of $10,000 for a bet as if we all think in those types of numbers.
Rabbi Hammerman’s comments were obviously in a different category than either Obama or Romney’s. This is why they need to be treated seriously and not dismissed simply as foolish or careless. I don’t know Rabbi Hammerman and I don’t regularly read the Jewish Week, but I assume that the rabbi and the editors see themselves as good and enlightened people. This incident is a wake-up call that they hold prejudiced and bigoted views about Christian America. These views aren’t surprising as the circles they travel in are probably quite narrow: liberal, east-coast and academic. As with most holders of prejudice, they aren’t aware of how intolerant they are because everyone with whom they interact shares their views. It would do them all good to get out of their sheltered cocoon and get to know some actual Tim Tebow supporters, instead of the caricatures in their minds. Perhaps, in addition to a twelve-step program for anti-Christian bigots, they should undertake a sensitivity training journey around America. I’d be happy to introduce them to pastors and congregants in amazing churches in the Bible Belt. I don’t think that in their wildest imaginations they envision these fervent, sophisticated, charitable, and diverse congregations.
Future actions will determine whether Rabbi Hammerman and the Jewish Week’s apologies reflect a willingness to expand their thinking or if they only regret the crassness with which they revealed what they believe. If the dogmatic, doctrinaire, intolerant and insular thinking of the liberal Jewish community which they represent remains entrenched, an opportunity for growth will have been wasted.