Freedom of Religion

With all the talk about freedom of religion in this country, we must recognize that not only minorities need that freedom. Sometimes it is the religious rights of others that are impaired — and sometimes by us.

On Sept. 18, the Washington Post ran an article entitled In Baseball Now, More Teams Pray Before They Play. In the middle of the article, Nationals ballplayer Ryan Church responded to Baseball Chapel Leader Jon Moeller’s comments about salvation and damnation.

Church was concerned because his former girlfriend was Jewish. He turned to Moeller, “I said, like, Jewish people, they don’t believe in Jesus. Does that mean they’re doomed? Jon nodded, like, that’s what it meant. My ex-girlfriend! I was like, man, if they only knew. Other religions don’t know any better. It’s up to us to spread the word.”

Some responded by decrying this as “hate speech.” Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld held a press conference outside RFK Stadium, calling the above “bringing hate into the locker room.” Who is Rabbi Herzfeld? Well, besides being the new, young head of DC’s oldest Orthodox synagogue, Ohev Sholom Talmud Torah, he’s also a protege of Avi Weiss. While I am often uncomfortable with Rabbi Weiss’ tactics, I at least felt his targets usually deserved opposition — anti-Israel conferences, desecration of Death Camp remains, etc. Here, however, I think Herzfeld entirely missed the point.

And the response to that was unfortunate, at least in my opinion: the team bowed to political correctness, removing Moeller and disavowing his remarks. Team president Tony Tavares said in a team statement that the reported comments “do not, in any manner, reflect the views or opinions of the Washington Nationals franchise.” Tony Kornheiser, a well-known Washington Post columnist, even submitted a column on Thursday deriding Church’s beliefs.

There’s only one small huge problem with that: Ryan Church’s beliefs happen to be those of The Church, as in the Christian Church, or at least those denominations (especially among Protestants) that do not subscribe to a dual-covenant theology which treats Jews as a special exception. The belief that only good Christians go to Heaven and the rest, well, don’t, is normative theology in a multitude of American churches.

Any statement or implication that Moeller singled out Jews seems unfounded. On the contrary, Church, as quoted, figured out all on his own that if only Christians are not damned, that means that Jews are headed downstairs. He asked Moeller if that were true, and Moeller merely nodded his head, confirming that this is their belief.

The idea that this was “hate speech” is not merely unfounded, but ridiculous. Why did Church care about Jews in particular? Because his ex-girlfriend is Jewish! She may not be his girlfriend anymore, but he’s not happy imagining her eternally condemned.

While we cannot forget the bloody history of Christianity’s treatment of Jewish non-believers during many tragic eras, there is nothing at all hateful in Church’s response, either. “Other religions don’t know any better. It’s up to us to spread the word.” He’s got to tell us. He has to be the best, nicest, sweetest guy he can possibly be, to send us the message.

As long as that’s his reaction, I see no reason to take offense. On the contrary, as long as we do our part — educate ourselves about why we don’t share his beliefs — there is no reason to find his beliefs threatening. Kornheiser owes Church an apology for mocking his religion, and Moeller ought to be permitted to continue to teach — he never singled out Jews, and as for his religion, it’s a free country.

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11 Responses

  1. Toby Katz says:

    Some such statement as “I chose you from among all the nations” would seem to qualify the whole Torah as hate speech, and all Jews who believe in the Torah as deserving of being fired from their jobs, if not banished from polite society altogether. What too many Jews don’t understand is that the war on Christianity in this country is a war on religion, period. This war on religion declares that any and all truth claims must be criminalized, freedom of speech and freedom of religion be damned.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    We as members of a religious minority need to avoid grandstanding.

  3. ralphie says:

    To me, by far, the most pressing question about this incident is – baseball teams got chaplains? What are they, going into battle? Do they need religious counseling after being on the bad end of a strikeout? This is at once fascinating and preposterous. I don’t have any kind of a chapel at my job. I go to religious services at a religious institution. That way, if my clergyman says something controversial, my employer doesn’t have to even think about distancing the company from the statement.

  4. Moshe Hillson says:

    A ressponse to ralphie:

    Baseball (along with football) IS America’s state religion.

  5. Ori Pomerantz says:

    In the US, we seem to have the notion that if it’s wrong to offend people, then it’s a good thing to be offended. Being the offended party means that others need to listen to you and make redress. It gives you power. We have gone too far in that direction. While offending people needlessly is bad, whining for everything which you could somehow construe as offensive is not good either.

    If a chaplain says: “Killing Jews is OK”, then it’s hate speech and deserves condemnation. But if a chaplain says: “Jews are going to hell”, then so what? Do we consider the chaplain’s opinions about the afterlife as important? Why?

  6. DovBear says:

    I could understand a liberal saying that all beliefs are equal, so really we shouldn’t judge, but right-wingers are supposed to know Right from Wrong and Truth from Error. They aren’t supposed to be shy about condeming people, like this chaplain, who are wrong.

    Now, Yakkov and I agree that the chaplain should be free to say and think any stupid/offensive/hateful thought that pops into his head, but, likewise, Yaakov must respect the right of the public to say, “Sorry: Your idea is too stupid/offensive/hateful for polite society,” and he must also respect the right of the Nationals to say “We don’t want to be represented by people with stupid/offensive/hateful ideas.”

    For 2000 years the idea that Jews don’t go to heaven was the cause of great human misery. The fact that it is finally verboten is cause for celebration; not for whining and foot-stomping from (ostensibly) Jewish writers.

  7. Yaakov Menken says:

    DB may drop out of his chair here, but we actually agree on something. 🙂 The public does have the right to say that “your idea is too stupid/offensive/hateful for polite society,” and certainly the Nationals can say that they don’t want “people with stupid/offensive/hateful ideas” evangelizing to their players.

    I also do agree that we should know right from wrong. But I also have to respect someone else’s right to be wrong. I don’t get to denounce a belief as “hate speech” just because it’s wrong.

    It is not “the idea that Jews don’t go to heaven [that] was the cause of great human misery.” That belief, in and of itself, is not hateful, and doesn’t suggest a campaign of murder. The historical record does not show Christian atrocities against Africans, Tibetans or even Moslems (they only killed those who blocked their way to Jerusalem) in the way that they, historically, pursued Jews. The rest of their religious (and ethnic) history of warfare is not very different from that of others.

    The belief we could protest is that the Jews were all especially condemned for killing their savior, and deserved death for their deed. There was active, specific preaching against the Jews, and this led directly to countless horrors.

    In the current case, Moeller never said a word about Jews; Church asked about us because he cares about us, and one of us in particular. Was Moeller supposed to suddenly backtrack on his entire teaching, that only believers get into heaven? Better that we should respect his right to be wrong.

  8. Zach says:

    I could not agree more with Toby and Moshe. And well said Yaakov. I am an Evangelical Christian, student of the Protestant Reformation, and intend to enter vocational Christian ministry. I stumbled across this page looking for more information about the subj. There is great reason for us to be concerned about these developments. It is the reasonable progression of a secular worldview that is necessarily militant towards Absolute Truth. The notion that society should contain only pockets of religion (I.E. within our churches and synagogues) is a frontal attack on the presupposition that G-d is sovereign and involved with His Creation. To give in on this front, is to surrender the entire battle.

    We must both tolerate and refute statements that are wrong. For anyone to propose that offensive statements should be sensored or prohibited (by law) will backfire, and cause the very discrimination and persecution that we desire to avoid. Tolerance has been redefined in such a way that it cannot tolerate any Absolute statement about Faith except that it is subjective and relative. The consequence is that Truth becomes meaningless and eventually Law and society unravel. This fight is about not only about what is true, but about the means by which Truth is propagated.

    Incidently, I do not appreciate everything that Evangelical Christianity has become. But I can say that as a USMC officer who has traveled the world and US, I have never met a professing Christian who has hostile intent for Jews or Israel. I don’t subscribe to a dual covenant view, choosing to believe that the New Covenant spoken of in Jeremiah 31 is the fulfillment of what G-d declared in the previous covenants. The Christian Bible should be read expecting continuity between the Torah and New Testament writings. G-d does not change like man does. Therefore, we should expect that themes would run continuously through His communication with Man. That being said, G-d did not tell Man everything at once. Therefore, all scripture must be read in the context of the whole.

    I’d like to agree with Yaakov’s last paragraph stating that Church sincerely cares about Jews and specifically his girlfriend. I’d like to suggest that true Christians have the same point of view.

    With blessings of Shalom

  9. Charles B. Hall says:

    Even given respect, should we engage in theological dialogue with other religions? This was a controversy about 40 years ago; Rov Soloveitchik and the Rabbi A. J. Heschel took very different positions regarding Jews participating at Vatican II. Rov Soloveitchik’s essay, “Confrontation”, is well worth reading; I find his arguments compelling.

    An online version is at

    What does theological dialogue have to do with this? Many Jews do not realize that there is a major controversy in Christianity over whether Jews need to become Christians. The majority opinion, held by the Roman Catholic Church, and most Protestant Churches, seems to be that we Jews do not. But there are some very loud minority voices: The head of the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board actually accused the Catholic Church of anti-Semitism for refusing to target Jews for conversion! That Church’s International Mission Board has targeted exactly 5,589,039 — and that is a direct result of their theological position. With “friends” like this, who needs enemies? I think that whether it is a good idea to aggrssively fight the theological position that underlies these efforts to destroy the Jewish people through conversion is something on which intelligent, honest people disagree. I can definitely see both sides here.

    Here is a link to the spreadsheet, updated monthly, giving details of the conversion targets I mentioned.

    I consider this to be scary. Yet some Orthodox rabbis continue to work actively with these folks by working on US domestic political issues (usually with a conservative agenda) by and supporting evangelicals who are pro-Israel (despite the fact that Christian Zionism is another major controversy within Christianity). Do they realize what our supposed allies are up to?

    I will add that plenty of evangelicals do not agree with the Southern Baptist position, and you can easily find Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants (especially in the Middle East) who do. Especially in this time we should not over-generalize.

    L’Shanah Tovah!

  10. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Charles B. Hall: Do they realize what our supposed allies are up to?

    They probably realize but do not care. A person who wants to hurt us is an enemy. A person who believes that we are going to hell if we don’t accept Jesus and therefore tries to get us to convert is a misguided friend.

    Let’s invert this. As Jews, we believe that everybody should follow the seven Noahide laws. Should an anarchist who follows six of them but believes that building law courts is wrong see us as enemies?

    Shana Tova,

  11. Ezra Wax says:

    Ori wrote:
    They probably realize but do not care. A person who wants to hurt us is an enemy. A person who believes that we are going to hell if we don’t accept Jesus and therefore tries to get us to convert is a misguided friend.

    A friend who tries to convince you to commit idol worship is an enemy and is called a meisis and the Torah condemns him.


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