I have a friend who is firmly convinced that I'm going to burn in hell because I'm Jewish and haven't accepted Christianity. It's what her church teaches, and she sincerely believes it. Every now and then, she feels obligated to witness to me (for my own good, as she sees it), but since I used to be chaplain and know my Bible fairly well, I'm usually able to hold my own in any debate about scripture. We've managed to stay friends in spite of this theological impasse (we have many other things in common); but I know that deep down, she keeps hoping she'll find the right verse to persuade me to see "the truth."
But she won't. The problem, of course, is that her truth is not mine. I respect her beliefs, and I have nothing against them. I simply wish she could understand that I really like being Jewish and I have no wish to accept some other religion. Unfortunately, there are a lot of folks who share her belief that the Jews need to convert, and I've met quite a few of them over the years. Some are very assertive about it, like the missionaries who go door-to-door, or the high school kids who called me a "Christ-killer" and pushed me down some stairs.
On the other hand, I've met some folks who were much kinder and gentler about it. They just assumed that everyone would be fine with Christian prayers or Christian symbols, and they were stunned (or offended) if anyone objected. I grew up in the era when there was still prayer in public schools-- it was always Christian prayer, followed by a Christian hymn. And if a Jewish student ever asked about that (as I once did), the answer was that this was what the majority wanted. There was no expectation that those of us in the minority would be included, nor any understanding of why this morning ritual (in what was supposed to be a public school) might seem like imposing one religion and ignoring all the others.
What brought this back to me was the recent Supreme Court decision in favor of a high school football coach who likes to engage in Christian prayer at the end of a game, surrounded by his team (and sometimes by players from the other team). The conservative Christian judges in the majority seemed okay with this. They said it was not imposing Christianity on the players, since they were not being forced to participate. Except, they really were. Imagine if one of the kids on the team walked away and didn't join the prayer circle. Imagine if one of the kids thought a football field isn't a place for a prayer circle. I suggest that such views would not have been warmly welcomed-- by their coach or by others in attendance.
Many years ago, I too was told if I didn't like the Christian prayers and songs, I could leave and come back-- but you tell me, dear readers, how I would have been treated by the other kids if I had done that. Yet here we are, decades later, with a Supreme Court that seems oblivious to the harm it might cause by allowing the football coach to do something he wants to do and potentially turn anyone who disagrees into a pariah.
I know some of you will think I'm being anti-Christian. I'm not. I just don't think public spaces, like football games, are the right place for religious ceremonies-- from anyone's religion. Frankly, I don't think God cares who wins the football game. And I don't think God wants us to make a public show out of our piety-- I vaguely recall Jesus saying something in the New Testament about those who pray loudly so that others will see them; he recommended that we pray quietly and privately, so that only God sees us. The judges on the Supreme Court who voted to weaken the separation of church and state probably think they did a wonderful thing. But on behalf of those of us from different faiths than the majority, we wish they had thought more about being inclusive and tolerant, and less about imposing their "truth" on everyone else.