Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Take a Tip From Tevye's Rebbe

Up until about 48 hours ago, few - outside of diehard conservatives and political nerds - had ever heard of Georgia's junior senator, David Perdue.  But all that changed when Perdue, the former corporate turnaround specialist (Reebok, Pillowtex, Dollar General)  made national headlines for a brief speech he gave at a gathering of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Senator Perdue opened his remarks by encouraging attendees to pray for President Obama. But, he added in a rather smarmy tone, they needed to pray for him in a very specific way: “We should pray for him like Psalms 109:8 which says: 'Let his days be few, and let another have his office.'” The senator then stood at the dais, wryly smiling while the crowd broke into a loud cheer and gave him a thunderous hand of applause 

To anyone not knowing their Book of Psalms (or Acts 1:20 in the Christian Bible), one might take Perdue's comment as an attempt at a bit of partisan humor. However, given that the group Senator Perdue was speaking before can spout Biblical lines and verses until the cows come home, and given that Perdue's political  modus operandi involves a lot of scripture and public declarations of faith, one can fairly assume that both he and his audience were perfectly in on the real intent behind his citation: to wit, praying for the president's death. When this hit the media, Senator Perdue went from the senate's back bench to the national media's front line. Asked by a reporter from Politico whether he regretted his words, Perdue responded "Of course not!"

Now, to be certain, Perdue's staff and partisan allies claimed that all he was asking the audience to pray for was an end to the Obama Administration - not the life of the president.  "Quit being so sensitive and P.C.," more than one commentator urged.  "Get a life!"  However, at far back as 2009, there were reports ofbumper stickers and tee shirts emblazoned with the words "Pray for Obama - Psalm 109:8."  So to the folks gathered for the Faith and Freedom Coalition confab, this was nothing new.  Moreover,  given how well both Perdue and his audience know their Bible, they must certainly have been very aware that the words of the next several verses (9-13) underscore the true nature of the senator's request - and the cause of their cheers.  For verses nine through thirteen proclaim:

Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
Let his children be vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread out of their desolate places.
Let the creditor disdain all he has; and let the strangers make spoil of his labor.
Let there be none to extend kindness unto him: neither let there be any to favor his fatherless children.
Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generations to come, let their name be blotted out from under the heavens.

This, dear reader, is about as far away from a gentle joke as a Smart Car is from a Lamborghini Veneno. And, to make matters even worse, not a single Republican leader has taken Perdue to task - nor uttered so much as a single critical syllable.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who spoke immediately after Perdue at the coalition conference, said nary a word about Perdue's pronouncement - or the audience's response.  One would imagine that in his private life, the Senate Majority Leader does not pray for Mrs. Obama to become a widow or Sasha and Malia orphans, or for "none to extend kindness" to the president. And yet, by holding his tongue, he was signaling either his tacit support for Perdue's fervent wish, or an incipient cowardice; fear of losing the support of his party's ultra-Christian wing.  It is as troubling as Speaker Ryan deploring the racist comments of Donald Trump, but continuing to support his candidacy for president.  It would seem that in some circles, hatred of anything involving Obama, Clinton, progressive policy or the Democratic Party easily trumps patriotism or one's love of America.

Make no mistake: what Perdue, the Faith and Freedom Coalition crowd, and so-called "conservatives" without end espouse, is anything but "Christian" in the sense of Jesus of Nazareth's most important preachments:

  • "A new command I give you: Love one another."
  • "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . ."
  • "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven."
  • But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

 Perdue's followers are the ones who demand that government stay out of our lives - except when it comes to guns, sex and marriage; who see the needy as pernicious sponges; who believe that the President of the United States is a not-so-secret Muslim bent on destroying America while leading a conscious, Satanic war against Christianity; who spread fear and unreason; who blithely comingle religion and politics and argue that America must be a nation based on Christian principles; who pass on fables as if they were facts, and endlessly mouth bromides based on nothing but hot air. This is not Christianity as I understand it.  What it is, is base hucksterism cloaked in vaguely religious garments; a movement using the fumes of faith in the service of their temporal masters.  Christianity, like Judaism, Islam and virtually all of the planet's religious traditions, is based on love, care and the open hand- not the closed fist.  Regrettably, every religion does have its perverted radical factions, regardless of whether it be called Taliban, Khalistan, Dominionist or Neturei Karta, to name but a few.

As a member of a minority people who have indeed known what a war of extermination is really all about, I suggest that those preaching fear and praying for the death of President Obama, take a tip from Tevye, Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem's greatest creation.  For, as those who remember Fiddler on the Roof will recall that Leibish, a neighbor of Tevye, the impoverished but irrepressible מילכיגער (dairyman), asks the rebbe (rabbi) if there was a proper prayer for the Tzar - definitely afar, far more ruthless, heartless and brutal tyrant than anyone the Christian right could ever imagine.  "A prayer for the Tzar?" the rebbe mused. "Yes, indeed there is."

"And what is it?" Leibish asks.  The rebbe responds in a singsong patter:

"May God bless and keep the Tzar . . . FAR AWAY FROM US!"  Not a prayer for the death of a real tyrant, but rather a fervent wish that he just take the next train out of town . . . and their lives.

May Senator Perdue and his ilk take a tip fromTevye's rebbe, start acting more like real Christians, and quit using Holy Scripture to call for the death of a president.

Copyright ©2016 Kurt F. Stone