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Our Sisters’ Keepers

On a warm autumn Sunday. I stood in the packed entrance lobby of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, looking over the crowd. The Promise Keepers were all over our nation’s capital that weekend: the day after their rally, a few stood out in the museum crowd, sporting the signature dark green and navy blue PK caps. Hundreds of thousands of these smiling, well-behaved men had come for what they billed as a “sacred assembly.” Everywhere, men were holding each other, crying, prostrating themselves on the ground, praying—for what, I’m not sure.

I was trying to be fair, but there was just too much about the Promise Keepers for me—a woman, and a Jewish one—to get upset about. For one, it was their mixed messages about the “woman’s place”—like that New Testament passage they kept quoting, in which Paul tells the Ephesians that women should submit to men, who in turn are supposed to sense women. “It’s a loving submission,” a young man patiently explained to me. ‘The whole thing is taken out of context. If my wife wants something, I’m not going to deny it.” “What if she wants an abortion?” I ask slyly. The young man recoiled: “Alice, this is a spiritual battle between God and Satan.”The posters earned by “PKers for Life” displaying bloody, eviscerated fetuses surely placed pro-choicers and Satan in the same camp.

The story in Washington that weekend had a wide Jewish angle as well. It got played out most succinctly right in the Holocaust Museum. “I came here to remember and pray,” said Ted Broadway, a Presbyterian pastor from Medford, Ore., who told me he had lots of Jewish friends. “I pray that the issue of the Messiah between Christians and Jews could be solved. I pray that the Jews find Christ as the Messiah.”

You came here, to the Holocaust Museum, to pray for what? I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’d been hearing this we-love-you-Jews-so-much-but-if-only you-would-let-us-help-you refrain all weekend long. “We want the nation to be under Christ,” a young man had told me as I rode down to Washington with him and 850 men on a special chartered Amtrak “Gospel Express.”

Apparently, so do the so called messianic Jews—those meshuggenehs who think you can both accept Jesus and stay Jewish—to judge by how many of them showed up for this event. In fact, the event began, unbelievably, with five messianists blowing shofars. Then David Chern off, who leads a messianic congregation in Philadelphia, made a big deal over the fact that the PK rally, which was all about men begging Christ for forgiveness right on the Washington Mall, happened to fall on Shabbat Teshuvah, the Sabbath of Repentance.

I could almost laugh at such absurdity. Except that I’m feeling too queasy about this Christian movement, which, despite their protestations about not being political, is tied to the religious right. Behind their benign-sounding affirmations about responsibility and reconciliation, the real message is that they want us women to know our second class place, and they want us Jews to know we are outcasts because we don’t accept Jesus. All this scares me; we’ve heard it before.

Alice Sparberg Alexiou, who lives on Long Island, writes frequently about the Christian Right.