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Ask a Latter-day Saint therapist: I’m a Jewish convert to the Church. Some of my ward members are anti-Semitic

Editor's note: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author. Readers should consider each unique situation. This content is not meant to be a substitute for individual, professional advice.

This week's column coincides with the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Friday morning, Elder Quentin L. Cook tweeted an expression of gratitude for his Jewish friends.

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Q: Please tell me how I can get rid of my anger toward certain members of the ward I belong to. They told me I killed Jesus Christ because I was born and raised Jewish. They also told me that my family deserved to die in the concentration camps. The members said that they can say this to me because the President of the Church and his two counselors never said in general conference that they couldn’t. I need to know how I can stop being angry with them.

A: Thank you so much for reaching out with this. First of all, I’m so sorry for the attitudes of your ward members. I do believe you when you say you’ve encountered anti-Semitic bigotry; it doesn’t represent the vast majority of the good people I know in our faith, but I know that human prejudice exists among us. It’s repugnant. Anti-Semitism is expressly, explicitly contrary to the teachings of Christ and His Church.

If you will allow, I’d like to offer a brief doctrinal rebuttal of your ward members’ abhorrent attitudes and words (which you can share with them if you like) then address how you can handle your (understandable) anger towards them.

My cursory search of general conference teachings did not reveal any specific statements against anti-Semitism (though to be fair, I’m a therapist with a testimony not a gospel scholar). That said, an official statement by Church leadership does.

After the tragic 2018 shootings at a Pittsburgh synagogue, our leaders lovingly referred to “our Jewish brothers and sisters” and offered this definitive statement: “We condemn the environment of hate-filled rhetoric that has become so prevalent. Anti-Semitism has no place in our society. It is the responsibility of good people everywhere to speak out and stand up for each other’s rights to worship and live peacefully.”

I can think of no stronger denunciation of anti-Semitism than that found in The Book of Mormon itself. Referring to the Latter-day Gentiles love for the Bible, the Lord calls them out for rejecting and persecuting its authors: the Jewish people.

“But thus saith the Lord God: O fools, they shall have a Bible; and it shall proceed forth from the Jews, mine ancient covenant people. And what thank they the Jews for the Bible which they receive from them? Yea, what do the Gentiles mean? Do they remember the travails, and the labors, and the pains of the Jews, and their diligence unto me, in bringing forth salvation unto the Gentiles?

 

O ye Gentiles, have ye remembered the Jews, mine ancient covenant people? Nay; but ye have cursed them, and have hated them, and have not sought to recover them. But behold, I will return all these things upon your own heads; for I the Lord have not forgotten my people” (2 Nephi 29: 4-5).

God loves the descendants of Abraham. He always has. The Jews are still His covenant people. Your ward members miss the irony that in despising Jewish people they are hating their own family. Those ward members are, either by literal blood or by adoption through baptism, part of the House of Israel. They are part of the group they hate. And they don’t see it.

President Joseph Fielding Smith taught that “every person who embraces the gospel becomes of the house of Israel. In other words, they become members of the chosen lineage, or Abraham’s children through Isaac and Jacob unto whom the promises were made. The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph. Those who are not literal descendants of Abraham and Israel must become such, and when they are baptized and confirmed they are grafted into the tree and are entitled to all the rights and privileges as heirs” (Doctrines of Salvation, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 3:246).

It is ridiculous to lay the blame for Christ’s death on all Jewish people. He died voluntarily, and only those who sought His death are accountable for it. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (Ezekiel 18:20).

It is horrific to claim that Jews deserved to die in the Holocaust. As Elder D. Todd Christofferson declared, “We share every sentiment of horror about the Holocaust that any non-Jew can.” Our own Church website states that “Perhaps more than any other people throughout history, the Jews have experienced enormous persecution as a minority scattered around the world. Anti-Semitism is still a problem today.”

Your ward members are wrong. Period. You already knew that. Perhaps this will help you to convince them.

But then, perhaps not. Biases die hard. Prejudices run deep. What do you do if you respectfully correct them with true principles and they persist?

The Savior gave the key. “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:10).

But what does it mean to forgive? From a therapeutic standpoint, it means to let go of anger. To let go of hate, bitterness, and resentment. We forgive not because the other person deserves it, but because it is good for our soul to let go and love.

Forgiveness isn’t a one-time act. It’s something to be practiced day after day after day, just like repentance. Forgiveness is how we handle the anger that emerges unbeckoned within us. And that anger can surface over and over without warning. Choosing to love, choosing to pity the loss of light and connection that accompanies bigotry, choosing to let God judge, this is the way.

So is choosing to see their prejudice as the result of their poor choices, their miseducation, their misinterpretation of life experiences, and not a reflection on you or your heritage.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean trust. You don’t have to be vulnerable or close with people who abuse you. The Savior commands us to love our enemies. He commands us to forgive all people. He never commands us to trust. Love and forgiveness we give freely, because it’s the right thing to do, because it helps us to heal, because it changes hearts (sometimes), and because it will be well in the day of judgment if we do so. Love and forgiveness we give freely. Trust has to be earned.

Choose to love and forgive, again and again. But keep healthy boundaries to protect yourself from abuse and ugly bias. Stay close to people you can trust.

God bless you. I hope this helps.

Additional Reading

Jonwe

Jonathan Decker, LMFT, Contributor

Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Your Family Expert. He offers online relationship courses to people anywhere, as well as face-to-face and online therapy to persons in several states. Jonathan has presented at Brigham Young University Education Week and at regional conferences in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. He is married with five children. Contact him here and join his Facebook group for daily gospel-based relationship tips. 

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