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CHARLIE WARD AND ALLAN HOUSTON: ANTI-SEMITIC?

Wayne Everett Orgar

April 2001

As I flicked on the TV this Sunday morning to watch the NBA playoffs, NBC's Amhad Rashad was flashing a NY Times Magazine headline that portrayed these New York Knick basketball players as making anti-Semitic remarks. These remarks were made in a Bible study group to the article's author, Eric Konigsberg, who is Jewish (1).

The comments centered around the notion that the Jews persecuted and executed Jesus. Also, Ward and Houston seemed to think that Jews still persecute Christians. In a related article by Chris Broussard (2), the Jewish Anti-Defamation League weighed in, commenting on how these destructive myths have resulted in anti-Semitism for centuries.

For Christians like Ward and Houston to complain about Jews persecuting Christians is silly in the face of history, particularly in the light of the Holocaust and the persecution of Jews in our country. Christians are hardly a victimized class in our society. Charlie Ward and Allen Houston, for all their Bible study, seem to have overlooked the part of the myth where the Romans executed Jesus. The theologian John Dominic Crossan has made a very strong case for this political misuse of Biblical text in his book, Who killed Jesus? Exposing the roots of anti-Semitism in the Gospel story of the death of Jesus. (3). Crossan points out that we understand little about the first century if we don't understand the politics of the first century. The Romans actually were pretty tolerant of different religious beliefs. The political actions of Jews caused problems, not their religious beliefs. Then, as now, the Jews were perceived as political threats.

We shouldn't be too hard on Ward and Houston. The Bible study guides they use probably are very narrowly structured to a particular interpretation and may not provide much historical background information. They may not have been given much information about Biblical texts and Christian origins. They are merely parroting the standard lines of the Christian religious/political party. Ultimately, it is Christian leaders who are responsible for perpetuating these myths and the resulting oppression.

Still, athletes are responsible for taking media exposure and using it to display their supernatural beliefs. Admittedly, I will never understand why athletes flaunt their superstition by praying at center court after games or in endzones after scoring a touchdown. They love to quote a Bible verse in an interview but not one of them will ever quote Matthew 6:5-6 (KJV):

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily, I say unto you, they have their reward.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

Thus, according to the Bible, we see the immorality and hypocrisy of athletes praying at sports events. It is deliberate disobedience of the Bible. Therefore, it could not be an act of glorifying a Biblical god; it is an act to glorify the athlete. It is an act of pious vanity and not an act of faith. Yet, almost every time you watch the Knicks, you will see athletes praying at center court after the game with TV cameras focused on them.

Why do Christian athletes study the Bible if they don't even try to follow what is says to do? As I see it, a couple of anti-Semitic remarks is not nearly as troublesome as this is to Christian athletes.

1. Konigsberg, Eric. The Knicks' Dysfunctional Family. The New York Times Magazine. April 22, 2001.

2. Broussard, Chris. Comments by Ward and Houston Are Called Anti-Semitic. The New York Times. April 21, 2001.

3. Crossan, John Dominic. Who killed Jesus? Exposing the roots of anti-Semitism in the Gospel story of the death of Jesus. Harper: San Francisco. 1995.