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In Tennessee it is legal for a Christian adoption agency to discriminate against a Jewish family even if the agency receives taxpayer funding. Paradoxically, when God was looking for a good home for baby Jesus, God chose a Jewish family. While theologians do not agree on all issues, most would agree that Mary and Joseph did a pretty good job.
The Holston United Methodist Home for Children made international news when it came to light that it has a policy of excluding people of other faiths from fostering or adopting children through its organization. A Jewish Knoxville couple, Gabe and Liz Rutan-Rams, applied to become foster parents in hopes of adoption but were sent an email reading, “As a Christian organization, our executive team made the decision several years ago to only provide adoption services to prospective adoptive families that share our belief system.” In contrast, Mary, mother of Jesus, got the job without even applying.
My friend Sig Pickus was a Jewish man who married a Methodist. When he did a presentation about Judaism for his wife’s congregation, he began by asking, “Who is the most famous Jew in world history?” Many answers were offered before Sig cut in, “The answer is Jesus.” Jesus studied the Torah, went to synagogue and made pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. When he was looking for disciples he chose folks who were brought up in Jewish homes.
My Methodist grandparents did a lot of good
My grandparents were Methodists. My grandmother taught me the words of John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Although I should note that her Methodism was practiced more often than it was preached. She also had a wry sense of humor. When I told her that my denomination required three days of personality testing before one could enter the ministry, she said, “Three days. I don’t believe I have that much personality.”
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My grandfather was a lawyer in Atlanta who represented Jewish clients in a time of rampant anti-Semitism. On Oct. 12, 1958, the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation Temple was bombed. Five suspects were arrested. One confessed and named others involved. Anti-Semitic literature was found in their houses. Even so, no one was ever convicted. The first trial was a hung jury. The second was an acquittal.
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My grandfather’s commitment to fairness predated the bombing. He had Jewish friends and clients throughout his career and received hate mail and threats for it. He volunteered to serve in the military in World War II to defeat Hitler and stop the racial genocide that killed an estimated 6 million Jews: adults, teenagers, children and infants. Every time I walk into a synagogue or visit the Holocaust Museum In Washington, D.C., I think about my Methodist grandfather.
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No discrimination when it comes to collecting taxes
According to state law, a government-supported adoption service can discriminate against a Jewish family. However, the state of Tennessee does not discriminate when collecting taxes. When it comes to taxation there is no Jew or Gentile, Protestant or Catholic, for all are one in paying sales tax. The cashier never asks me about my race, creed, color, religion, immigration status, sexual orientation or gender identity. The only audible sound is ca-ching, ca-ching. Anyone who takes taxpayers' money must accept taxpayer criticism and even condemnation.
In our time, synagogues are increasingly being targeted by hate groups: the hostage crisis in Temple Beth Israel in Texas, the mass shooting in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, not to mention the hate mail, threats and vandalism that do not make the news. In a time when our neighbors are being targeted by hate, we must demonstrate that love that empowers us to do all the good we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, at all the times we can, to all the people we can, as long as ever we can.
Chris Buice is minister of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Methodist tradition of doing good should bless adoption by Jewish couple