Lessons Still to be Learned

June 25, 1995

For all the griping about an excess of political correctness in the nation, news accounts still turn up frequent examples of man's insensitivity to man. Consider the controversy over a new song written by Michael Jackson, containing these couplets: "Jew me, sue me,/Everybody do me,/Kick me, kike me,/Don't you black or white me."

The singer's initial response to the uproar? Pained surprise that anyone would regard him as anti-Semitic. He says he meant only to express his feelings as a victim of crucifixion-by-media.

Here is the world's most popular entertainer, a man who claims "my three best friends are Jewish" and who is idolized by millions of children. Given all that, he is guilty of at least monumental ignorance of his song's impact. He also should have known his younger fans might take the lyrics more literally than he supposedly intended. At worst, he deliberately used religious slurs to draw attention to his new album -- which his record company will judge a flop if sales fall short of 20 million.

Michael Jackson's reckless use of hate-charged language is paralleled by words used recently by two Roman Catholic priests -- one a clergyman at Polish President Lech Walesa's parish and the other a young Baltimore priest who spoke during a Mass of "the Jews, the people who killed Jesus."

The Baltimore priest said later, by way of apology, that he referred not to the Jewish people but to the Jewish authorities who played a role in Jesus' death at the hands of the Romans. That explanation glosses over the 2,000-year history of Christian antipathy toward Jews, from assigning them the blame for Jesus' demise to Martin Luther's description of them as "children of the Devil" to the Holocaust -- and to the Polish priest's comparison of the Star of David to the Nazi swastika. The Catholic church repudiated collective Jewish guilt for the murder of Jesus, but not until the Second Vatican Council in 1965. It's disheartening that a Catholic priest in Baltimore in 1995 has stirred up the poison of the past, even if inadvertently.

Lessons still must be learned -- and can be learned. Michael Jackson's decision to re-record his song shows the controversy has shocked some sense into him. Local Christian and Jewish leaders plan seminars to further understanding between the faiths. And last week, the Southern Baptist Convention apologized for its support of slavery and its opposition to the civil rights movement.

As a high-ranking Baptist official said, "In the Bible, if you've wronged your brother, you go to your brother and seek reconciliation." Pardon the politically correct thought, but maybe more wrongs could be avoided if one brother first developed greater sensitivity to the differences of the other.

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