Jesus wants YOU . . . to kill infidels, says grade school poster
Some parents in Fresno, California are upset about an elementary school student’s poster, part of a class assignment. They’re right to be offended, but their reasoning is all wrong.
The offending poster (below) was part of a history class assignment for seventh-graders. They were asked to create a “help wanted” poster for soldiers to join the Crusades, and also to write a poem about Joan of Arc, the Black Death, or the Magna Carta.
Jesus wants you to kill infidels! Offensive? Perhaps, but He really does, so what's the problem? Image: ABC News
As you may recall, the Crusades were a series of Catholic “holy wars” against “infidels” to capture the “holy land”.
The poster, hanging in the lobby at Hamilton Elementary, responds perfectly to the assignment. It is exactly the sort of propaganda appropriate to recruiting soldiers to kill non-Christians in order to capture Israel for religious reasons. Remember, they didn’t know about oil in the Middle East back then!
So why are parents upset? Because a poster saying that “Jesus wants YOU to kill infidels”, and “meet me in Jerusalem”, and “Get a free ticket to Heaven” isn’t the image they want for their religion.
"The picture itself I feel goes against everything Christianity stands for," complains parent Chris Alfaro. He continues,
"I do believe common sense tells you, hey this may not be appropriate for a k through 8 school, right in the main lobby where each child passes on their way to school and home." Chris Alfaro is Christian and has a second-grade daughter at Hamilton. His wife first noticed the drawing in early March. But according to him, when she called the office to complain, no one made an effort to address her concerns. He claims, "The aide said something along the lines of I’ll see what I can do, and then hung up the phone."
Alfaro’s problem? Not that it’s a religious message (and an accurate one); rather, he’s upset that it doesn’t portray his religion in what he considers a positive light. Alfaro adds, “It’s kinda driving us nuts and we want to get rid of it.”
A local rabbi, contacted by the local news station, also complained.
Rabbi Rick Winer with Temple Beth Israel said, "If we want to encourage people to learn the lessons of post Crusades or post Holocaust, I generally find it’s more effective to do it through images of peace as opposed to images of horror."
ABC30 notes that Alfaro and his wife received a message from the principal, asking if they’d like to discuss their concerns. But at present, the poster is still on display.
I’ve said the parents complaining have it all wrong, and they do. They are complaining about the content of a poster, which meets perfectly the assignment.
While I’m in favor of keeping religion out of schools–unless one is teaching a comprehensive religious education course, which covers all major religions, past and present, in an even-handed manner–I don’t have an issue with this poster. Why?
First, its exactly the message the Catholic church would have presented at the time, if wrapped in a modern format derivative of “Uncle Sam” imagery. A lesson in the nature of propaganda is useful to students; they’ll encounter plenty of it in their lives.
Second, it presents a side of Christianity often ignored by people like Chris Alfaro. As Alfaro says, “The picture itself I feel goes against everything Christianity stands for.” Maybe Alfaro should read his Bible, and learn a little history. Or just read Secular News Daily to find out what modern Christians on the right wing in the US and other parts of the world are up to.
Third, it demonstrates how religion has been used to drive wars and, by extrapolation, control society.
These are all valuable lessons for schoolkids to learn.
I recognize that I am viewing the poster in its context, understanding why it was created. This influences my perception of it.
Were I to see a poster saying the same things, posted on a student’s locker, not created for a history class assignment, then I don’t doubt I’d respond in a way that neither the complaining parent nor the Rabbi considered: Pointing out that it is divisive hate speech.
This is why context matters.