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September 20, 2023

About 75 people gathered in Brite Divinity School’s Bass Conference Center Wednesday evening for an address by Ambassador Rabbi David Sasperstein, designated by Newsweek as the most influential rabbi in America.  Saperstein, an attorney as well as cleric, served in the Obama administration as the U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom.  He continues work around the world, as well as domestically, to advance the cause of religious freedom.

Rabbi Saperstein spoke on “What the Intersection of Christian Nationalism, Rising Hate Crimes, and the Supreme Court’s Shifting Church-State Doctrine Portent for America.” He traced the history of religion in America, noting recent rightward shifting to favor conservative Christians, and an erosion of traditional guarantees of church/state separation.  While during the years after World War II “America gave Jews more rights and opportunities” than enjoyed in most countries and previous generations, he said, recent years have shown “an explosion of hate crimes” against Jews, persons of color, and members of LGBTQ communities. “Hate crimes are a betrayal of the promise of America,” the rabbi concluded.

Over against those sobering realities Saperstein held up a note of hopefulness.  Describing interfaith responses in many places as “encouraging,” he went on to applaud “entire communities standing up and modeling hope for America.” 

The event was jointly sponsored by the Christian Unity and Interfaith Ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Brite’s Stalcup School of Theology for Laity. Tribute was paid to Nancy Vaughn and Joe A. Stalcup, who endowed the popular series of annual events open to the public. A member of the Stalcup family was present to receive appreciation from attendees.