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June 10, 2009

ADL: Doonesbury strip "crosses a line"

We went to the website of the Anti-Defamation League to look for comment on this afternoon's shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. What we found was criticism of a recent Doonesbury comic strip.

In a letter to strip creator Garry Trudeau, the ADL says the installment of May 31 "misquotes the Bible, maligns Judaism, and promotes a Christian heresy, all within eight panels."

At issue in the Sunday strip is an exchange between longtime characters Boopsie, her daughter, Samantha, and the Rev. Scot Sloan, about "the money lenders," whom Samantha describes as the only group against whom Jesus "really snaps."

"What is it about money lenders?" Boopsie asks.

"They do seem to set people off, don't they?" responds a smiling Sloan.

To the ADL, the reference to "money lenders" recalls the stereotype of Shylock, the enduringly controversial character from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. As the ADL notes, it was the money-changers, not money lenders, against whom Jesus rails in the Gospel accounts.

"Doonesbury's Reverend Sloan is guilty of promoting anti-Jewish stereotypes and biblical illiteracy," the ADL says. "He owes both Jews and Christians an apology."

It's interesting that the ADL says it's the character, and not Trudeau, who owes the apology. It may be that the organization detects an inadvertance to what, to many, could be a slur.

If the generally liberal creator of the 40-year-old strip has ever been accused of anti-Semitism, I'm unaware of it. The Sloan character, who dates to the earliest days of Doonesbury, is based partly on the Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr., the former Yale chaplain who championed interfaith relations and other progressive causes; in the strip, Trudeau has deployed him as a representative of liberal mainline Protestantism.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:57 PM | | Comments (6)


Who's crossing the line is the ADL, and the line it's chosen to cross is the line between doing fundamentally important work in defense of a diverse and tolerant community, and trivial, out-of-focus mud-slinging.

I think Trudeau can get past ADL's momentary foot-shooting. I sincerely wish the ADL could get a grip and stop confusing Judaism's best friends and neighbors with its enemies.

Lights on in your head, ADL.

How exactly do you promote "biblical iliteracy?"

Good luck finding a single sentence in the bible which isn't contradicted by another sentence in the very same book. So every time you go to church, the preacher is promoting their specific interpretation of scripture, which undoubtedly someone else disagrees with. The ADL is heading down a very slippery slope to even suggest the bible can be taken in a consistent context.

Come on ADL Shylock was one of the most interesting of the bard's characters. Put Othello, King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth or even the plotting Lady Macbeth beside Shylock-Shylock wins every time. He was a man ahead of the others around him; a curmudgeon who surpassed Scrooge and he didn't repent. He stood up for what he believed in and was as tough as nails on the outside but like the Israelis of today he was a sabra.

Was he a negative stereotype of the Jews and should Jews cringe he exists? Forget it! Shylock is the most human of them all. When he asked for his revenge he was right, when he questioned if a Jew is not like all the others he hit the nail on the head of Christian hypocrisy and when he flew into a rage about his daughter Jessica's perfidy he was a man true to his heritage. Shylock a negative stereotype? I say to you ADL, "Bah! Humbug!"

Being a Christian I am certainly against anti-Semitism, but the Doonesbury strip seems to offend Christians more than it does Jews. It makes me think. If someone says something against Muslims, Jews, Buddhists or Hindus, they are considered to be politically incorrect in a sense, even though it involves religion and not politics. Some group will be there, ready to let them know what they did wrong. What if someone offends Christians? Who will answer for them? Christians are often considered to be fair game for criticism, whether it is a comic strip or Saturday Night Live. Who lets the strip writer or show writer or writers know about it? Generally no one. Is that because Jesus turned the other cheek and taught us to do so also? I think that has something to do with it. Other groups are more aggressive than Christians. Thanks.

But Clay, Christians like you wear their wounded souls on their sleeves and walk around saying there is nobody to defend them while defending themselves quite well by the very process of complaining. In the end it all evens out--who will defend the Christians? You and scores of other Christian who think others think it is OK to attack Christians. You and other Christians who complain about this imagined slight endlessly. Read all the other comments here. Did you? The ADA has been asked to go climb a tall tree and leave well enough alone in these comments. You think that is politically correct?

Hi again anonymous. I disagree. I hear very few Christians complaining about Christians being attacked. I dont believe that I have even heard guys like Rush Limbaugh say it. I am not sure if I have heard anyone say it, to tell you the truth. And the comments made above may or may not support the ADL. My point is that I dont even know of any organized groups that go around defending Christians the way there are organized groups that defend other religions. Not ones that contact the press, etc. on a regular basis if they see something wrong. And, if I was president and was told that I shouldnt have swatted a fly, I would tell that group to please get the flies in my office to agree not to spread bacteria, and then maybe I could come to some agreement with the flies. Thanks.

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About Matthew Hay Brown
Matthew Hay Brown writes and blogs about faith and values in public and private life for The Baltimore Sun. A former Washington correspondent for the newspaper, he has long written about the intersection of religion and politics. He has reported from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, traveling most recently to Syria and Jordan to write about the Iraqi refugee crisis.

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