Bo Wagner is pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, NC, a widely traveled evangelist, and the author of several books. His books are available on Amazon and at www.wordofhismouth.com

As a devout Christian, complete Bible believer, and rock-solid conservative, it is rare that I ever find myself on the same side of an issue as the ACLU. And yet, their press release of May 2, 2024, which says, “The American Civil Liberties Union strongly condemns the House of Representatives for passing H.R. 6090, the Antisemitism Awareness Act, which threatens to censor political speech critical of Israel on college campuses under the guise of addressing antisemitism,” puts me on the same side as the ACLU on this one.

And it is all the more odd since I am also a devout supporter of the Jewish people, their right to their ancestral homeland in Israel, and their right to fiercely defend themselves against the physical attacks that threaten their very existence. Anyone doubting my stand on this need only look to my column from just a few weeks ago, “We Are At Our Own Never Again Moment.”

When a really hot-button issue like H.R. 6090 comes up, my standard practice is to go to the source itself rather than just rely on what is said in the news or on social media. Anyone wishing to do as I have done and read the bill can do so at this link, https://www.congress .gov/bill /118th -congress/house-bill/6090. Most of the bill is, to me, perfectly fine. But under Section 4, Definitions, it reads, “For the purposes of this act, the term “definition of antisemitism” – (1) means the definition of antisemitism adopted on May 26, 2016, by the IHRA, of which the United States is a member, which definition has been adopted by the Department of State; and (2) includes the “contemporary examples of antisemitism” identified in the IHRA definition.”

And that, therefore, led me to my next stop in researching the issue, the IHRA definition the bill looks to. And just like HR 6090, much of it is perfectly fine. But among the really problematic parts, we find this, “Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to… Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus… to characterize Israel or Israelis.” Here is the link to the entire IHRA document for anyone wishing to read it: https://holocaustremembrance.com/resources/ working-definition-antisemitism.

Again, let me reiterate that much of both H.R. 6090 and the IHRA document on antisemitism are utterly reasonable, and both, I believe, are well intended. But this bill is still a disaster on a great many levels, and free speech is one of those levels, and not just the free speech part of it that troubles me as a preacher. History has not had many examples of nations where people were allowed the liberty to speak freely; this is not something to take lightly. Yes, there must be a fair balance to that right. If someone is threatened with death or harm, they should be charged and convicted of communicating a threat before they can bring it to be or whip up others to do so. If someone or some group is unjustly slandered, they should have the right to bring their slanderer before the law, state their case, and sue for damages. And in cases where someone slanders someone in a way designed to get them put in prison, if it is proven to be a lie, the liar should face the same prison time those they accused were facing. But to deprive people of the right to speak unpopular things either through fines or the threat of loss of freedom, especially things that have historical validity, is a path a free people should never take.

Imagine, if you will, a similar bill making its way through Congress that deprives people of the liberty to say that the South had slaves. It could be justified by pointing out that crimes are often committed against white Southerners because people make that claim. Would anyone ever go along with that?

In the case of the death of Christ, the argument is that only a few of the Jews, specifically the Jewish rulers, brought about his death, so we should not say that the Jews killed Jesus. But not everyone in the South owned slaves, either. In fact, most did not. And yet, I still have no problem saying, “The South engaged in slavery,” because it did, and I have no problem understanding that not everyone was included. I believe it is helpful to remember the errors of the past, no matter who committed them.

Paul the Jew, from the tribe of Benjamin, had this to say of his people and Christ in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15, “For ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets.” Both Peter the Jew and Stephen the Jew said the same of them, and they were hardly antisemitic. It was and is merely a historical fact that the leaders of the Jews sought the death of Christ for years and accomplished their goals by using the Romans to do the deed.

But lest any truly vile person use this truth to stir up antisemitism, be aware that Isaiah 53:5-6 says, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” In other words, every human being, Gentile and Jew, is ultimately responsible for the death of Christ since it was for all of our sins that he died.

Jesus loved the Jews. Paul and Peter and Stephen loved their people, the Jews. Real Christians love the Jews. Americans should love the Jews. But we should all also love and value this precious liberty of free speech.

So, for lawmakers and citizens alike, here is my admonition. Support the Jews and oppose HR 6090.

Pastor Wagner can be contacted by email at 2knowhim@cbc-web.org, and his books are available by clicking the “Store” link above.

Feature photo by Pastor Bo Wagner