My love affair with evangelical Christians
November 2, 2004 By Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Nearly the whole world is arrayed against President George W. Bush. The long list includes Europe, the United Nations, the Arab countries, the world's media, Hollywood, the universities, and half the United States. The question becomes: How can this man possibly survive as president?
The answer to this question lies in the biggest American development since women's suffrage, namely, the rise of the Christian right. The United States has 70 million born-again Christians, comprising the single largest voting block in the country. They are guided by faith and they vote with their values. They are the moral force behind America's resurgent spirituality. And they constitute the constituency that keeps George Bush in power, even as the entire world gangs up to defeat him.
The impact the American evangelical voting block has had on world affairs is incalculable and explains why there has been a revolution in the way the world does business. The staunch support of evangelical Christians has enabled George W. Bush to pursue a foreign policy based not on expediency or realpolitik, but on a deep-seated morality wherein tyrants are punished and the oppressed liberated. These policies would have been unthinkable without the steadfast support of Bush's die-hard constituency of evangelical Christians who comprise one quarter of the American electorate.
I have long recognized and commented on this remarkable fact, that a great moral leader is kept in power principally by a great moral constituency. On the eve of the election, therefore, it is time that I put in writing what I have long felt in my heart.
I am a Jew who is deeply in love with evangelical Christians. Although I am at odds with them on various issues, they today constitute the most potent force for good in all America, and the most influential constituency who consistently demands that America be a nation of justice, standing up for the persecuted and living up to its founding ideals of serving as a global beacon of freedom.
To be sure, I am devoted to my Judaism. Wild horses and iron combs could never pry me away from my Jewish identity and I have devoted my life to the dissemination of Jewish ideas in the mainstream culture and to bringing wayward Jews back to their heritage. But I must give credit where credit is due. And evangelical Christians, more than any other group today, are responsible for America being a Godly country.
Whenever I am in the company of evangelical Christians, I feel completely at home, among true brothers and sisters of faith. More so, I feel inspired, like I am in the company of an authentic Godly host. Evangelical Christians are at the forefront of asserting that religious conviction demands moral action. You cannot call yourself religious unless you act with justice. Period. So many religious people around the world have utterly embarrassed themselves over the past few years by condemning the United States for the war in Iraq, a war that removed the world's foremost mass murderer from power. But the evangelicals have been stalwart in defending the Iraq war as a conflict in which America served as God's long arm of justice.
Evangelical Christians, like orthodox Jews, have a deep-seated hatred of evil. Many religious people have a problem with hatred, believing it is inherently unGodly. Evangelicals reject such wishy-washy, on-the-fence moralizing, understanding that hatred of evil is the single best gauge of authentic spiritual commitment. While so many other religious denominations practice either spiritual narcissism (the cult of new-age personal growth), or a watered down version of amoral liberalism, evangelical Christians stand against tyrants and murderers, and are committed to using American power to bring them to justice.
When evangelical Christians talk to me about God, they speak with an immediacy and sense of intimacy which is both inspiring and impressive. To the evangelicals, God is a loving father rather than a distant relative. And unlike secularists who love making up their own morality, evangelical Christians humbly submit to the Divine will. The potency of evangelical faith is manifest in their being at the forefront of feeding the hungry, curing the sick, and giving clothes to the poor - deeds which are practiced by an army of missionaries around the world.
Unlike so many Americans, evangelical Christians utterly reject materialism. They raise Godly children who are open-hearted and uncorrupted. Evangelical Christian parents protect their children from a corrosive culture that is so harming America's youth. The evangelicals have remarkably created their own music, TV and film industries which promote values-based entertainment as opposed to crude sexual exploitation. Their women are taught to value themselves and would never contemplate surrendering their bodies to a man who has not committed to them in marriage. And their men are taught to value women and to work to be worthy of them.
This is not to say I don't have serious disagreements with evangelicals. Indeed, on my daily radio show, I have a regular parade of evangelical pastors who debate with me constantly, like the Rev. Flip Benham of Operation Rescue in North Carolina. I will accuse Flip of and unGodly homophobia, being too fixated on combating and condemning homosexuals while ignoring the 50 percent divorce rate in America. He will counter that I am watering down the Bible. I will cry out to him that we dare not reduce the richness of religion to a ban on abortion, which in Judaism is severely prohibited but, unlike Christianity, is not considered murder. He will accuse me of ignoring the sanctity of the unborn. I will strongly object to his insistence that those who do not believe in Jesus will not go to Heaven and accuse him of spiritual bigotry and religious racism. He will stand his ground. And yet, I know that he would lay down his life for me, and for all Israel, in a moment.
It is on the subject of Jesus, especially, and other related theological questions, that I am, of course, most distant from my evangelical brothers and sisters. I have had many televised debates against leading evangelicals forcefully rejecting Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. But for all that, I have never felt any emotional distance from the evangelicals. All I have felt is love.
Many of my Jewish brethren reject evangelical Christians as dogmatic and intolerant. In so doing they are guilty of themselves of rejecting one of Judaism's most seminal teachings: to judge a man by his actions rather than his beliefs. Just try and find kinder, more compassionate people who are more willing to assist their fellow man in a time of crisis, than the evangelicals. And this is especially true of the evangelical love for Israel.
As an American Jew, I have two great loves: the United States and Israel. The Talmud says that what makes Israel unique is that God's presence is a tangible reality in the Holy Land. In Israel, one can sense and feel God's holy presence. Thanks largely to evangelical Christians, the same is true today of the United States. God is alive and well in America. And it is primarily for that reason that this great country is so blessed.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is a nationally syndicated radio host daily from 2-5 p.m. EST on the Liberty Broadcasting Network, and was named by Talkers magazine as one of America's 100 most important talk-radio hosts. A best-selling author of 14 books, his latest work is "The Private Adam: Becoming a Hero in a Selfish Age" (HarperCollins).