In this issue
April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review July 9, 2004 / 20 Tamuz, 5764

Political pulpit-phobia

By Jonathan Tobin

Printer Friendly Version

Email this article

Use of houses of worship is a game that both the left and right play with good effect

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Is there anything more infuriating than having to sit through what seems to be a political sermon delivered by the rabbi of your congregation?

Now that I think of it, let me rephrase the question: Is there anything more infuriating than having to sit through a political sermon with which you disagree?

Of course, most of us don't go to synagogues where the homilies from the pulpit give us indigestion. And if we do, we wind up switching synagogues or, if enough congregants give the okay, switching rabbis.

Rabbis do well to avoid the pitfalls of partisanship; but in an era when Americans seem to be more sharply divided about the great issues of the day, religious institutions are not immune to the virus of partisanship.

While the line that divides religion and state in this country is, in practice, not the high wall that some would like it to be, any church, synagogue or mosque that allows itself to be used as a political headquarters is asking for trouble.

And that's why a lot of people got upset when they learned that earlier this month, the Bush campaign was reaching out to 1,600 Pennsylvania churches that were characterized as "friendly" to the president. Liberal groups screamed bloody murder about the mass e-mail, and threatened to challenge the tax-exempt status of any institution that allowed itself to be co-opted into the Republican campaign.

The critics of the Bush effort were right that nonprofits and religious groups ought not to pretend to nonpartisanship on their tax forms while endorsing candidates.

Those made uncomfortable by this practice also do well to point out the dangers for religion itself when their leaders confuse faith with partisanship. One need only look at Israel — to name a nation where denominationalism has manifested itself in separate religious parties who compete for votes in the name of a particular brand of faith — to see the problems that arise when there is no separation between religion and state. Heaven help America if our political parties become thinly-veiled tools of religious beliefs.

But before we call out the constitutional police on the Bush brigades, we should remember one pertinent fact about the practice of politics in America's houses of worship: It has been going on undisturbed and almost uncommented upon for many years.

Anyone who covers politics in this country has done time sitting in churches listening to candidates speak from pulpits. While the backlash against the Bush effort is focused on Republican use of conservative Christian chapels, the truth is, African-American churches have been playing that same role for the Democrats for decades.

Black churches have played an essential part in energizing a key Democratic constituency, with endorsements by pastors in major political races being the rule, rather than the exception. The leadership of these churches make sure their congregants get out to vote and know who to vote for. Which is, more or less, exactly what the Republicans would like those 1,600 "friendly" churches to do.

Donate to JWR

So is the outrage about conservative Christians mobilizing for Bush on the part of the American Civil Liberties Union and others hypocritical? Sure, it is. Critics of the right who are silent about the role of black churches in backing liberals and Democrats argue that the purpose of the two efforts is completely different. They see conservative churches as seeking to impose their religion on others and actually want to create a theocracy, while the black churches are merely defending the endangered interests of a minority group that has been victimized by discrimination and racism.

But that supposed distinction tells us more about how divisive American politics is today than it does about the motivations of either group.

As New York Times columnist David Brooks — the self-described "cosmic sociologist" — has written, already deeply polarized Americans have increasingly divided themselves into groups that neither speak nor listen to each other, and are inclined to think the worst of those who disagree with them.

The most obvious example hits close to home. Jewish liberals are particularly fearful of the influence of conservative Christians, seeing evangelicals and others associated with the right as intolerant of minorities — both religious and ethnic — and an inherent threat to the democratic nature of our society. They fear conservatives want an America where non-Christians are disenfranchised — both figuratively and literally — and where their brand of Christianity will become the state religion.

But if you actually talk to conservative Christians, they live in a very different reality. They see a country where secularism is the state religion. They believe the ethos of that secularism has created a political and cultural reality, where religious speech is the only type of expression that can be banned or discriminated against.

They believe their values are derided and marginalized by mainstream institutions, and so look to their churches and to like-minded politicians for help in defending their rights. The majority of them are also confused by accusations of anti-Semitism since they, for the most part, are the most pro-Israel sector of American society.

So who is right? Liberals and secularists have gone overboard in their attempt to make the public square an unfriendly place for religious speech. But the use of churches or synagogues for partisan political purposes is wrong. And it's wrong when it happens on the left or the right.

Religious values have had an impact on the left and the right. And there's nothing wrong with either side using those values or religious speech or imagery in making their cases to an American public that is itself still deeply religious.

In a country where religious and secular cultures clash, it is inevitable that this conflict will spill over into politics. But what we need to avoid is a situation where that split begins to define us.

Even though it's hard, let's try to listen to the other side. And let us all pray for the patience to do so.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

Jonathan Tobin Archives

© 2004, Jonathan Tobin