The Christians are coming, the Christians are coming
Several Jewish leaders predict the religious right's 'campaign to baptize America' holds near-apocalyptic consequences.
NEW YORK - Rabbi James Rudin is less scared by global terror threatening American democracy, or by the conservative administration based on a pious president in the White House, which is threatening individual liberty and the freedom of worship. He is more bothered by the campaign currently being conducted for the takeover by the Christian religion of all areas of life in the United States. This is "the most significant internal struggle since the Civil War," says Rudin, a Reform rabbi who is accepted in the United States as an authority on interreligious relations.
In his book "The Baptizing of America," recently published by Thunder's Mouth Press, and in conversations, Rudin does not hesitate to use blunt language to demonstrate the danger that is inherent in the words he has chosen for the subtitle of his book: "The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of Us." He set about writing the book after he retired from his position as head of the committee on interreligious relations at the American Jewish Committee, a position in which he served for 35 years.
"While America is currently fighting a global war against international terrorism, there is an equally important war going on within the United States," argues Rudin, and like the Civil War, "the outcome of today's conflict will decisively determine the future of the American republic. Christocrats are waging an all-out campaign to baptize America. It is a struggle that will decide whether the United States remains a spiritually vigorous country but without an officially established religion, or whether America will become Christianized."
In an interview, he repeatedly stressed to the American public the same warning he wishes to instill through the book. He says that the outcome of the struggle will determine whether "America will become 'Christianized,' a land in which the religious beliefs and practices of Christian conservatives become the dominant faith: a legally mandated American theocracy exercising control over all aspects of our country's public and private life."
In his position at the AJC over the years, Rudin maintained many ties with churches and Christian institutions of various sects and communities. Therefore, he says today, it is necessary to stress that those who are leading what he defines as a "campaign to baptize America" are a minority among the organized Christians in the United States. But he immediately adds that they are a strong and aggressive group, with motivation and financial resources.
In his book Rudin calls the Christian elements who are involved in promoting the baptizing of America "Christocrats." He explains this is not a new term in America and that it was first used by Benjamin Rush, a physician who was among the 56 signatories of the Declaration of Independence. Rush used the term "Christocrat" in a positive way - to encourage the integration of Christianity and democracy and to emphasize the founding fathers' religious tolerance. Rudin dismisses the terms "fundamentalism" and "religious extremism." According to him, Christocrats is a more precise term for defining the fanaticism and devotion of those who are working to turn America into a country of a single religion.
"Christocrats are most likely evangelical Protestants, but they can be conservative Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox Christians. Most of today's Christocrats are white, but an increasing number of Blacks and Hispanics also merit that term of identification," he says.
Aware of the affection that prevails in Israel for American evangelicals, Rudin warns against ignoring the distinction they make between Judaism and the State of Israel. He says that they declare their love of Israel, but they do not love Judaism; they wave a placard that on one side says "We love Israel" and on the other, "Jesus is the Savior." According to Rudin, there is proof that central members of the evangelical movement are involved in activity that aims to revile Judaism.
The increased efforts to impose Christianity on America, warns Rudin, will lead to a Christocratic republic different from anything ever experienced in the United States. The scenario that he describes in his book is nearly apocalyptic: Every major aspect of life will be under the supervision and control of the Christocrat leaders.
"In the current war, Christocrats seek permanent control of the major political, cultural, educational, medical, judicial, economic, media and legal institutions of the United States," he says.
James Rudin is not the only senior figure in the Jewish community who has raised an outcry in the face of the Christian activity gathering momentum. A few months ago the director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, attracted media attention in a speech he delivered at an organization conference. He warned that the organized Christian establishment has recently increased efforts to change the balance between religion and state that has thus far been scrupulously maintained in the United States. Foxman warned of the creeping spread of religious fundamentalism.
In a paper written by experts from the Anti-Defamation League, which included documented information on the activity of radical Christians in the United States, there is a quotation from D. James Kennedy, the head of Coral Ridge Ministries: "Our job is to reclaim America for Christ whatever the cost and to exercise godly dominion over every aspect and institution of human society."
The Presbyterian church that he established in Florida now has 9,000 members and the school affiliated with it has 1,000 students. In addition, Kennedy controls a television network and radio stations. In fiscal year 2004 he raised donations amounting to $22 million.
Rudin devotes a number of pages in his book to the activities of Evangelical preacher Rod Parsley, the leader of a mega-church in Columbus, Ohio that controls financial resources estimated at about $40 million and operates a network of 400 television stations and cable channels. Parsley frequently tours the United States and appears at mass meetings under the slogan "No More Silence." In his sermons he exhorts the evangelical believers to play what he calls "an active role in the local and national political arena."
Rudin explains that the Christian campaign is carried out mostly on the local level and in the municipal arena and therefore does not reach the center of the public discourse. He notes, for example, that evangelicals have been taking control of public funds - federal or state - in the communities where they are active. The monies are directed to funding Christian schools or church charitable institutions. In the United States there is a phenomenon of the establishment of Bible classes at workplaces, in which prayer services are held. Participation is not compulsory, but employees are told that their participation is desirable and valued.
"The evangelicals feel like they are under siege," says Foxman. "In their opinion, a culture war has broken out in America. These feelings have strengthened their aspiration and their efforts to deepen Christian influence in America."
Foxman thinks that last year's Super Bowl half-time show, in which Janet Jackson was seen revealing a breast, was traumatic for many evangelicals and has made their reaction more extreme. It is no coincidence that in recent months the public polemic on the issue of abortion has flared up. At the same time, the evangelicals in the United States have found a tempting field of action in the debate over whether it is permissible to teach intelligent design theory in schools as an alternative to the theory of evolution.
Rudin and Foxman agree that the aspiration to give Christianity the status of the preferred religion does not carry anti-Semitic messages, However, warns Rudin, there have been many "nations where religion and state have been inextricably ensnared, with disastrous results."
Michelle Goldberg, an investigative journalist who writes for the online magazine Salon, says that this is "a vicious circle. George Bush came into power with the help of the evangelicals, and now they are getting stronger with his help."
Some of the gigantic evangelical churches, the mega-churches, in states like Ohio and Colorado, says Goldberg, function in fact like branches of the Republican Party.
Goldberg has gained fame for the systematic watch she keeps on the activities of the evangelical church heads and its documentation. Her book "Kingdom Coming" (published by W.W. Norton), will be distributed to the shops in May.
"The churches, which are recognized as tax-exempt institutions, are prohibited from having any involvement in election campaigns," explains Goldberg, "but the evangelical churches have discovered a sophisticated way to circumvent the prohibition. They hitch a ride on an issue like single-sex marriage, and in the case of a fight for principle they initiate political operations for the benefit of candidates."
In her book Goldberg surveys the operational patterns of key evangelical clerics, who declare openly that the height of their ambition is to impose Christianity on all areas of American life. "They aim to change not only the administration - but also the law, the judicial system, the schools and in effect to subordinate every area of life to Christianity," she says. In her opinion, too, the evangelical activity is not directed against Jews, but nevertheless she wonders what the place for Jews would be in a Christian America.