While Mormons may baptize the occasional dead Jew, Jews can at least appreciate the thought and concern. Evangelicals just tell the Jews their ancestors are going to hell. This is probably why Jews prefer Mormons. – online comment on the Deseret News
Whenever I’m looking for a story idea, I make sure to check Jamshid Askar’s latest articles. The Iranian-American LA native writes for the Deseret News, and usually has an interesting take on current events. This week he didn’t disappoint. Under a headline that grabbed the attention of most of his paper’s Utah readers, Jamshid reported the findings of the 2012 Jewish Values Survey. If the survey is to be believed, Jews strongly prefer Mormons to the Evangelical “Christian Right.” In addition, Jews also strongly favor Muslims over Evangelicals. This news has reaffirmed my belief in the intelligence and good judgment of our Jewish friends.
When asked to rate the three religious groups on a scale of 1 to 100, Jews scored Mormons at 47, Muslims at 41.4, and Evangelicals at an embarrassing 20.9. This survey represents a reality check for those prominent Jews who have worked hard for years to convince their coreligionists that Evangelicals are their best friends. However, they shouldn’t be surprised. With all due respect to Messrs. Prager, Medved et al., Evangelicals as a group largely deserve the poor grade they received.
Evangelicals often tout their suppport for Israel as evidence of their goodwill towards Jews. However, the poll clearly shows once again that Israel, rightly or wrongly, is not the number one concern of most American Jews. Once you factor their laudable support for Israel out of the equation, what do Evangelicals have to say to Jews? Apparently not a whole lot. Some writers have pointed to liberal Jews’ disdain for Evangelicals’ conservative Republican politics as the prime mover behind the survey results. However, Mormons are the reddest religious group in the country, Utah is the most Republican state, and the LDS Church has been rather active recently in campaigns opposing gay marriage around the country. None of these “negatives” prevented Jews from expressing over a 2-to-1 preference for Mormons over Evangelicals.
Theological differences in and of themselves are unlikely to turn off large numbers of Jews, who have spent the past 2,000 years living as a religious minority among dominant faiths whose teachings they do not share. Mormons, Muslims, and Evangelicals all have profound theological differences with Rabbinic Judaism, yet it is the latter who now have a huge PR problem with the Jewish community. Given that most Evangelicals are wonderful people who love Israel and do an enormous amount of good in the world (including tikkun olam), to what can we attribute their unrequited love for Jews?
In my opinion, it is Evangelicals’ actions, rather than their beliefs, which have alienated many Jews and Mormons. I could write a book on this topic, but a few contrasting examples will suffice.
Mormons may send out missionaries, but Jews know they are not being targeted by them. If an LDS missionary knocks on a rabbi’s door, he knows that they will also stop by the homes of his Catholic and Methodist neighbors as well. By way of contrast, major Jews for Jesus/Messianic Jewish groups targeting Jews for conversion are Evangelical, and are funded and supported by Evangelical churches. Targeting the Jewish faith in this way demonstrates a fundamental lack of respect for Judaism that cannot be overcome by holding pro-Israel rallies. Mormons also strongly believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, yet it is inconceivable that an LDS leader would follow Pastor John Hagee’s recent example and preach Christian doctrine while in an Orthodox Jewish building. Respect for other faiths is a bedrock LDS belief, and it is somewhat lacking in certain Evangelical circles.
Both Mormons and Evangelicals tend to vote Republican, but only the latter impose litmus tests on prospective candidates seeking their vote. During this year’s Republican presidential primaries, several prominent Evangelical groups held public meetings to assess the candidates’ willingness to fight for their conservative agenda before endorsing them. To my knowledge, no Mormon group did this. Mormons disagree with Evangelical theology at least as much as Evangelicals do with ours, yet no Mormon leader has publicly accused a candidate of another Christian faith of belonging to a “cult” or organized a press conference to denounce his church.
Evangelical churches and organizations print anti-Mormon material, publish anti-Mormon books, and sponsor anti-Mormon lectures and conferences. Mormons do not reciprocate in kind. I have known Evangelicals who refused to attend the wedding of a family member because it was held in an LDS chapel (however, they did come to the reception held in a hotel). An Evangelical pastor in California canceled a speech that I was scheduled to give as a representative of the Israeli Consulate after he found out that I was LDS. Evangelical pastors regularly denounce Islam in the harshest terms. I could go on and on. It is clearly Evangelicals’ religious bigotry that alienates Jews, Mormons, and many others. This, combined with the Jewish perception that Evangelicalism represents a threat to their religion, is probably responsible for the survey results.
Of course, the survey also shows that Mormons have their work cut out for them when it comes to strengthening relationships with Jews. After all, 47 points out of 100 isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. That said, Mormons do have a big advantage over Evangelicals when it comes to Jews: Given our belief that we are covenant Israelites, our respect for Judaism is as strong as our support for Israel. When Evangelicals can say the same, they will have more success with Jewish outreach.