November 24, 2005
Christian Right is Wrong—and Dangerous
In 1994, we sounded an alarm. In our book, "The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America," we said that "an exclusionist religious movement in this country has attempted to restore what it perceives as the ruins of a Christian nation by more closely seeking to unite its version of Christianity with state power."
Alas, our call was not well heeded, and we are beginning to see some of the consequences of what we identified.
As a result, today we face a better financed, more sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized and organized coalition of groups in opposition to our policy positions on church-state separation than ever before. Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To Christianize America. To save us!
Who are the major players? They include Focus on the Family, Alliance Defense Fund, The American Family Association and the Family Research Council. They and other groups have established new organizations and church-based networks, and built infrastructures throughout the country designed not just to promote traditional "Christian values," but to actively pursue that restoration of a Christian nation.
To quote D. James Kennedy, one of the most important and influential of today's evangelical leaders: "Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost. We are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors -- in short, over every aspect and institution of human society."
Make no mistake: We are facing an emerging Christian Right leadership that intends to "Christianize" all aspects of American life, from the halls of government to the libraries, to the movies, to recording studios, to the playing fields and locker rooms of professional, collegiate and amateur sports, from the military to "SpongeBob SquarePants."
In 2002, leaders from 10 conservative Christian organizations formed the Arlington Group, an alliance of more than 50 of the most prominent conservative Christian leaders and organizations. Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation described it this way: "For the first time, virtually all of the social issues groups are singing off the same sheet of music ... when we are working together, we are a mighty force that can't be ignored."
Just take a look at their Web sites, where they document in considerable detail an agenda on a wide range of issues: judicial nominations, same-sex marriage, and faith-based issues -- and an agenda that, let us be clear, goes well beyond legitimate engagement in controversial social and political issues to a fundamental usurpation of all that America represents:
- "Most importantly, the court victories are vital steps to keep doors open for the spread of the gospel and reclaim the legal system for Jesus Christ." -- The Alliance Defense Fund
- The American Family Association, "believes that God has communicated absolute truth to man through the Bible, and that all men everywhere at all times are subject to the authority of God's word. Therefore, culture based on biblical truth best serves the well-being of our country."
- "Christians can be loyal to liberal democracy as long as rights are carefully controlled by a dominant culture that directs them to the true hierarchy of ends." -- Family Research Council.
- "The enemies of morality will not stop and will not back off. The Left cannot and will not change ... no matter how many God-fearing and God-honoring women and men are elected and appointed to public office, until the hearts of the people change, we will not turn around this culture and restore our biblical foundations." -- James Dobson's Focus on the Family.
As offensive as these comments are, we need to understand that the Jewish community is not the prime target of this movement. Indeed, Jews are often singled out for engagement and support based on their interpretation of biblical revelation and prophecy. Yet, if this "Dominionism," as its proponents call it, is successful, we may become its major victim.
Let me also be very clear about what we are not talking about.
First, I do not believe that this is a malignant assault; it is not motivated by animus, and certainly not by anti-Semitism. Our opponents' beliefs are sincerely held. Yes, some Southern Baptists want to convert us while we are alive, and Mormons want to convert us when we are dead. We may find that strange, even discomforting, but that is their right of belief.
My evangelical friends remind me that what we are dealing with is a principle of faith. And they are right. To bear witness, to share, to proselytize, is not a choice for evangelical Christians. It is a fundamental principle of their belief. So when you challenge it, you do it carefully, delicately, respectfully.
But we cannot tolerate an attempt to subvert that right of belief and practice by those who say that their job is "to reclaim America for Christ."
The stakes for the Jewish community could not be higher, but our community is not united on this issue. Indeed, we are a lot less united than we were 15 years ago.
On one hand, there is an extreme element in the community that believes it is unsafe to confront Christianity. We heard it, read it, saw it in the Mel Gibson debate. There are also those who say that because evangelicals are friends of Israel: "Don't fight them"; "don't make them angry"; "don't upset them."
There are those who argue, "What's wrong with faith-based government funding? It can bring money to our community, to our religious institutions and it can provide safety and security for synagogues; it can provide funds for Jewish education."
Some Jewish agencies call us and say, "Lower your tone, because there is an opportunity to obtain funds for Jewish family services in ways that weren't available before."
These are serious considerations for our constituency and we need to engage them.
As we watched the election of 2004, and we are now getting glimpses into elections of 2006 and 2008, we are beginning to see the candidates - some declared, some not declared -- beginning to move on these issues in a direction that is not in our direction.
Abraham H. Foxman is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. This commentary was excerpted from his recent remarks to the organization's National Commission Meeting.