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Jewish Journal

Godtalk gone wild

by Brad A. Greenberg

February 15, 2008 | 2:40 pm

I spoke last month with Jacques Berlinerblau, author of “Thumpin’ It: The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Today’s Presidential Politics.” Jewcy recently caught up with the Georgetown professor and has this Q&A:

In light of presumptive Republican nominee John McCain’s virtually nonexistant “Scripture game” and his past skirmishes with prominent evangelical figures, do you think 2008 offers an opening for the Democrats to close the gap with religious voters?

Absolutely. You know, it’s strange: on many issues of great concern to conservative Christians (abortion, national security, showing the love to Intelligent Design curricula) McCain delivers the goods. But as I noted in Thumpin’ It, he has this longstanding history of personal enmity with their leadership. I once suggested in my blog for The Washington Post that McCain and conservative Evangelicals would benefit from couples counseling. When the senator from Arizona says ours is a “Christian nation” (as he did this past fall) what Evangelicals should hear him saying is: “please don’t accuse me of having fathered an illegitimate child” (as some unidentified Bush operatives famously did in 2000 in South Carolina).

That being said, a candidate like Obama would steal Evangelical votes from McCain and even McCain-Huckabee in large Kansas-sized chunks.

Speaking of which, you discuss a growing rift in the evangelical movement due to the rise of progressive evangelicals like Jim Wallis and the evangelical environmentalists. What is the state of progressive evangelicalism and how will it affect the 2008 election?

This is the big question: to what degree will Evangelicals behave the way they did in 2004. Nearly 80% of them voted for George W. Bush. That’s 80% of a quarter of the electorate! But I don’t think that will happen again in 2008. For starters, progressive Evangelicals are finding their voice. And a new generation of younger evangelicals is rising that doesn’t seem eager to focus solely (and obsessively) on abortion and gays. This is a great opportunity for Democrats. Remember: they don’t have to win Evangelicals—they just have to stanch the Kerry-like hemorrhaging they endured in 2004. That is eminently doable.

The book focuses primarily on how the “Scripture game” plays to Christian Americans. How does it play to Jewish Americans? Are the rules any different?

With the possible exception of certain Orthodox groups, my sense is that most Jews would prefer that Bible-thumping politicians put a cork in it. Public, state-sponsored displays of religion tend not, historically, to be good for a minority group once aptly described by Max Weber as a “pariah people.” Even when Christian politicians invoke the Old Testament they are usually citing prophetic texts and Psalms that they read in a deeply Christological manner. So Jews aren’t about to respond to that with cries of “yesher koach!”

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Since launching the blog in 2007, I’ve referred to myself as “a God-fearing Christian with devilishly good Jewish looks.” The description, I’d say, is an accurate one,...

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