Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee’s fundamentalist Christian credentials may be winning him votes among conservative evangelicals, but they are backfiring with another important voting demographic–liberal Jews.
Huckabee’s support for Israel has won him support among Orthodox Jews and Christian Zionists including John Hagee, but many American Jews view with alarm the prospect of an anti-abortion Baptist preacher who rejects evolution becoming president.
The National Jewish Democratic Council labeled Huckabee an “extremist” after his recent first-place finish in the Iowa caucuses and compiled a fact sheet to back up the claim.
A Web site called Jews on First also started compiling a scorecard on Huckabee after his win in Iowa, reasoning, “Those Christian conservative voters knew what they were voting for–and now it’s time that Jews also know about some of Huckabee’s fundamentalist positions.”
Max Blumenthal, a longtime watchdog of the Christian Right, along with videographer Thomas Shomaker, created a sequel to Huckabee’s “Christian Leader” ad that aired in Iowa, labeling the candidate a “Radical Cleric” and “Authentic Theocrat.”
Web sites raised red flags about the former pastor’s religiosity expressed in statements like his 1998 call to “take this nation back for Christ”–a comment he made at a Southern Baptist pastor’s conference and defended at the start of his campaign and again recently on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Huckabee also stands by his statement 15 years ago that AIDS patients should have been isolated. He won’t discuss signing on in support of a statement that wives should “graciously submit” to their husbands in 1998, saying he appointed many women to key positions as governor of Arkansas.
“The more liberal Jews find out about his core values of Christianity, the less they’ll like him,” journalist Zev Chafets told the Jewish news agency JTA.
“Huckabee is no theocrat,” Chafets wrote in an in-depth profile of the candidate last month in the New York Times Magazine, but instead a “premillennialist evangelical” who says he believes in the separation of church and state.
Jerry Tanenbaum of Hot Springs, Ark., and a supporter of the Union for Reform Judaism, told JTA fears that Huckabee is a dangerous extremist are overblown.
“Jews have nothing to fear from Huckabee,” Tanenbaum said. “I never found him in Arkansas to be particularly invasive with his religion on other people’s rights.”
Like Tanenbaum, Rabbi Eugene Levy, the religious leader of Temple B’nai Israel, a Reform synagogue in Little Rock, said he wouldn’t vote for Huckabee but found him “very open and accommodating.” Still, Levy admitted, Huckabee was “never more than two steps away from the pulpit in his thinking.”
Huckabee’s denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, has been frequently accused of anti-Semitism and religious insensitivity since its president in 1980 said “God Almighty does not hear the prayers of a Jew.”
Jewish groups protested in 1996 when the SBC adopted a resolution calling on the denomination to “direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel to the Jews.” That same year, the North American Mission Board appointed a home missionary to coordinate outreach among Jewish persons.
In 1999, the SBC International Mission Board distributed a booklet focusing prayers on Jewish evangelism during Judaism’s High Holy Days, which Jewish leaders criticized as disrespectful. Other prayer booklets also featured prayer for conversion of Hindu and Muslim worshipers during religious holidays.
In 2003 a seminary president compared the Jewish religion to a “deadly tumor” in an analogy illustrating what he called a Christian mandate to evangelize Jews.
Huckabee intimated he saw America as a Christian nation in remarks to SBC leaders in 1994. “When a nation forgets that ultimately the law originates in the mind and heart of Almighty God, that nation is already on the way to destruction,” Huckabee said at an annual seminar of the SBC Christian Life Commission.
In a sermon last Sunday Huckabee told a New Hampshire congregation, “When we become believers, it’s as if we have signed up to be part of God’s Army, to be soldiers for Christ,” according to the Washington Post.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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Bob Allen was the managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, writing more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure. He is currently the news editor at Baptist News Global.