A rabbi who has observed and worked with evangelical and fundamentalist Christians for 35 years has written a book warning of efforts to turn the United States into a “Christian nation,” ruled by the extreme Christian right, terming the specter an “immediate and profound threat to our republic.”
Rabbi James Rudin, who has worked with the American Jewish Committee since 1968, recently published The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right’s Plans for the Rest of Us. Despite the separation of church and state in the U.S. Constitution and good sense and balance of the American people, Rudin says he is not reassured “that the Cross will not ultimately dominate and control the Eagle.”
Rudin uses the term “Christocrat” to distinguish most religious conservatives from those he says are carrying out a campaign to permanently transform America into a faith-based nation where a particular form of Christianity is legally dominant over all other religious communities.
Rudin, who grew up in a predominantly Southern Baptist community in Arlington, Va., in the 1940s, said the Christocrats are not strangers to him; he knows them well. When he was in third grade, his Southern Baptist teacher ordered him and two Catholic children to leave their classroom for a class prayer and Bible reading, because they “were not Protestants.”
Those feelings of exclusion and concern were triggered again in 1995, when Rudin and other Jewish leaders met with televangelist Pat Robertson, who compared the status of evangelicals in the United States to Jews in Germany under the Nazis and said there is a “vendetta” and “religious cleansing” aimed at Christian conservatives beginning with the Supreme Court’s removal of school prayer in the early 1960s.
The Christocrats’ theological underpinnings are found in theories called Dominionism and Christian Reconstructionism, inspired by authors like Francis Schaeffer and R.J. Rushdoony, which holds that America is ordained to be a Christian nation ruled by biblical law.
The battle to “baptize America,” Rudin says, is taking place in several “rooms”–in the “bedroom” in opposition to gay marriage and civil unions; the “schoolroom,” in a two-track effort simultaneously pressing public schools into teaching intelligent design, while at the same time seeking tax support for private Christian schools; the “hospital room” in opposing abortion and stem-cell research; the “courtroom” in opposing “activist” judges; and the “public room” in battles over posting of the Ten Commandments.
Other fronts include the “newsroom.” Rudin reports monitoring Robertson’s CBN and the Southern Baptist Convention’s FamilyNet television networks. Both, he said, produce “a strong Christocratic view of our nation and the world.”
The Christocratic campaign, he says, also is being felt by public broadcasting. Amid accusations of “religious bigotry” on PBS and NPR, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 2003 brought in a new chairman who hired someone to monitor reporting by veteran journalist Bill Moyers, rating guests who were “anti-Bush,” “anti-DeLay” or “liberal.”
The Southern Baptist Convention, once among the strongest Christian supporters of church-state separation, Rudin says, has since 1982 abandoned spiritual traditions that grew out of their forbears’ painful experiences as minorities under a state church in England.
Opposing revisionists who say America’s founders intended for it to be a Christian nation, Rudin argues that founders could easily have established Christianity as an official religion if they had chosen to, but they did not.
Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, both strong supporters of American independence, differed sharply over whether religion should be supported by taxpayers in 1786, Rudin says.
Henry, the governor of Virginia, strongly supported state support of religion. Jefferson and another future U.S. president, James Madison, fought the proposal and worked to enact a Statute for Religious Freedom for Virginia.
Joining Jefferson and Madison, Rudin says, was an under-appreciated Baptist minister named John Leland, who opposed “hireling clergy” who were paid by the state and was even against Sunday closings of U.S. post offices, feeling it represented government favoritism by officially recognizing the Christian Sabbath.
America’s Jewish community, Rudin says, is divided and ambivalent about the Christian right’s support for Israel. Many Jews are uncomfortable with evangelicals’ strong Christological basis for supporting Israel, and most are uncomfortable with active campaigns to convert Jews to Christianity.
Some Jews eagerly accept evangelical support for Israel and look the other way at “the attempted imposition of a Christocratic agenda on the country,” he writes. “For such Jews, Israel’s survival and security trumps all other concerns.”
“Other Jews remain aware of the evangelicals’ domestic goals and expressing suspicions about working with that Christian community on any issue, even Israel.”
In their “inerrantist” reading of the Old Testament, Rudin says, the Christocrats go further in literal application of the Hebrew Bible than do the Jewish rabbis. Deuteronomy 21:18-21, for example, prescribes stoning for a rebellious and defiant son.
Despite the call for capital punishment in the text, there is no record of a rebellious or defiant son ever being executed in biblical Israel. The Talmud, Judaism’s oral tradition, sharply reduced the possibility of a death penalty ever being used against a rebellious son.
A rebellious son, interpreters of the text said, must be at least 13 years old but no older than 13 years and six months. Even in those cases, parents can condone their son’s “offense” and withdraw any complaint. Even if they persist, a court of three judges must adjudicate whether the son is in fact rebellious, disloyal and defiant.
Jewish interpreters of the text also taught that capital punishment is similar to the rite of sacrifices that were carried out in the Holy Temple that stood in Jerusalem. For them, Rudin said, “No Temple, no capital punishment.”
“The first thing is not to surrender authentic biblical interpretation to the Christocrats,” Rudin writes. “If they are the only people able to define the Bible’s meaning for the general American society, Christocrats will have gained an enormous victory in their effort to baptize America.”
“Christocrats love to quote the Bible literally and point to it as the ultimate authority on all issues of life,” he continues. “Once they have convinced the public that they, and they alone, correctly interpret the Bible, they are then able to label their opponents ‘anti-Bible’ or ‘secular.’ It is a clever, insidious tactic that has, unfortunately, worked too long and too well, and always in the Christocrats’ favor.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, Allen wrote more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure.