How Shall We Achieve God's Kingdom in a Democracy?
Limits and Vision
by Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, JewsOnFirst, September 12, 2006
The Days of Awe (formerly known as the High Holidays - Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur) are days of great hope for a better world. The Days of Awe are a ten-day rehearsal of the effort of instilling and calling forth hope. That hope is not a luxury for a despairing world but a dire necessity in the face of wars and other struggles.
As Jews, we recognize that our annual return to our synagogues and to a larger sense of who we may yet become -- begins in hope buffered by discernment about how to achieve God's kingdom. Carefully observing the separation of church and state is part of the buffer that our democracy depends upon.
A Jewish View of God's Rule in a Modern Democracy
In the contemporary Jewish context, this means the commitment to the betterment of the world, including attempting to diminish human suffering, striving for peace and fostering amity among peoples, and protecting the planet. Every step toward these goals improves the world just a little bit. This repair (Tikun) is a partnership between God and humanity. And each small 'repair' in the fabric of life is a cause for hope that we bringing God's rule on Earth.
These ideals are given voice in a familiar prayer called the Alenu. That prayer's original moment was its recitation on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Today, the Alenu is recited at the end of each worship service. The prayer's proximity to the tea and cookies and its "farmer-in-the-dell" melody diminishes its profound and hopeful impact.
Nevertheless it is a prayer that is the locus of a unique blending of universal and particular hopes -- hopes for the welfare of the Jewish people and the whole world.
But those universal and particular expressions are often the subject of misunderstanding. While we pray that ultimately on some future day "God will be One and God's name will be One," the hoped for arrival of the kingdom of God has different meanings in Judaism and in the faith of some of our Christian neighbors. .
The Christocrats' View of God's Rule
A prominent Christian Reconstructionist (click for more on this topic) was David Chilton,who wrote:
The god of Judaism is the devil. The Jew will not be recognized by God as one of His chosen people until he abandons his demonic religion and returns to the faith of his fathers--the faith which embraces Jesus Christ and His Gospel.
The Jewish concept
A respect for scientific knowledge does not in any fashion contradict the moral and spiritual message of creation, celebrated in the Days of Awe. Efforts to introduce "intelligent design" such as Kennedy's are thinly veiled attempts to introduce Biblical literalism. For more please click here. (www.jewsonfirst.org/howjewsseepub.html)
Rapture Christianity, Christian Zionism, envisions a time of tribulation for all humanity, especially the Jewish people -- who disappear in the Armageddon battle in the third act of a four act play. But never mind; the raptured find safety because they are Christian-believers. Rapture Christianity claims to befriend Israel (and if they have to Jews, in the halls of government), while fostering war with Iran in which Israel's demise is the sacrificial offering to the Christian end-story of Final War, Armegeddon. Click here to read more about the newest organization -- Christians United for Israel -- in this dangerous situation. (www.jewsonfirst.org/06b/cufi.html)
One consequence of Rapture Christianity is that the every-day activities of government and regular life, such as taking care of pollution and global warming, caring about infrastructure, and the education and health of people, are all less important because we are living the "End Times." In American Theocracy: The Peril and the Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century (Viking: 2006), Kevin Phillips writes about this pervasive Christocratic disregard for the future. Click here to read more of what Phillips has to say. (www.jewsonfirst.org/06a/dom017.html)
How Jews see "bringing about God's kingdom"
To some, the language might be viewed as arcane but the vision of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is embodied in the eloquent views of the 60's social critic I.F.Stone. He was a secular Jew who recognized the roots of his views as being deeply in the Jewish faith:
To write the truth as I see it; to defend the weak against the strong; to fight for justice; and to seek, as best I can, to bring healing perspective to bear on the terrible hates and fears of mankind, in the hopes of someday bringing about one world, in which men (sic) will enjoy the differences of the human garden instead of killing each other over them.
Affirming the First Amendment
Recent attempts by the Christian right, or Christocrats, to revise and falsify that founding history are a challenge to the very notion of religious liberty. The suggestion that the United States was founded by people who never intended to institute a separation of church and state is a falsehood that is being repeated continually. Click here to read more about the re-writing of American history. (www.jewsonfirst.org/./history.php)
In this same vein, some have claimed the recent public statements of Florida US Senate candidate Katherine Harris are isolated ideas. Harris said "Church-state separation is a lie." She also said:
The Bible says we are to be salt and light. And salt and light means not just in the church and not just as a teacher or as a pastor or a banker or a lawyer, but in government and we have to have elected officials in government and we have to have the faithful in government and over time, that lie we have been told, the separation of church and state, people have internalized, thinking that they needed to avoid politics and that is so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers.
To read more about Harris' statements, pleaseclick here. (www.jewsonfirst.org/dominionism.html#harris) Katherine Harris managed to hold the media's attention for a short time, but she represents more than a minor view.
A few years ago declarations by political bodies that America is a Christian nation were viewed by many as political suicide, beyond the pale. Increasingly, those Christian nation declarations are twinned with preaching hate against gays and lesbians, a clarion call for Christocratic efforts to bring God's rule.
Exlusion of lesbians and gays
Rabbi James Rudin's book, The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of Us, described the takeover by Christocrats of every room in the metaphorical mansion of American life --- the work room, the bed room, and the court room. It seemed a bit hyperbolic when it came out last year. But now it seems to be no exaggeration. Christocrats are challenging the jurisdiction of the courts to maintain the separation of church and state with "court-stripping" proposals that would remove cases of church-state separation from the courts. Click here to understand more about Rabbi Rudin's warnings. (www.jewsonfirst.org/courtstrip.php#religamend)
Noted Evangelical believer and scholar Dr. Randall Balmer writes of his dismay at fellow Christians who, through the Republican Party, deprecate constitutional guarantees:
The Republicans have come to depend on religious-right voters as their most reliable constituency, and, with the Republicans firmly in command of all three branches of the federal government, leaders of the religious right now enjoy unprecedented access to power.
Click here to read more about Balmer's important work. (www.jewsonfirst.org/06b/back023.html)
Jewish vigilance required
All of these issues will continue to be loom over America's public square for a long time to come. Neither politics nor dialogue will settle them in any definitive way. And, ironically, sensitivity to the religious feelings that Christocrats report will also be a challenge, since many Christocrats claim to be under siege, attacked, and endangered. Jewish people, along with others, are discovering that their welfare and their vision of progress requires constant vigilance.