Union of American Hebrew Congregations

Strange Bedfellows
Jews, Apostates, and the Christian Right

by Barbara Simon

See also The Religious Right In Their Own Words
and UAHC vs. the "Religious Equality" Amendment

No Christian Coalition conference is complete without its contingent of Jewish conservatives, whose speeches extol "Judeo-Christian" values and cheer the fundamentalist crowd with scathing anti-liberal rhetoric. They are joined by a number of Jewish apostates-converts and "Messianic Jews"-who sit in the inner sanctum of the religious right's secretive coordinating body, the Council for National Policy. The CNP's goal is clear: to install a Bible-centered U.S. government, preferably in time for Christ's imminent return. High on its agenda is the eradication of church-state separation, the constitutional wall that thwarts their theocratic vision of America at the dawn of the third millennium.

Given the Christian triumphalism of the Coalition's annual "Road to Victory" conference, one might not expect to find Jews addressing the faithful. But politics makes strange bedfellows. The two groups share a disdain for "liberalism" and all the evils they associate with it, such as homosexuality and abortion. To pursue their common political agenda, with the help of their fundamentalist Christian allies, these Jews cloud the basic distinctions between Judaism and Christianity with spurious terms such as "Judeo-Christian values."

In practical terms, the pact between right-wing Jews and the Christian Right amounts to this: the Christian Coalition gives this small minority within the Jewish community a massive audience. These Jews give the Coalition the appearance of pluralism and inclusivity and shield Christian extremists from criticism. On August 2, 1994, after the Anti-Defamation League published a book called Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America, which concluded that the religious right fosters intolerance and threatens democracy, seventy-five Jewish conservatives signed an ad on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times condemning the ADL report, stating that "Judaism is not, as the ADL seems to suggest, co-extensive with liberalism."

A month later, five Jewish apologists of the religious right showed their solidarity at the 1994 "Road to Victory" conference by joining in the liberal bashing. Marshall Wittman, then legislative affairs director of the Christian Coalition, stated, "What is most scurrilous [about the report] is that the ADL is using its good name to attack American Jews' best allies-the Christian Right." Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Lapin, founder and head of Toward Tradition, a group founded to "inject Judeo-Christian conservatism into our culture," attacked Jewish liberals, stating, "Their religion is not Judaism-it is liberalism. And like any faith, they resist all logical arguments." Don Feder, conservative columnist for the Boston Herald, frequently referred to the "mythical" wall of separation between church and state. And Michael Medved, film critic and author of Hollywood v. America, explained to the packed house: "...the fact is we share basic values and those values are far more important than any disagreements." Medved warned against the "assault by the popular culture on some of the fundamental values that we hold most dear."

Gary Polland

One of the seventy-five Jewish conservatives who had protested the Anti-Defamation League's expose' of the religious right was the ADL's own regional chairman in Houston, Gary Polland. As a result, he was forced to resign. A political conservative and a Jew, Polland then became a rising star of the Christian Coalition, which invited him to speak to the faithful in San Diego on the eve of the Republican convention last August. Polland told a cheering crowd of 4,000 religious right activists, "Jews have more to fear from the collapse of Christianity than its resurgence." As they marched into the Christian Coalition Faith and Freedom rally to celebrate their "triumphs" in the Republican Party, some 100 members of the California delegation sang, "We take a stand and we declare that America belongs to Jesus."

Apostates At The Forefront

The top leadership of the religious right includes a number of former Jews. Jay Sekulow, a member of the Council for National Policy, is chief counsel for Pat Robertson's legal organization, the American Center for Law and Justice. Howard Phillips, another CNP member, chairs the Virginia-based Conservative Caucus and is the U.S. Taxpayers Party candidate for president of the United States. Reverend Louis P. Sheldon, a former CNP member, heads the Traditional Values Coalition, an anti-gay lobbying group.

Jay Sekulow

Jay Sekulow, who proudly acknowledged that he is a "Jew for Jesus" at the 1996 "Road to Victory" conference, gained a national reputation within evangelical circles when, in the late eighties and early nineties, he provided free legal representation to militant anti-abortion activists. In 1991 he came to the aid of Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry, keeping him out of jail in the wake of his group's assault on abortion clinics in Wichita, Kansas. Terry credited Sekulow with single-handedly having kept Operation Rescue alive. "Jay's courtroom savvy and constitutional knowledge have been absolutely critical in the growth and survival of Operation Rescue," Terry said. "Without his intervention, I believe several judges would have tried to crush the life out of our movement."

Howard Phillips

Howard Phillips, the head of both the U.S. Taxpayers Party and the Conservative Caucus, is a born Jew who converted to Christianity in his thirties. He currently defines himself as "a Christian of Jewish heritage." Phillips stated in a 1995 interview with Chalcedon Report that the teachings of R. J. Rushdoony (the father of Christian Reconstructionism) "helped to remove the scales from my eyes, and motivated me to reexamine every area of my life and conduct. I placed my children in Christian schools. I began tithing, and I launched into an intensive study of the Bible." The expression "to remove the scales from my eyes" refers to the belief among some Christians that Jews are spiritually blind because they have not accepted the divinity of Jesus.

Reverend Louis Sheldon

Reverend Louis Sheldon, leader of the political lobbying group Traditional Values Coalition (TVC), was born in 1934 to an Orthodox Jewish mother and a Protestant father. He became Christian as a teenager and attended Princeton Theological Seminary. In 1980 he founded the TVC, which advocates repealing civil rights protections for gays and lesbians, allowing state-sponsored prayer in public schools, abolishing the National Endowment for the Arts, and teaching the biblical story of creationism as part of the public school science curriculum. The November 20, 1989 edition of USA Today described Sheldon as "one of the most powerful men in California."

The Schenck Twins

Paul Chaim and Rob Schenck, twin brothers from Buffalo, New York, are heroes among antiabortion activists. Born and raised as Reform Jews, they "found Jesus" during their teen years and converted to Christianity. Paul Chaim Schenck serves as executive vice-president and chief of operations for Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), and Rob is the Center's director of church relations. The twins gained national attention in the spring of 1992 when they led Operation Rescue's efforts to shut down Buffalo's abortion clinics. That summer, Rob Schenck and Operation Rescue's founder Randall Terry were arrested when they attempted to shove a fetus in the face of President Bill Clinton during the Democratic National Convention in New York City. Paul Chaim Schenck is a named plaintiff in Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York, challenging an injunction issued against himself and other antiabortion protesters on free speech grounds. The case will be argued during the Supreme Court's 1996-1997 term, with the ACLJ's chief counsel Jay Sekulow representing Paul Chaim Schenck.

In the final analysis, what these former Jews and Jewish supporters have in common with their Christian Right counterparts is the conviction that the Bible, not the Constitution, should be the supreme law of the land; if a conflict arises betweenGod's law and man's law, then the Bible must prevail. If they succeed in tearing down the constitutional wall of separation between church and state, America will lose its cherished promise of religious liberty for all.

"We met together and formed an organization that was bold because it had a name to it. It wasn't the Family Values Association. We took the name of Christ because we're not ashamed to be known as Christians. It is the Christian Coalition."
(Rev. Pat Robertson, Road to Victory Conference, Sept. l996)

"We have enough votes to run this country, and when people say, 'we've had enough,' we are going to take over."
(Rev. Pat Robertson, Washington for Jesus rally, April l980)

"Before the end of this decade, the Christian Coalition is going to be the most powerful political organization in the entire United States of America...."
(Rev. Pat Robertson, Address to the Christian Coalition, l992)

"We will become the decisive voice in at least one of the two major political parties."
(Rev. Pat Robertson, "America at a Crossroads" video, l990)

"[We had as our goal in the early l990s] that by 1996 we would place Congress in the hands of conservatives. We got that two years early....In l996 we'd better do everything we can to make sure those conservatives stay in charge of the United States Congress."
(Rev. Pat Robertson, Road to Victory Conference, Sept. l996)

"There's a terrific amount at stake in this [l996] election....We're talking about a significant change in our nation's policies, and I might add that there are about 179 judicial vacancies in the courts of the United States...all of those judgeships will be filled by the next president. We're going to work shoulder to shoulder with the Catholic Alliance. We're going to work with the Orthodox Jews....We're going to bring people together into a vast winning coalition...."
(Rev. Pat Robertston, Road to Victory Conference, Sept. 1996)

"The Constitution of the United States is a marvelous document for self-government by Christian people. But the minute you turn the document into the hands of non-Christian people and atheistic people, they can use it to destroy the very foundation of our society, and that's what's been happening."
(Rev. Pat Robertson, "The 700 Club," broadcast Dec. 20, l981)

"...[G]ood must triumph over evil. And, after all, why shouldn't we believe that, because we serve a risen Lord. The grave is empty. He is alive, and He's coming back again very, very soon."
(Ralph Reed, Road to Victory Conference, Sept. l996)

"For the time is not far distant when we are all going to have to gird ourselves and take that long march up to Armageddon to do battle for the Lord."
(Pat Buchanan, Road to Victory Conference, l995)

Barbara Simon is a practicing attorney and president of the Institute for First Amendment Studies, a nonprofit education and research group based in Great Barrington, MA.

UAHC vs. the "Religious Equality" Amendment

When Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed rode into Washington last May to unveil the Coalition's much-anticipated "Contract with the American Family," Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich stood next to him and proclaimed his support for the agenda it contained. Gingrich promised prompt action, claiming that the proposals included in the contract would be acted upon in the then-new 104th Congress' "second hundred days."

And yet, with only a few legislative days remaining in the 104th Congress, the "crown jewel" of the Coalition's contract, the "Religious Equality" amendment to the Constitution, has not even been voted out of committee. It was stopped dead in its tracks by a broad-based coalition of religious, civil liberties, and education organizations. UAHC Religious Action Center Director Rabbi David Saperstein has served as one of two co-chairs of the Coalition to Preserve Religious Liberty (CPRL) since its inception, and RAC Associate Director Mark J. Pelavin chairs the CPRL's important Legislative Task Force. Working with the other members of the CPRL, including the National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church U.S.A., and the Baptist Joint Committee, the Religious Action Center has coordinated the religious community's efforts to protect the wall of separation between church and state.

In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rabbi Saperstein opposed the "Religious Equality" amendment, affirming that "it is precisely that wall separating church and state that has kept government out of religion and allowed religion to flourish with a diversity and strength in America unmatched anywhere in the Western world. The idea of separating church and state...has, in fact, been America's single greatest contribution to the religious history of the world."

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