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
Tikkun Olam (literally, repairing the world) is the short-hand phrase for litaken olam bimalkhut Shaddai — to repair the world through the [the establishment of] God's kingdom, or to bring about God's rule on earth.

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
For Jews, God's oneness implies a human unity without obliterating the marvelous wonderful fact of human diversity. But some of our non-Jewish neighbors use the language of "bringing about God's kingdom" to mean something very different. For some Christians -- variously dubbed Christocrats, Dominionists, Christian reconstructionists -- the bringing of God's kingdom demands the obliteration of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For them the establishment of the "one true religion," Christianity, leaves little room for other faiths.

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
The Jewish concept of "bringing about God's kingdom" invokes a respect for gradualism, privacy, and pluralism in human affairs. Judaism is committed to understanding nature through scientific knowledge, non-coercive conversation and persuasion. In contrast, recently, the "Coral Ridge Hour' of Rev. D. Kennedy focused on Darwin's theories of evolution, saying that Hitler's espousal of those theories led to the Holocaust. Kennedy's implication was that the theory of evolution is genocidal.

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.

Israel's Friends?
Looming over humanity and the natural order are many human-fashioned threats such as war and the threat of nuclear destruction. The work of Tikun, repair and healing, requires human effort, Judaism argues, but sadly in the Christocratic worldview there is a propensity for apocalyptic and "rapture" formulations.

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 Christian Zionists.

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.

How Jews see "bringing about God's kingdom"
It is important to be clear about what we Jews mean when we talk about "bringing about of God's kingdom," especially at this time of the year, because the Days of Awe demand and invite us to work for a spiritually re-enchanted world, and for life renewed by hope -- not despair. Many apocalyptic-rapture visions are by their nature catastrophic, despairing and hopeless. The Jewish tradition asks us to imagine a better world as preparation for bringing it about. The rabbis envisioned a hopeful conclusion to history and celebrated that idea. (Read and contrast the seventh wedding blessing about a world culminating in love and friendship.)

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
The First Amendment to the Constitution creates a separation between the domain of the state and religion. The State (and all its agencies including public schools, the military, social services etc.) are not permitted to support any religion's vision of the Kingdom of God. For the State to establish a religion is to invite the horrors of Europe's "Hundred Years War" and "Thirty Years War." Those bloody conflicts over religion and state were in the minds of the Constitution's framers.

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.

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.

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
The religious right's exclusion of America's non-Christians and gays and lesbians is ominous. The attack on gays and lesbians is part of an attempt to further divide America and diminish First Amendment protections, especially the right to privacy and the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides for equal protection under the law. Click here to read more about these efforts to diminish the rights of LGBT people

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.

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.

And what has the religious right done with its political influence? Judging by the platform and the policies of the Republican Party -- and I'm aware of no way to disentangle the agenda of the Republican Party from the goals of the religious right -- the purpose of all this grasping for power looks something like this: an expansion of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, the continued prosecution of a war in the Middle East that enraged our longtime allies and would not meet even the barest of just-war criteria, and a rejiggering of Social Security, the effect of which, most observers agree, would be to fray the social-safety net for the poorest among us. Public education is very much imperiled by Republican policies, to the evident satisfaction of the religious right, and it seeks to replace science curricula with theology, thereby transforming students into catechumens.

Jewish vigilance required
Balmer's list is hardly exhaustive. In the past year we've seen a narrowing of the notion of what constitutes a family, including efforts to prevent gays and lesbians from adopting children, marry or protect their partners through civil unions.

All of these issues will continue to 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.

TOPIC: Church-State Separation