Don Feder, a former Boston Herald writer and syndicated columnist, is president of Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation, an advocacy group that started in April. Stan Guthrie, CT's senior associate news editor, interviewed him.
The Jewish people have the Anti-Defamation League, and you have started an "anti-defamation league" for Christians. Why?
The Anti-Defamation League has come up before. It was started more than a hundred years ago to respond to anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, it's changed over time. It's one of many "mainline" organizations that basically have been taken over by liberals. And today, rather than fighting anti-Semitism, per se, a lot of what it does has nothing to do with combating anti-Semitism, but rather promoting the Left's agenda.
When you say "liberals," do you mean political liberals?
Oh, I mean people on the Left. Perhaps I shouldn't even use the term liberal, because they're not liberal in the historic sense of the wordcertainly not 19th-century liberals. They're not even liberals in terms of the New Deal. I guess, like many people, I fall into the habit of using the term liberal loosely. Leftist is probably a more accurate description.
At any rate, we formed Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation because we felt a real need for Jews as Jews to respond to attacks on Christians. Oftentimes when Christians are attacked and Christian organizations object, the response is, "Well you're thin-skinned. You're overly sensitive. Unless people are completely complimentary, you think it's an attack. There's self-interest involved."
With a Jewish organization or a group of Jews taking this position, no one can accuse us of self-interest, because we're not Christians, but we're objecting to attacks on Christians, or discrimination against Christians.
So we thought it would useful in that regard. Beyond that, as American Jews we're concerned about the moral decline of America, and we view attacks on Christians basically as attacks on biblical morality and part of the moral deconstruction of America. And since Christians are being attacked for adhering to Judeo-Christian morality, which of course includes our morality, we felt that we had to respond.
This seems to be part of a larger trend in which Jews and Christians are finding areas of common ground.
Conservative Christians and conservative Jews are finding more and more to agree on. The area of common concern seems to get broader all the time. Same-sex marriage, of course, is probably the most prominent issue, but there are others as well.
The whole question of Israel is a major one.
Certainly that's an area that both groups are intensely interested in. Conservative Christians are probably the strongest supporters of Israel in America. In fact, by and large, Israel today is getting more support from Christians than from the Jewish community in this country.
Now, I want to make it clear that we're not doing this as a quid pro quo. This is not our way of thanking Christians for supporting Israel, although we do appreciate Christian support for Israel. If evangelical Christians weren't pro-Israel, then the Jewish state would really be in a perilous positioneven more than it is. We're appreciative of Christians' support for Israel on a scriptural basis.
Who is part of your group?
This is coming from the Jewish right of the political spectrum. Now, in terms of religion, the people involved span the spectrum of Judaism. We have six rabbis who are involved: three Orthodox, two Conservative, and one Reform. We're united more politically than we are in a religious sense. We're all Jews. Most of us are practicing Jews. Some are, you might say, secular or non-involved. What unites us, though, more than anything, is our political perspective, which tends to be, obviously, very similar to that of traditional Catholics and evangelical Christians.
Are any Christians involved?
No, not officially. We made a decision at the outset to limit the organization to Jews. The organization is called Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation, and we wanted it to be very clear that we're organizing as Jews to answer anti-Christian prejudicenot as Jews and Christians, not as Jews who are practicing Judaism and Jews who've converted to another religion, but as Jews.
We have been getting some help from Ted Baehr [of Movieguide]. About a year ago, Ted and I were together in Mexico City. We both spoke to the World Congress of Families. In passing, I said, "Ted, I think there's a need for an organization like this." Ted liked the idea and offered the support of his staff. Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation at this point has very little funding. Everything is basically being done on a volunteer basis.
Did a particular event serve as a catalyst in bringing the group together?
Not one event, nojust the culmination of a lot of things: the attacks on evangelical Christians in the last election; the response to Mel Gibson's movie The Passion; the fact that there were a lot of people in the establishment, people like Frank Rich, who writes for The New York Times, people in Hollywood, who objected to an orthodox Catholic making a movie that glorified his faith. It seems so bizarre, given the attacks on Christians that constantly come out of Hollywood, to have people in the establishment objecting to Mel Gibson making a movie about the death of Christ.
So that was a part of it. A part of it was what went on in the last election. But it's been cumulative. These are things that go back years that just have outraged our sense of justice. And of course things that are going on today, [such as] the conference they had in New York City called "Examining the Real Agenda of the Religious Far Right;" Al Gore's remarks [about "extremist organizations"] when he spoke to MoveOn.org; the senator from Colorado, Ken Salazar, calling Dr. [James] Dobson of Focus on the Family the "Antichrist."
[There is an] implication that it's all right for anyone to be involved in politics, except for conservative Christians. If environmentalists, feminists, or animal rights advocates do get-out-the-vote drives, registration drives, or political education, it's called democracy. When Christians do it, it's called theology. Suddenly, what's good for everyone else becomes sinister when conservative Christians do it.
What do you hope Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation will accomplish?
I hope it will raise the level of awareness of what seem to be growing attacks on Christians in a country that was founded by Christians and the tenets of Christianity. We hope that if people look at the organization and listen to us and take what we say to heart, they'll understand what's going on. And again, it may be easier for people to listen to us because we're not Christians.
The real heroes of Nazi Germany were the Christians who spoke up against the persecution of Jews. When Jews objected to what was happening in the early years of the Third Reich, the response was, "Well, you're Jews. You're hypersensitive. You're blowing it out of proportion." When people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood up for the Jews, no one could accuse him of self-interest.
We're hoping it will be easier for the public to hear what we're saying because in a way we are disinterested. Of course, in a way we're not disinterested, because one of the things we're saying is if Christians fail, America will fail. So we all have a stake in this.
A lot of people, certainly on the Left, would say we need a more secularized America.
Well, America is too secular to begin with, although they seem determined to extirpate the last vestiges of Judeo-Christian morality. Again, it goes back to what I call the moral legacy of the West, which is often referred to as Judeo-Christian morality or Judeo-Christian ethics.
Christians by and large aren't being attacked because Catholics believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation or because some evangelicals believe in the Rapture. They're not being attacked on theological grounds. They're being attacked on moral grounds. They're being attacked because they object to same-sex marriage; they object to abortion on demand; they support public displays of the Ten Commandments; they support voluntary school prayer or a moment of silent meditation at the beginning of the school day; because they want judges to interpret the Constitution rather than using the Constitution to legislate from the bench; because they object to, you might even say they were outraged by, what happened to Terri Schiavo. Christians are the last remaining obstacle to the triumph of secular humanist values. And that's why we say that if Christians fail, America will fail.
Evangelical Christians constitute a fairly large percentage of the American population. Some might say they don't really need your help, that they're doing just fine. They have a President in office, and they have unparalleled influence in a lot of areas. How do you see it?
Well, you're right. There are a lot of evangelical Christians. I believe the population is estimated at between 50 million and 60 million. I believe that born-again Christians today are the largest voting group in the country. And you're right: They were very successful in the last election. The problem is, success in the political arena doesn't always translate to success in the cultural arena. Born-again Christians are very successful politically, but the other side still controls the culture. Conservative Christians don't control the media. They don't control The New York Times, obviously, or any of the network news shows. They don't control Hollywood. This goes without saying, although I'm saying it anyway.
Ayn Rand, the novelist/philosopherwho, by the way, I don't have much in common withused to say that the culture is an idea transmission belt, and that's exactly what it is. Evangelical Christians and traditional Catholics were very successful politically last year. Despite their success, we still can't get [President] Bush's judges confirmed, at least the more important conservative nominees. There are still these constant attacks by Hollywood. You have things such as that conference in New York City. You have the news controlled by people who are violently opposed to the agenda of conservative Christians. So, born-again Christians may be very successful politically, but culturally they're still under constant attack.
Look, I'm doing this on a voluntary basis. I wouldn't do it if I didn't think it was necessary. I have other things I could be doing with my time. And, like everyone else, I need to earn a living. So if I didn't think that this had to be done, I wouldn't be doing it. We have 24 or 25 people on our board of advisers who are all people who are doing important things. They're rabbis, they're scholars, they're authors, they're talk-show hosts, they're syndicated columnists, they're communicators. They wouldn't have gotten involved in this if they didn't think it was necessary.
How have people responded so far?
The response we've had has been overwhelmingly positive from both Christians and Jewsfar more from Christians than Jews, naturally. The response, generally, from Christians has been, "Thank God you're doing what you're doing. We're so thrilled that Jews are speaking out on our behalf. For years we've supported Israel and we've supported Jewish concerns and we've spoken out against the growing wave of anti-Semitism in Europe. And it's so wonderful to see Jews speaking up for us."
Obviously, your organization is not defending mainline churches such as the Presbyterian Church (USA), which has been very critical of Israel.
Clearly not. Oftentimes liberal Jews will question [the motives of] evangelical support for Israel. One of the things I find interesting is that it's evangelical churches who read the Bible literally who arrive at one position on Israel, and mainline churches who've learned to misinterpret the Bible who arrive at a different position.
But, on the other hand, from their reading of the Bible, evangelical churches take a Judeo-Christian position on moral questions. And the mainline churches take the other position. If you told me what position a church took on, let's say, abortion or same-sex marriage, I could tell you what position that church takes on Israel. It's not a process of divination. It's just, "Can you read the Bible? Do you take the Bible seriously? Do you think the Bible is the Word of the living God, or do you think the Bible is something that changes over time?" [This applies to] the way the Supreme Court reads the Constitution. What the First Amendment meant for years, the First Amendment no longer means today. And for mainline churches, what the word abomination meant 100 years ago or 2,000 years ago, it no longer means now.
Do you or your organization support the right of Christians to evangelize Jews, and vice versa?
The organization doesn't have an official position on this. There are a lot of issues we haven't had to confront. America is a free country, you know. You have all kinds of people proselytizing for their beliefs, including Muslims. Freedom of religion, obviously, includes the freedom to talk about your religion and the freedom to try to persuade people that your religion is correct.
Now, having said that, that doesn't mean that I'm necessarily thrilled about an organization such as Jews for Jesus. But do they have a right to do this? Absolutely. I don't think there are Jewish organizations that are evangelizing Christians, because, unlike Christianity, we're not an evangelizing religion. But if there were such organizations, would they have a right to do that? Obviously. People have a right to proselytize for their faith.
Would you be willing to work for common purposes with Christian groups that engage in evangelism of Jews?
You know, street preachers have been hassled by the authorities. Oftentimes a double standard has been created that's applied to them but to no one else. That's something we'd want to speak out against. But would we want to make common cause with groups that are proselytizing Jews? I don't know about that.
The Southern Baptist Convention certainly has some evangelistic outreach among Jews, and yet it would be a very strong ally and supporter of what your organization is doing. But would it be just too sensitive for you to reach out to the SBC?
When the Southern Baptist Convention is attacked unfairly, I think we would speak out in their behalf. Could we make common cause with the Southern Baptist Convention on other issues? Yes. Would we acknowledge their right to pass resolutions that call for proselytizing Jews? They have that right. Is this something that we're thrilled about? No, probably not.
On the other hand, we're realistic. We realize that unlike Judaism, Christianity is a proselytizing religion. Christians believe that to be saved you have to embrace Jesus as the Messiah, you have to believe in vicarious atonement, you have to believe that Jesus died for your sins, you have to believe that Jesus is the Incarnation. Now, this is the essence of Christianity. Also, spreading the Good News is the essence of Christianity. Bringing this message to non-Christians is a Christian thing to do.
Now, unfortunately, most people in the cultural elite don't seem to understand this. They think it's not nice for Christians to do what Christians have been doing for the last 2,000 years. That's not our perspective. You know, we don't object to Christians being Christians. I don't see how you can. If Christians don't object to Jews being Jews, even though many of them would like to convert Jews to Christianity, I don't see how Jews can object to Christians being Christians.
What is one thing that you wish Christians knew about Jews?
I wish Christians understood Judaism. Most Christians don't. In fact, there are very few Christians who do. Whenever I talk to Christians who are proselytizing me or trying to bring me to Jesus, my response to them invariably is, "Before you try to explain to me why you want me to convert to your religion, I wish you understood more about my religion," because most Christians, including very sincere Christians, don't. They view Judaism as Christianity without Jesus, and it isn't. They don't seem to understand the purpose of Jewish law, they know very little about Jewish theology, and almost nothing about the Talmud or the oral law. They have every right to engage in proselytizing, but before they begin proselytizing Jews, I wish they knew a lot more about Judaism.
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More about Jews and Christians includes:
The Latest Temptation of Christians | Troubling spite in the debate over The Passion shows that the church needs to take anti-Semitism more seriously. (Feb. 24, 2004)
The Chosen People Puzzle | When it comes to relating to the Jewish people, should we dialogue, cooperate, or evangelize? (March 9, 2001)
Is Evangelism Possible Without Targeting? | The founder of Jews for Jesus responds to Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein (Jan. 14, 2000)
Can I Get a Witness? | Southern Baptists rebuff critics of Chicago evangelism plan. (Jan. 14, 2000)
Witnessing vs. Proselytizing | A rabbi's perspective on evangelism targeting Jews, and his alternative (Dec. 3, 1999)
To the Jew First? | Southern Baptists defend new outreach effort (Nov. 15, 1999)
The Jew Who Is Saving Christians | How Michael Horowitz awakened Americans to the plight of the persecuted. (March 1, 1999)
How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend | The amazing story of Christian efforts to create and sustain the modern nation of Israel. (Oct. 5, 1998)
The Return of the Jewish Church | In 1967, there were no Messianic Jewish congregations in the world. Today there are 350. Who are these believers? (Sept. 7, 1998)
Mapping the Messianic Jewish World (Sept. 7, 1998)
Did Christianity Cause the Holocaust? | No, despite what a biased film at the tax-supported Holocaust Museum implies (Apr. 27, 1998)
Is Jewish-Christian a Contradiction in Terms? (April 7, 1997)
Jews Oppose Baptist Outreach (Nov. 11, 1996)
Christmas and the Modern Jew | Christians often seem to lack both good missionary strategies toward Jews and sensitivity to their situation in life (Dec. 8, 1958)
Graham Feted By American Jewish Committee | In 1977, Graham walked a fine line between in his work 'to proclaim the Gospel to Jew and Gentile.' (Nov. 18, 1977)
Billy Graham: 'I have never felt called to single out the Jews' | The evangelist discusses targeted evangelism in one of his most quoted statements (March 16, 1973)
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