What do you value? How does your faith and your experience form your beliefs and values? These are questions we often wrestle with, and which pollsters love to gauge. Martin Marty picks up on a recent survey of Jews that reveals that on most social issues, a majority of Jews are left of center. There is a strong concern for the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but there is also great suspicion of the erstwhile ally of Israel -- the Religious Right. Conservative Evangelicals are strong proponents of Israel, but their overall aims don't connect with Jews in general. Marty picks up on this and helps us understand why this might be. Check it out, and offer your thoughts.
-- Martin E. Marty
The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), alongside Gallup and Pew and other polling agencies, scored big this month. Right in the midst of the treated-as-cosmic discussion of “same-sex” marriage, a not-unnoticed media fest—PRRI released a poll on Jewish values in the United States. Many of the findings were unsurprising to those who regularly observe the Jewish press and media coverage of the institutional life of Jews. In the poll published April 3, the values called “liberal” by those who do not like them and “prophetic” by those who do, remain as strong as ever. Support of “social programs” which the “liberals” categorize as Tikkun Olam, translated as “healing the world,” is important to all but 28 percent of Jews polled. “Welcoming the stranger” is not important to only 28 percent. Meantime, only 15 percent of the polled Jews find that “pursuing justice” is “not too important” or “not at all important.”
Also unsurprising to press and poll watchers is the finding that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “a major problem” in Israel, as seen by 90 percent of those interviewed. We all know that polls are not and cannot be flawless indicators of how things go, but they indicate enough to quicken the interest and resolves of Jewish leadership. Today’s quickener? News that despite heroic, persistent, and well-financed efforts by various fronts, Jewish and evangelical, to build bridges between Jews and “The Christian Right” under its many names, the results have disappointed would-be bridge-builders. Many find it astounding that in the PRRI poll Mormons—get this!—received favorable ratings among 47 percent and Muslims—get this, too!—received 41.4 percent favorable ratings. However, “the group described as ‘Christian Right,’ was viewed in favorable terms by only 20.9% of Jewish Americans” polled. The Jewish paper Forward noted that, in contrast, the general, non-Mormon, non-Muslim population in America “views evangelicals more favorably than [it does] Muslims and Mormons.” Nathan Guttman, in the Forward story, says that from the Jewish side, “mistrust and suspicion” of Christian evangelicals remains deep. An old friend and ex-Chicagoan Yechiel Eckstein, who founded and presides over the tireless International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, has to say of the poll returns, “I find this shocking and concerning.” Guttman writes that Eckstein and other activist allies on his front “expressed a sense of betrayal,” accusing Jewish liberals of clinging to “pre-conceived notions, and stereotypes about evangelical beliefs and goals.”
Give these activists credit for having challenged and questioned stereotypes, and having made some progress, but especially only when and because the Christian Right conveniently allies itself with many leaders of the empowering political Right in general. What keeps the bridge-builders from succeeding further? Too many of them tip their hand by their firm promotion of a “Christian America,” which leaves Jews and Muslims out. Their policies too often are perceived as “theocratic,” which also leaves the outsiders out. Jews fear that in the end the Christian Right, though friendly to Israel, has in mind the conversion of Jews and, to be fair, of everyone else in reach. Finally, the Jewish majority considers its goals on the political scene—efforts at Tikkun Olam—largely blocked by the political evangelicals. Some social-activist Jews do find change-agents among evangelicals on many fronts, including environmental issues, to be promising partners, but so far that perception has not removed suspicion of the Christian Right evangelicals’ flank. Things remain, as Eckstein said, “shocking and concerning.”
Nathan Guttman, “Jews Cast Wary Eye on Evangelicals,” Forward, April 20, 2012.
Public Religion Research Institute, “Chosen for What? Jewish Values in 2012,” April 3, 2012.
National Jewish Democratic Council, “Independent Poll Shows Jews Dramatically Supportive of Obama,” April 3, 2012.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found atwww.illuminos.com.
On the occassion of John Paul II's visit to India in 1999, the Advaitin teacher Swami Dayananda Saraswati addressed a public letter to the pope entitled "Conversion is Violence." The letter, as Reid Locklin summarizes, drew an "absolute contrast ... between 'aggressive, converting' religions like Christianity and Islam and 'non-violent, non-converting' religions like Hinduism" (4). But is it true that Hinduism does not convert? In this month's web forum, Locklin, a Martin Marty Center Senior Fellow in 2010-11, explores "whether and in what respect modern Advaita movements may be said to advocate religious conversion"; and he identifies "a key methodological defect in the controversy: namely, a univocal concept of conversion." Locklin also suggests ways that "an Advaita theology of conversion might ... offer resources for reconsidering, reimagining and redescribing conversion to Christ, on the model of that most famous of converts, the Apostle Paul" (8-9). Read Up, Over, Through: Rethinking "Conversion" as a Category of Hindu-Christian Studies.
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.