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Rabbi Justus N. Baird

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Free Rabbinic Advice to Rick Santorum From a Texan

Posted: 03/21/2012 12:06 pm

Dear Mr. Santorum,

I know you're crazy-campaign-busy. If you have other rabbis in your inner circle, please kibbitz (chat) with her or him and ignore this counsel. If you don't have such counsel already, consider asking one of your advisers to peruse this note.

A little bit about me: I grew up in Texas and now I'm a rabbi. I live in New Jersey with my wife and three little kids. I work at a Christian seminary in New York City teaching people from different faiths to get along (long story).

News about your recent campaign event in Greenwell Springs, La., inspired me to send you this note. To be honest, it was Pastor Dennis Terry's reported remarks that got to me. I know you were there, but just to remind you of what he said so passionately on Monday:

"This nation was founded as a Christian nation, the God of Abraham, the God Isaac, and the God of Jacob. There's only one God -- there's only one God and his name is Jesus. I'm tired of people telling me that I can't say those words. I'm tired of people telling us as Christians that we can't voice our beliefs, or we can no longer pray in public. Listen to me: if you don't love America and you don't like the way we do things, I've got one thing to say: Get out! We don't worship Buddha. I said we don't worship Buddha. We don't worship Muhammad. We don't worship Allah. We worship God. We worship God's son Jesus Christ."

Mr, Santorum, here's the thing: it's kind-of true that America is a Christian nation. Snobby sociologists tell us that a little more than three-quarters of Americans identify as Christian. You don't need to be a number cruncher to see that huge majority. You and I both know that leaves around 65 million Americans who don't identify as Christian, but let's keep things simple and leave them out of the equation for the moment.

(BTW, could you ask Pastor Terry to clarify who he was inviting to "get out" of America? I felt like he was talking to me and my 6 million American Jewish coreligionists, as well as all my American Muslim, American Buddhist, American Hindu, American Sikh, American atheist, American agnostic and American non-believing friends. None of us believe that Jesus is the Son of God, so I wanted to make sure he wanted to kick us all out.)

The free, unrequested rabbinic advice I wanted to give to you is this: those same snobby sociologists that counted all the Christians in America also asked them a few questions about what they believe. Since you're trying to get elected president and all, I thought it might be useful for you to have this holy data at your fingertips:

Eighty-seven percent of American Christians under age 35 believe that non-Christians can go to heaven, and the same is true about 70 percent of those 65 and older.* I know. The first time I read that polling data, I was like, no way! Bad Christians! Haven't you read John 3:16 and 14:6? I mean, come on, you call yourself Christians and yet you think people who don't believe in Jesus can get into heaven?

I've been wrong before, but my kishkes (Jewish guts) tell me that if most American Christians think non-Christians will go to heaven, it probably means they don't want to kick all non-Christians out of America.

My point is this: If you want to rally God-fearing American Christians to vote for you, you don't have to associate with religious leaders who throw non-Christians under the bus. In fact, if you hang with too many Christians-who-hate-non-Christians, you might actually alienate Christian voters themselves! That would be so ironic, I know, but I really think it's true -- because most Christians actually hang out with non-Christians. American Christians know someone from work or the neighborhood or their family who is Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, atheist or agnostic and they know they're good American folk too. In fact, two out of three Americans have an extended family member of a different religion. Americans even have more close friends of a different religion than we have kids (2.4 friends* vs. 2.1 kids)!

If I could offer you a free soundbite, it would be this: America is both a great Christian nation AND the most religiously diverse nation in the world! That's why we're so great! Disclaimer: I haven't done the message testing on that one with focus groups of voters.

Last thing: Good luck in the final weeks of the primary. I can't imagine what it's like to be on the campaign bus 24/7. I hope you're able to rest on the Sabbath and pray regularly with devotion. I know in my own busy life that's hard to do, and I bet its even harder for you. May God watch over you and all leaders who aspire to lead this great nation.

Rabbi Justus Baird

P.S. Please tell Pastor Terry that I'm Jewish AND I love America and I like the way we do things. Can I stay?

* I found these figures in Putnam and Campbell's book American Grace. For figures on Christian attitudes toward who can go to heaven, see pp.538-539. For figures on how many close friends from a different religion Americans have, see page 523.