Attending the GOP Convention got me thinking. Those of you following my race for the United States Congress know that politics is not my first calling -- religion, impacting students and saving marriages and families are my foremost priorities. I started this Congressional race to discuss a new set of values to America. Not one that focuses on gay marriage but rather on reducing the 50% rate of divorce, focusing not on debating abortion but stopping genocide and the slaughter of innocents by tyrants, and, in the field of economics, emphasizing the importance of dignity and self-reliance and work. Something that should truly unite all as we seek to lend people the majesty of financial independence.
Once you enter the realm of politics you discover your own naiveté and most importantly your own limitations. That so much of what you want to achieve is so difficult for many reasons, but perhaps this one, more than all others. If you run to get out a message the media will only take you seriously if they think you can win. And they will only think you can win if you focus on the issues that score in polls and have a lot of money in the bank and the all-important and magical "COH," cash on hand. If you are missing those things, no matter how compelling your message it will never get any kind of traction.
I enjoyed being at the Republican Convention. I enjoyed the energy and meeting people from all over the country. I also believe in an aggressive foreign policy that holds tyrants accountable, which I think has been the hallmark of the Republican Party since George W. Bush's presidency.
But this needs to be said, because I care too much about America and the Republican Party because I believe in limited government and larger individuals. I have a gay brother who lives a generous life. From the time he was a teenager and came out he began to invite to our Sabbath table so many young Jews, many of whom had no place to go. Some of their families had told them they were no longer welcome in their homes and not to return. Is the Republican Party really going to be a collection of individuals who would shun a man like that? Who would tell him that he has no right to serve in the United States Military should he choose? Who would tell him that he has no right to proclaim his own belief in greater economic and financial accountability and limited government? Does he have no right to stand up to Saddam Hussein or to demand that President Obama stand up to Vladimir Putin and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?
One of my own campaign staff is a gay Republican who works tirelessly to promote my candidacy. He recently confessed to me that prior to working on this campaign he had one foot out of the Republican Party. And who can blame him? When the party becomes more about its obsession over gay marriage than saving the American family it begins to seem almost incongruous.
Take Chick-fil-A, for example. I'm told it has some of the best food in the world. Sadly, I have never tried it because it is not kosher. (In fact, I will use this column to put out a call to CEO Dan Cathy to finally do a kosher branch.) But in our campaign we are using Chick-fil-A's policy of being closed on Sundays, putting God and family before profit, as a shining example of everything that could be in America. As a business that closes one day a week so employees may have a day to spend with their families and children. My race held a press conference using Chick-fil-A as an example of one of my signature campaign ideas -- tax breaks for businesses that close on Sunday, like with the blue laws we have here in Bergen County, New Jersey, which have yielded the largest retail zip code in the country, thereby demonstrating that business and family are not incompatible.
But what does the CEO of Chick-fil-A decide to highlight instead? His opposition to gay marriage. He's a religious man and I respect him. But wouldn't it have been a more wholesome message for him to talk about his belief that parents spending time with their children is even more important than making a buck? Couldn't that have been the uniting message and would it have been amazing for my Christian conservative brothers and sisters, to inspire all people.
Look at the debate in Missouri. I am not here to question Catholic and Evangelical teachings on abortion. They are much more stringent and much more severe than in Judaism. In Judaism there is no question that if a mother's life was endangered by the fetus the fetus would be immediately removed. Some of the world's leading orthodox rabbis allow abortion in far lesser circumstances as the life of the fetus is debated heatedly in Jewish law. But how many fathers truly believe that it would be easy, if one of their daughters were, G-d forbid, raped, no matter their religious convictions, to look their young daughter in the eye and tell her that after having been barbarously assaulted by a man that she would have to go through the agony of bringing that baby to term? I'm not saying your position should be she should have an abortion. Rather, just have the courage to state and admit the anguish it would cause the young girl, and you, even if that is your religious position. In other words, even as you state that position, feel the tug of your humanity.
We religious people dare never allow our faith to compromise our humanity, even as we uphold our different beliefs.
Like every other politician running for office, I would love to win. My campaign is gathering momentum, and I have been elevated to "Contender" status by the NRCC. It would be an honor to be chosen to represent the people of my district. I think I could do well in Congress. I think I have great ideas for this country. But win or lose, I know that we have to have more soulfulness in politics. You have to go into politics with the sincere belief that winning isn't everything, that your ideas about winning is much more important.
I know that the Republican Party has a heart and that it is truly compassionate. I know that what appears to people as an economic policy that seems unconcerned about the poor is completely inaccurate. I don't believe that anyone wants to be a ward of the state. I think we all want to be self-reliant and independent. But I also believe that some of these issues that are dominating our party are a distortion of true religious teachings. G-d gives us his law by which we must abide, but G-d has a heart. He understands that human beings are complex. G-d understands that human beings struggle with all different kinds of identities, whether it is sexual, ethnic, religious. G-d is understanding and we must always show that.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who has just published the best-seller "Kosher Jesus," is the Republican nominee for New Jersey's Ninth Congressional District. In October he will publish a monumental book on the nature of human suffering "The Fed-Up Man of Faith." His website is www.shmuleyforcongress.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.