you, Reverend Falwell, for your gracious invitation. I am
honored to address the students of this great university.
before you as the leader of the largest Jewish religious movement
in America, consisting of 920 congregations and 1.5 million
Jews. While we have our differences to be sure, as religious
Americans there is much that we share at this critical moment
in our country's history.
and foremost, we share a profound commitment to the security
and well-being of the State of Israel. In recent months, Israelis
have elected a moderate government, committed to peace and
a two-state solution, while the Palestinians have elected
a radical government, committed to terror and death. Together,
we hold the high ground against the apostles of hate who say
that murder is pleasing to God. And our love for Israel is
based not on the shifting sands of geopolitical strategy,
but on the hard rock of moral obligation. While our theologies
surely differ, we know that Israel is not just another state
but speaks to deep issues of faith and belief.
too an abiding love for America, this vibrant and contentious
democracy in which we live. We particularly treasure the freedom
of this land. As religious people, we have a special commitment
to freedom, seen and unseen, rooted in our faith that every
man and woman is created equal in the sight of God.
share an intense pride in the religious vitality of our country.
In much of Europe, it is assumed that to be religious is to
be naïve or stupid, while here a house of worship is
found on every corner. We surpass every democracy in our religious
fervor. And remember this: More Americans attend church or
synagogue each week than attend professional sports in an
too: we share a common concern about the moral crisis of America.
Even with religion thriving, we have witnessed all around
us a disturbing collapse of public morality. We live in an
era of rampant materialism and no-strings-attached sexual
encounters. Every night television assails our children with
mindless reality shows that present self-gratification as
the only goal worth pursuing. Pornography, which debases the
sexual act and detaches it from love and commitment, has become
a staple of our culture: what teenage boys learn from video
games and the Internet is that girls are interchangeable sexual
objects. Women will never be emancipated if they are viewed
solely through the lens of their sexuality.
is at fault? The left, for confusing liberty with license
and for ignoring public morality in the name of personal choice.
And the right, for being far too accepting of corporations
that reach into our homes with their trash and relentlessly
market sex and violence. I for one am sick and tired of media
giants that tout family values in their news programs and
press lewdness in their entertainment shows. Shame on all
those who poison our public life in this way.
understandable, perhaps, that we may feel victimized and under
attack and look for quick fixes. And so we hear calls, sometimes
from evangelicals and sometimes from others, for prayer in
the schools and lowering the wall of church-state separation.
us beware of simple answers. As a Jew, I don't like
it when other Jews find an anti-Semite under every bed; I
don't believe that Judaism is seriously imperiled, and
I don't think that Christianity is under siege either.
Neither do I want to ask the government to solve our problems
by imposing its will. Government coercion generates resentment,
not godliness, and it is never a good idea to put the government
in charge of our thinking.
to rely on the wisdom of the founding fathers. They were religious
people who wanted God in public life, but they thought that
religion must be a unifying force in America. They did not
want government to be an agent of religion, and they refused
to use sectarian language or images. It was they who authored
the First Amendment, the noble sanctuary of our most precious
freedoms. And this too: the bloody rise of theological politics
in the Islamic world, and especially in Iraq, reminds us how
rare and fragile an achievement the separation of church and
state really is. Let us do everything in our power to preserve
it; it is a large part of what makes America worth living
how can we move forward? Let's begin by taking on the
harmful effects of screen sex and violence. It is possible
to set voluntary boundaries for protecting children without
sacrificing the ability of adults to watch what they choose.
So let's work with industry leaders to develop consensus
on a uniform, content-based rating system.
do a better job in what we do as religious Americans. We need
to remind our members to switch off the television once in
a while and talk to their children about God and our religious
journey. We need to make our churches and synagogues into
safe places where kids know that they matter and where they
are shielded from the pressures of premature adulthood. We
need to say that moral relativism is not the only answer to
a complex, changing world; in fact, when the winds blow hardest,
it is then that you need the strongest roots. Only in this
way can we engrave our values on our children's hearts.
can do all this without papering over our very real differences.
tradition prohibits abortion; my religious tradition permits
it in some cases and forbids it in others, but believes that
every woman must prayerfully make the final decision for herself.
You oppose gay marriage while we believe in legal protection
for gay couples. We understand your reading of the Biblical
texts, even if we read those texts in a different way. But
gay Americans pose no threat to their friends, neighbors,
or co-workers, and when two people make a lifelong commitment
to each other, we believe it is wrong to deny them the legal
guarantees that protect them and their children and benefit
the broader society.
significant as these differences are, my hope is that they
will not overwhelm us. We need less anger and more thoughtful
reflection, less shouting and more listening. Even when we
disagree, let's do so without demonizing each other.
I can discuss these issues and believe what I believe without
calling you a homophobic bigot, and you can do the same without
calling me an uncaring baby killer. Let's promote respect
for each other's religious tradition, and let's
work for civility in public debate.
we can, let's build bridges, find shared values, and
join together in common cause. Indeed, this has already begun.
American evangelicals are a major force for human rights,
here and abroad. You support Christian minorities in China,
North Korea, and Saudi Arabia. And in fighting for Christians,
you fight for everyone. You also do battle against the slaughter
in Darfur, against the trafficking of women into sexual bondage,
and against the horrors of malaria and HIV. And you are turning
your attention to issues of world poverty, debt relief, and
global warming. In these battles, we are your allies. I hope
that we can strengthen that alliance and expand it, extending
our hand wherever we can to the widow and the orphan, the
stranger and the needy--all of whom, the Bible tells
us, are blessed of the Lord.
am optimistic that we can do this. Because in these matters,
ours is not an alliance of politics but of faith. Faith that
America, the most religiously diverse country in the world,
is a place that gives a fair shake to all. Faith that God
has summoned us to build a world that is less random and capricious,
more equitable and humane. Faith that despite the temptations
of the marketplace, we will not forget the moral vision that
came forth from Zion. Faith that, even as we find Him in different
ways, God is by our side, lifting us when we fall. Faith that
the possibilities of happiness and fulfillment are always
with us, if only we would open our eyes and give God our thanks.
you. And God bless America.
Eric Yoffie is president of the Union for Reform
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