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Clerics Rap ‘new Christian Right’

Rabbi Morc Tanenbaum, national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee, joined with three Protestant and Catholic clergy men in denouncing public policy positions of the “new right evangelicals” or “the new Christian right.” While supporting participation in the political process of all Americans, the clergy men told a news conference here last week that the activity is a threat to both church and state.

Besides Tanenboum, the participants were Dr. Jimmy Allen, past president of the Baptist Convention and now president of the Radio and Television Commission; Msgr. George Higgins of the Catholic University of America and formerly of the U.S. Catholic Conference; and Dr. Charles Bergstrom, executive director of the Office for Governmental Affairs of the Lutheran Council in the U.S.A.

Dr. Stan Hastey, Washington bureau chief of the Baptist Press, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Tanenboum and Allen “came up with the idea and invited the other two to join” in the news conference.

“No responsible and fair-minded American questions the right of fellow Americans of Evangelical Christian or any other religious or moral persuasion to participate fully as citizens in the political process nor to advocate the adoption of public policy positions which reflect their ideological bent,” Tanenboum said. He pointed out, however, that “during the past 15 months, there have been a number of actions and statements by major spokesmen of this newly forged alliance of several Evangelical Christian leaders and ultra conservative political organizers which have become deeply troubling to many of us, and which require, we believe, careful analytical scrutiny by both presidential candidates and by the American people.

He noted that “a number of major spokesmen at the new Christian right’ assert that their primary purpose in this election, and through related political activity on the local levels, is to Christianize America’ and to establish ‘a Christian republic.’ That is a myth and it is on ideologically dangerous myth for American democracy which must not go uncontested.”

CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER

Allen said there is a “clear and present danger to the health and well-being of both the church and the state involved in religious and political extremism.” He also said “we have to be extremely careful to give the other side the some freedom that I would want for myself.”

Higgins told the press conference, “I am disturbed by their repeated and not very subtle emphasis on getting out what they indiscriminately call ‘the Christian vote or even more ominously, creating in this country ‘a Christian republic.’ One doesn’t have to be doctrinaire in his interpretation of the principle of religious freedom and separation of church and state to be put off, indeed to be frightened, by this kind of political extremism.”

Bergstrom read a statement that “the American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the Lutheran Church in America firmly disagree with Christians or coalitions of Christians who plan political action under the guise of religious evangelism, worship or revivalism — on in the name of Jesus.”

Continuing, Bergstrom said: “To describe one group’s political position as ‘the Christian voice and one movement’s political agenda as a movement ‘for Jesus’ is wrongly judgmental. It is also an affront to Jewish and other religious advocates whose religions hold social justice as a social form of love of neighbor. Devout Christians and Jews agree and disagree between and among themselves regarding political decisions and can agree and disagree with non-believers.”

Higgins cautioned Tanenbaum “with deference” that he “should not push the church-state issue too for, ” observing that the Jewish community might find itself in “great difficulty” over “the very strong statements” for Israel in The New York Times.

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