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Poll: Only 1 in 5 Jews View Christian Right Favorably

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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.”

Martin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago. His column first appeared in Sightings.