We have been witnessing an increase in the visibility of the so-called "born-again" movement.
Though their numbers have not grown dramatically, the shrillness of their rhetoric has. Their doctrine teaches the threat of eternal damnation in hell to all those who don't believe as they do.
American Jews are especially aware of any threat to religious liberty. Historically, Jews -the victims of ancient and modern holocausts- are always one of the first targets of religious intolerance. In this way, the Jewish community has often served as an early warning of the encroachment of bigotry into society at large.
Through their repeatedly expressed intention to "Christianize America," fundamentalists have disturbed many Jews. Though some Jews cling to fundamentalist support of Israel as reassurance, most Jews are not deceived. Instead, we pay close attention to remarks made by the leadership of the born-again movement.
In 1980, the Rev. Bailey Smith, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said at the Religious Roundtable national affairs briefing in Dallas that "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew."
Smith only partially retracted his remark. After an interfaith mission to Israel, he later said, "I am pro-Jew…I believe they are God's special people, but without Jesus Christ, they are lost."
The constant energy of many born-again fundamentalists to support fraudulent proselytizing groups such as San Francisco's Jews for Jesus, led by an ordained Baptist minister, and, locally, the Jewish Voice, led by an ordained Pentecostal Assembly of God minister, has provided ample evidence of their desire to convert Jews, not accept them.
There are many Christians in America who appreciate Judaism, who seek no converts from among Jews. Their only desire is to live together with their Jewish friends in mutual respect.
The division between these Christians and the born-again movement is obvious. There seem to be many opposing doctrinal positions between fundamentalists and other Christians. Fundamentalists often proclaim that they are the only "true Christians," denouncing more than 80 million American Christians as "unsaved." They also have labeled more than 90 million Americans who are not religiously affiliated as "secular humanists" and condemn them to hell.
The question is this: If a person believes that without accepting his religious doctrine you will be damned to hell, does this lead him to like and accept you? Or does this attitude create in him a feeling of dislike toward you as a non-believer?
More than 175 million Americans are not "born-again." And many of the founding fathers of America were not "born-again." Thomas Jefferson, a Unitarian, was inspired by the writing of Thomas Paine, an avowed [deist]. In the words of George Washington, "The United States is in no sense founded on the Christian religion." Instead, our founding fathers established a nation on the principles of religious freedom.
Americans must confront the issue of religious bigotry. Inflammatory rhetoric and fraudulent proselytizers do not promote love and understanding.
The very concept of exclusive salvation, or a segregated neighborhood in the hereafter, should be purged from many religious doctrines. Only then can we break down barriers of intolerance and eliminate the breeding grounds of bigotry.
Americans must put aside discriminatory dogma and reach out to each other in true acceptance. Not to convert each other, but to regard each fellow American's faith as valid and equal.
Only then can our country really fulfill the hope of the founding fathers. Not by one religion dominating America, but instead by all faiths coexisting together. That is the precept on which America was founded.