The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Jewish Leader blasts Evangelical "zealots"

By KRISTEN HAYS
Yahoo! News
Sat Nov 19,10:55 PM ET

The leader of the largest branch of American Judaism blasted conservative religious activists in a speech Saturday, calling them "zealots" who claim a "monopoly on God" while promoting anti-gay policies akin to Adolf Hitler's.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, said "religious right" leaders believe "unless you attend my church, accept my God and study my sacred text you cannot be a moral person."

"What could be more bigoted than to claim that you have a monopoly on God?" he said during the movement's national assembly in Houston, which runs through Sunday.

The audience of 5,000 responded to the speech with enthusiastic applause.

Yoffie did not mention evangelical Christians directly, using the term "religious right" instead. In a separate interview, he said the phrase encompassed conservative activists of all faiths, including within the Jewish community.

He used particularly strong language to condemn conservative attitudes toward homosexuals. He said he understood that traditionalists have concluded gay marriage violates Scripture, but he said that did not justify denying legal protections to same-sex partners and their children.

"We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations," Yoffie said. "Yes, we can disagree about gay marriage. But there is no excuse for hateful rhetoric that fuels the hellfires of anti-gay bigotry."

The Union for Reform Judaism represents about 900 synagogues in North America with an estimated membership of 1.5 million people. Of the three major streams of U.S. Judaism — Orthodox and Conservative are the others — it is the only one that sanctions gay ordination and supports civil marriage for same-gender couples.

Yoffie said liberals and conservatives share some concerns, such as the potential damage to children from violent or highly sexual TV shows and other popular media. But he said, overall, conservatives too narrowly define family values, making a "frozen embryo in a fertility clinic" more important than a child, and ignoring poverty and other social ills.

One attendee, Judy Weinman of Troy, N.Y., said she thought Yoffie was "right on target."

"He reminded us of where we have things in common and where we're different," she said.

Yoffie also urged lawmakers to model themselves on presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, who famously told a Houston clergy group in 1960 that a president should not make policy based on his religion.

On other topics, Yoffie asked Reform synagogues to do more to hold onto members, who often leave after their children go to college. He also said the Reform movement, which is among the most accepting of non-Jewish spouses, should make a greater effort to invite spouses to convert.

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