By Simon Greer
President and CEO, Jewish Funds for Justice
Mr. Beck, you are a con man and America is not buying it. I exhort you to stop bottling your ideological agenda and labeling it “theology.” Americans deserve and demand better.
You’ve told us what not to look for in a house of worship. But now I ask you, sincerely, what kind of house of worship do you desire? On March 23, you said, “Make sure your church puts God first and politics and government last.”
The question then is, how do we put God first?
Genesis tells us that we are all created in the image of the divine. Because this is so, we are called upon to treat every person with the innate respect and dignity with which we are “endowed by our creator.” To put God first in faith is to put humanity first in our actions.
As a Jew, this inspires me to care for my family, my community, and my country. But I can’t care for my family, my community, or my country without effective and engaged government. No one among us can.
This is a democracy. The government is you, me, and the 300 million with whom we share our nation. Government is one way by which we care for our neighbors, and my tradition tells me to care for my neighbor as I care for myself. Here’s what we do for each other as Americans: grow food, create jobs, build homes, pave roads, teach our children, care for our grandparents, secure our neighborhoods. Government makes our country function. To put God first is to put humankind first, and to put humankind first is to put the common good first. The prosperity of the common good is tied to our government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
Moreover, my tradition holds me accountable, before God and before all humankind. As Jews, we are held accountable on our most holy day, Yom Kippur. As a community, we gather and confess our wrongdoings. Each of us commits to bettering ourselves in the coming year. But journey is not enough. We fast for 25 hours; neither food nor water touches our lips. But personal deprivation is not enough. On this day, Isaiah challenges us to understand what God requires:
“No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him”
This prophetic demand humbles and awakens me. But I do not delude myself. No one among us can break off every yoke alone. Neither can one community. On Yom Kippur, the prophet reminds us that to live out this directive we must all be responsible. Today in America we must all be responsible citizens in our robust democracy. We are responsible for meeting, or failing to meet, these divine standards. I believe we can.
We can remove the obstacles that keep yokes on the shoulders of our fellow Americans: Millions of Americans carry the yoke of illiteracy; with good teachers, they break that yoke. Millions of Americans carry the yoke of unemployment; with good paying jobs, they break that yoke. Millions of Americans carry the yoke of debt; with responsible lending practices, they break that yoke.
As a country, time and again we have broken yokes to create opportunity, and yet we still have many yokes to break. Our elders need economic security. Our families need homes. Our communities need fresh food. This is a big country, and we face big challenges.
We need an effective government to be a leader in removing the obstacles.
Since we disagree on this point, Mr. Beck, I’ll remind you again: we are all made in the image of the divine, and our government is an essential mechanism that ensures our shared divinity.
If we all attended houses of worship that put government last, humankind would be last, and God would be last too. From where I stand, the house of worship you desire – where God is divorced from human dignity – is not a house of worship at all. When churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship across this country advocate for social justice, advocate for the common good, advocate for America, they, and we, walk in God’s path.
And no con man can distract us for long.
Simon Greer is president and chief executive officer of Jewish Funds for Justice, an organization that helps people achieve social and economic security by investing in healthy neighborhoods.