WWDD

I just finished a great read, The Year of Living like Jesus, by Ed Dobson, a prominent evangelical (and recovering fundamentalist) pastor who reads The Year of Living Biblically, by A. J. Jacobs, a secular Jew. Dobson is so impressed that “someone had taken the Bible seriously enough to attempt to live it out” that he asks,

 As a Gentile and a follower of Jesus, what if I were to take the teachings of Jesus seriously? What if I were to try to live like Jesus lived? What if I tried to do some of the things Jesus did?

Maybe just for a year.

Since Dobson recognizes that Jesus lived as an observant Jew, he has to learn a lot about Judaism to live like him and he shows a level of respect and engagement that’s encouraging to a Messianic Jew like me. He stops cutting his beard, although not his hair—he doesn’t end up looking like the robed and sandaled, wavy-locked Jesus of Sunday school illustrations, but an older guy with glasses, short hair and a ferocious beard. He starts wearing a tallit kattan, keeps kosher, and tries to rest on Shabbat. He spends a lot more time with sinners than he used to and gets into intense conversations about God, especially in bars. As a former teetotaler he discovers that if he sticks with light beer, he can down a couple of glasses during his stay in the bar without becoming impaired.

Dobson is a sharp and somewhat contrarian observer, and a man of real heart. He’s suffering from ALS, the dread Lou Gehrig’s disease, which he handles  with a light touch and much grace throughout the book. I felt privileged to walk with him through his year-long journey with Jesus.

Toward the journey’s end, Ed gets interviewed by his local paper in Grand Rapids, and the story is picked up by the newswires, spreading abroad the fact that this well-known Christian leader kept kosher, drank beer (which seems to shock teetotalers far more than drinking wine), prayed the rosary (although it’s hard to explain how that practice arises out of “living like Jesus”), and voted for Obama in the 2008 election. Ed is staunchly anti-abortion, but notices that “fortunately or unfortunately, Jesus never mentions the issue of abortion,” and decides to vote for Obama because he thinks Obama lines up with the teachings of Jesus better than McCain in three key areas:

  1. Treatment of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed.
  2. Treatment of one’s enemies.
  3. Commitment to peacemaking.

So, guess which practice draws by far the most criticism when Dobson’s interview comes out a month or so later? You got it—voting for Obama. Back when I was sojourning within the fundamentalist-evangelical camp, keeping kosher and Shabbat or praying the rosary would have stirred up cries of heresy, and drinking beer, especially in a bar, would have gotten you cast out of the kingdom. Dobson drew his share of flak for these things, but it was voting for Obama that consigned him to the ninth circle of hell.

A few days after I wrapped up my reading of Dobson’s story, another prominent evangelical, pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist, Dallas, endorsed Rick Perry for president, saying “Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person, or one who is a born again follower of Jesus Christ?” Later the pastor said that a born again Christian shouldn’t vote for a Mormon, because Mormonism is a cult. Now, I’ve had opportunity to attend First Baptist Dallas and meet Pastor Jeffress in his office for a few minutes, which was all around a very positive experience. He seemed like a cordial and genuine guy and preached a great sermon. But, as some commentator noted, what if he’d said, “A born-again Christian should never vote for a Jew?” Religious values have an important place in political discourse, but a religious litmus test is another matter altogether.

Don’t get me wrong, the tenets of Mormonism are strange enough that evangelicals might well question whether it should be considered a Christian denomination. I don’t think I’d go to Romney for spiritual counsel. But, his political positions don’t seem strange at all. He’s kind of moderate, which I like. So, I’m almost ready to endorse Romney just because he is a Mormon. But then, I’m thinking about how Ed Dobson was surprised to find himself voting for Obama back in 2008. Maybe he botched that call, but still, looking at 2012, I find myself wondering, What would Dobson do?

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11 thoughts on “WWDD”

  1. 1. Treatment of the poor. Following American politics I am shocked to find Christians and average Americans so opposed to social welfare. I understand the problems of people abusing the system, but what is wrong with taking money from the rich to help the poor? Israel does it and our social-democracy has a fantastic medical system, great benefits for the disabled and stipends for families with children. Yet we also have a free market entrepreneurship that matches any in the world. I do not agree with the Republican near religious belief in a pure capitalistic society, nor do I imagine Yeshua would.

    2. Treatment of enemies. Republicans tend to have a more militaristic defense mindset and that is good in today’s world. But I am equally impressed by the current administrations emphasis on targeting terrorist leaders. This seems to be a far better strategy than bulldozing into foreign countries.

    3. Peacemaking? In the international context, it seems to me that America needs a president that has experience with a variety of cultures, languages and people groups. How can another WASP governor form Texas possibly comprehend the subtle and volatile cultural, social, financial and religious issues that breed conflict around the planet. I would look for a president that has an understanding in a cross-cultural context, excellent communications skills and wisdom that comes from years of experience in different settings. The right Jewish candidate would probably be a smart choice.

  2. “what is wrong with taking money from the rich to help the poor?”

    Hi…. a person from the former Soviet Union here. This Robin Hood formula has been tried before and on a massive scale. Here’s the outcome of the grand experiment 70 years in the making: once there is nothing remains to be taken from the rich, everyone becomes poor.

    As far as Israel is concerned, here’s reality – between waiting lists and multiple doctor strikes (did you know that non-specialist doctors get paid $40K on average in Israel?), my grandfather in Israel has been waiting for almost a year to get surgery for his cancer (still waiting). Guess what happens when doctors get paid so little and there are long waiting lines like my grandfather is currently experiencing? People start bribing doctors to get their healthcare (like my father did in Soviet Union when my mother was dying of cancer). Socialism only lasts until other people’s money runs out. There’s a great deal of difference between the Jewish concept of social justice (people voluntary helping other people out of love and as a service to G-d) vs Socialism (people taking away money they didn’t themselves earn to help themselves and others)

    “The right Jewish candidate would probably be a smart choice.”

    Last thing we need is to give the world yet another reason to hate Jews.

    1. Gene,
      Comparing social programs that help the poor and needy with Russian communism is just an ignorant scare tactic. The Bible does not support a socialistic, capitalistic or communistic system. However, when the rich are not willing to volunteer to help the needy there is Jubilee. A fair taxation system that helps level the playing field is a good thing.

      Sorry to hear about your grandfather. Give me his number I’ll go visit him. Of course there are problems with the system here, but that is nothing at all like the corruption you compare with Soviet Russia. Why do you falsely accuse doctors of taking bribes? You come off very anti-Israel and I want the readers of this blog to know that you are absolutely wrong in this accusation. As far as I know no doctor has ever been accused of taking bribes. There is a system here where doctors can see patients on a private basis which is not covered by the national health insurance so the patient must pay the fee privately. But bribes? Unheard of.

      Is there something wrong with a $40K a year salary? I don’t get the point. What do doctors make in America?

      You are afraid of a Jewish president because people will not like us? So you wouldn’t vote for him? Thank G-d the Jewish Messiah was not afraid to fulfill his purpose in the world because of what people think.

  3. “Comparing social programs that help the poor and needy with Russian communism is just an ignorant scare tactic. ”

    David… far from it – I am not comparing “social programs” with communism, but rather government enforced “taking money from the rich”. While helping the poor is commanded, none of the laws regarding helping the poor are backed by a civil sanction. But, no need to get personal by claiming that my words and views are ignorant – I’ve lived in socialism. Experience trumps all theory.

    Rich are indeed commanded by G-d to be generous toward the poor and they should be, but it’s an injustice to force them to do so, that is to punish the rich in order to enrich the poor. In other words, socialism breaks the Bible’s commands against judicial partiality between different classes of people:

    “nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.” (Exodus 23:3)

    An attitude that “it’s OK to TAKE from the rich” amounts to nothing more than putting one’s eye on someone else’ property. It is covetousness, regardless of how rich or poor the targeted person happens to be:

    “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17)”

    “Why do you falsely accuse doctors of taking bribes? You come off very anti-Israel and I want the readers of this blog to know that you are absolutely wrong in this accusation. As far as I know no doctor has ever been accused of taking bribes…bribes? Unheard of. ”

    OK, we’ll let the readers decide. David, first of all, I strive to avoid making claims of which I am ignorant. I am the most pro-Israel person I know, but I will not close my eyes on the fact that bribery and corruption in Israel is a well known social ill (from presidents to low level bureaucrats). Israel’s socialized medicine is not immune to this either. In fact, rationed medicine is practically set up for corruption and as more doctors are chased out of Israel to seek greener pastures, the bribes will only increase as people seek to gain access to ever shrinking pool of providers.

    Since you accused me of speaking falsely:

    “State charges senior oncologist with exploiting cancer patients
    Dr. Arie Figer charged with taking thousands of shekels in bribes for services, medications that should be free.” (13.02.07 / Haaretz)

    “Doctors suspected of taking bribes for toddler’s cancer care” (19.04.07 / Haaretz)

    “Two top doctors suspected of taking bribes” (Apr 18, 2007, JPost)

    “Top doctor gets jail for taking bribes from mob boss.” (09.03.09 / JPost)

    “Doctor gets brief license suspension for taking bribes ” (21.06.10 / Haaretz)

    Need I go on?

    “Is there something wrong with a $40K a year salary? I don’t get the point. What do doctors make in America?”

    Yes, when the rest of the world pays doctors in accordance to how much effort they have put in their education, residency work and again in ongoing education, the wrong will be that doctors will strike for months, quit, move to private practice and move out of Israel all together. Which is exactly what we are seeing happening today.

    “You are afraid of a Jewish president because people will not like us? So you wouldn’t vote for him? Thank G-d the Jewish Messiah was not afraid to fulfill his purpose in the world because of what people think.”

    David, I am perfectly willing to wait for THAT Jewish president (i.e. the Messiah). He has my vote already.

  4. Bribery and corruption are not well known social ills in Israel as you claim. Where do you come off making these false generalizations against my country? Not sure why you go through all the trouble. I think you are confusing Israel with your native country. Your experience in communist Russia has nothing to do with modern Israeli society. Thank G-d. The fact that these few minor cases you mentioned were brought to court and reported in the local newspapers only proves the point that Israel has a strong justice system and is a very safe country for all its citizens. Yes, apparently a doctor was convicted of taking a bribe. Sorry I said it never happens. Even a few were accused as well. Sorry. Yes, doctors don’t make a lot of money here. And one or two have been caught manipulating the system to make more. How awful. I don’t suppose your capitalistic nation has any corruption in the medical field? Sorry, but bribery and corruption are not well known social ills in Israel. Not by a long shot. You should not say such things in a public forum. Please desist.

    Anyway, don’t bother responding for my sake. I won’t be following anymore. That’s about all I can take of your petty condemnations of a great nation.

    1. “Bribery and corruption are not well known social ills in Israel as you claim. Where do you come off making these false generalizations against my country?”

      I continue to be exasperated by your pronouncements, David. You must live in some sort of a bubble. Just this year, 2011, the last prime minister (!) of Israel Ehud Olmert, a former Jerusalem mayor and 18 other officials were indicted on charges of bribery (ynetnews.com / 03.14.11). The prime minister before him, Ariel Sharon’s son Omri, a Knesset member sentenced in 2006 to nine months in prison for corruption and served seven months of that sentence. Generalizations, you say?

      Israel is indeed a great nation and she stands in stark contrast to many of her neighbors, but let’s not whitewash some things happening there just to prove some political point about how supposedly wonderful socialized medicine is or how it’s OK to “take from the rich” as long as it’s for a good cause.

      Lastly, Israel is not “YOUR” country, David. It’s a country of every single Jew, whether he/she currently lives there or not. I love Israel and defend her at every turn, especially when it’s being singled out by antisemities. I have great-grandparents and grandparents buried in her soil, family and friends who live there and whom I visit. They love Israel too, but I found that they have a realistic perspective on issues Israel faces today.

      Be well and have happy Sukkot.

  5. Shalom Gene and David,

    Well, I figured if I posted something about politics I’d get more comments than usual! One of the points I was making is that Yeshua-believers in America have tended in the past 20 years or so to add a particular political position to their definition of orthodoxy. Ed Dobson got a virtual pass among his conservative Protestant friends for praying the rosary and hanging out in bars, but got nailed for voting for Obama. Seems out of whack to me, regardless of who I might vote for.

    As for this string of comments, I’ll just add one point. It’s fair to say that the Torah does legislate care for the poor, and does control the accumulation of wealth by the rich. The ordinance of jubilee seems designed to prevent any one family from becoming a dynasty, and it provides a turn-around point for the down and out. The Torah commands (rather than just suggests) that the well-off provide for the orphans, widows, and strangers. The whole governance of ancient Israel is simple, so you don’t have any elaborate social engineering schemes, but you do have simple policies within that simple system to take care of the poor.

    I’m mostly conservative in my politics, but I can’t agree with my conservative religious friends who seem more intent on blaming the poor than on supporting efforts to alleviate their plight. Scripture is unique in ancient literature in siding with the poor, although I agree that it’s anti-Torah to penalize the rich. But it’s not anti-Torah to support limits on wealth and the use of public funds to aid the poor. The problem, of course, is that a lot of such efforts–but by no means all–have a bad track record.

  6. “I can’t agree with my conservative religious friends who seem more intent on blaming the poor than on supporting efforts to alleviate their plight.”

    Rabbi Russ… I am a big proponents of deeds over nice slogans. With that in mind, I think your “non-social-justice” conservative friends deserve quite a bit more credit as they tend to outgive (by far and in every way) those who merely preach “social justice” but fail to lift a finger themselves, with their own money, labor and time.

    The following is an excerpt from the 2008 article title “A Nation of Givers” that appeared in charitynavigator.org, a leading aggregation portal of charity data:

    “The fact is that self-described “conservatives” in America are more likely to give—and give more money—than self-described “liberals.” In the year 2000, households headed by a conservative gave, on average, 30 percent more dollars to charity than households headed by a liberal. And this discrepancy in monetary donations is not simply an artifact of income differences. On the contrary, liberal families in these data earned an average of 6 percent more per year than conservative families.

    These differences go beyond money. Take blood donations, for example. In 2002, conservative Americans were more likely to donate blood each year, and did so more often, than liberals. People who said they were “conservative” or “extremely conservative” made up less than one-fifth of the population, but donated more than a quarter of the blood. To put this in perspective, if political liberals and moderates gave blood like conservatives do, the blood supply in the United States would surge by nearly half.

    For example, in 1996, people who believed the government should not take greater measures to reduce income inequality gave, on average, four times as much money to charity each year as those who believed the government should equalize incomes more. This result persists even after correcting for other demographics. It even holds for all sorts of nonmonetary giving. For example, people who stated in 2002 that they thought the government was “spending too little money on welfare” were less likely than those saying the government is “spending too much money on welfare” to give food or money to a homeless person.”

  7. Yeah, Gene, you’re right and I know that’s true. In fact, I’ll take it a bit further. Most lefties give less because they expect the government to take care of it–so why should they? Also I’ve noticed that conservative types often tend to know and relate to more minority folk, and marginalized and disadvantaged people than their liberal counterparts. Still, it’s unrealistic to think that all the needs that are out there can be met through private initiatives. It’s the proper role of government, IMO, to meet a certain level of needs. I believe that a Torah-informed person will not only be generous personally, but will be supportive of proper government involvement, although of course we’ll argue where exactly to draw the line.

    1. “I believe that a Torah-informed person will not only be generous personally, but will be supportive of proper government involvement, although of course we’ll argue where exactly to draw the line.”

      Agreed 100%, rabbi. I do support our government assistance to those who are truly in need. In fact, my own family was assisted financially (we were let into the States as refugees) for the first year we came to U.S. (but my father started to work almost the next week after we arrived – cleaning up after old people in a nursing home). I think that if our government wasted less of our tax dollars, all the needs of the poor and the disabled would have been met, without any additional taxation. And that’s something that very few people have a resolve to solve.

  8. Shalom Russ,
    Just wanted to write that I read Ed Dobson’s book about a year ago. I even missed him at a college bookstore signing in person by minutes when I went to pick up my son from college. Of course, as a Gentile who has lived in Messianic Judaism for the last 30 years, I was very interested to see what Dobson had to say about living like Jesus for a year. Like you, I did enjoy the book and like you I am still wondering where the rosary fit in living like Jesus. As for the voting for Obama, I came out in different place that Dobson. First of all I am by nature a conservative, so I have that bent already. However, the issues of Abortion, Same-Sex marriages, and Israel are weighty ones for me. Obama clearly is not pro-life, and not a friend of marriage is between one man-one woman and did not show a strong support for Israel. And although he talked a lot about helping the poor, treatment of one’s enemy and peace-making, I had to ask at what cost? His peace-making was at the expense of Israel’s safety. His treatment of one’s enemy where I think Dobson had in mind “love your enemies”, must be balance with “gentle as doves and wise as serpents”. I find Obama’s policies to be somewhat naive in his dealing with Islam and Arab nations. And though helping the poor is clearly a Torah mandate, it is not a simple welfare system, but one that not only requires giving to those who are in need, but requires landowners and others to set aside access to their fields for what I would call a workfare approach.

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