Cover Story

Deuteronomy duo

Increasingly, Jews and Christians are sharing more than one testament of Holy Scripture. As America drifts farther from its Judeo-Christian moorings, orthodox Jews and conservative Christians are drifting closer. This unlikely coalition shows that the cultural dividing line today is not between religions, but between the religious and the nonreligious. Prominent in this Jewish-Christian alliance are Michael Medved and Rabbi Daniel Lapin, two high-profile American Jews deemed kosher by many evangelicals.

Issue: "Chistendon's Kosher Allies," Feb. 15, 1997

It's noon in Seattle, but Michael Medved isn't eating lunch. Instead, he's chewing up the liberal secularists while 40,000 listeners ruminate on what he's saying. And he's got plenty to say. He wants to talk about the Gingrich ethics investigation, and Paula Jones, and drugs, and alcohol, and Hollywood, and local politics. His studio at KVI-AM is a news junkie's dream: Newspaper clippings compete for desk space with listener faxes and copy just pulled from the AP wire, highlighted in pink and yellow. A stack of papers sits in one corner of the room, while a TV in the other corner silently displays the close-captioned news from CNN.

Two guests, a mother and her 15-year-old daughter, sit across the cluttered desk from Mr. Medved. The girl occasionally squeezes a little stuffed bear while she talks about her battle with alcoholism. Listeners call in with their own addiction horror stories and their tales of recovery. &quotAre you a believer now?" Mr. Medved asks one caller, then goes on to stress the importance of faith in getting clean and sober.

His guests leave during a commercial break, but not before getting a hug and a &quotGod bless you" from the host. Then he's back at the microphone, drawing his conclusions about substance abuse: &quotDrugs are particularly attractive to those who have some kind of spiritual hole in their lives. Unless you're addressing those needs, you're a sitting duck for those kinds of problems."

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It's that kind of spiritual emphasis that distinguishes Michael Medved's show from Rush Limbaugh's, which airs immediately before. Both shows are a mixture of news, entertainment, and--of course--commerce. A sign on the wall opposite Mr. Medved's seat reads &quotPromote! Promote! Promote!" And promote he does, whether it's an addiction recovery hotline or the 3 o'clock talk show or one of those ubiquitous reading programs for children. But most of all, he promotes spiritual solutions to America's social problems. At the end of this particular three-hour shift, he leaves his listeners with the sad story of a local judge convicted of shoplifting three ties and a bottle of hair gel. Like so many politicians from the president on down, this man thought no one was watching. &quotBut," Mr. Medved points out as the closing music rises in the background, &quotespecially for persons of faith, somebody's always watching."

It's the kind of message you might expect to hear in a church's Sunday school, but you certainly wouldn't hear Mr. Medved deliver it there. The fact is, this outspoken defender of biblical values isn't a Christian at all: He's a kosher-keeping, Sabbath-observing Jew who, like an increasing number of his fellow believers, finds himself in an odd alliance with the most orthodox and doctrinaire wing of American Christendom.

The historical irony of that alliance is not lost on Mr. Medved. Until recently, he notes, &quotconservative Christians wouldn't have wanted the support of Jews, and any professing Jew would have been terrified to offer such support."

But politics, as the saying goes, makes strange bedfellows. The quickening pace of secularization and its attendant moral decline have made many Jews more sympathetic to evangelical political concerns. Today, Mr. Medved insists, &quotit's increasingly clear that the real fault line in America is not between religious fanatics and freedom-loving people. It's between those people who want to defend some concept of faith and family against the secular humanist extremism that has taken over our universities and our media. I think this [evangelical-Jewish] alliance has been forced upon us by the aggressive, uncompromising, fanatical secularism that sees all religion as a danger."

Still, liberal Jews like liberal Protestants wouldn't automatically see secularization as a threat. A sizable minority of American Jews, after all, don't even believe in God; only one quarter claim that religion is &quotvery important" in their lives (compared to 50 percent among non-Jews); and most attend synagogue less than five times a year. Given such widespread secularism, perhaps it's no surprise that the Gallup organization identifies Jews as &quotthe most liberal whites in America."

Mr. Medved's experience typifies the religious awakening within Judaism. Although he was not born into a religiously observant family, in the 1970s Mr. Medved underwent a spiritual transformation that he describes as similar &quotto the experience of born-again Christians who get a thwack on their own road to Damascus." Enough other Jews have also experienced that thwack that it has been given a name: the Baal T'shuvah movement, or Master of Return. Millions of Jews in this movement have returned to orthodox religious practice, which means such things as avoiding any meat on a pizza and not flipping a light switch on the Sabbath.

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