The career of Michael J. Horowitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., displays the best of Jewish liberalism and then the best of Jewish conservatism, with a growing appreciation of Christians throughout. He has taught law at the University of Mississippi and at Georgetown, practiced law in New York, served in the Reagan administration, and built coalitions with evangelicals to fight Sudanese oppression, international sex trafficking, and other evils.
Q: After growing up in Judaism, did you move away from it?
I could never move away from it, but I remember when I ate my first non-kosher meal I thought the heavens were going to open and swallow me up. I also stopped going to synagogue. So yes, I thought of myself as a Jew, but the observance part seemed to me too problematic, often too suffocating.
Q: How did your relationship with evangelicals develop?
I taught at the University of Mississippi Law School. That offered extraordinary exposure for me to the Christian community. I was house Jew for every Baptist retreat in northern Mississippi for at least a couple years, and it was an extraordinary experience for me to be there. . . . People were struggling with the race issue. I again discovered what my immigrant grandfather taught me just about every day. He said, "Michael, this is a blessed land. Don't ever forget it." And it is. I saw more openness and more decency and more possibility of change on race issues in this caricatured, Christian Mississippi than I knew would ever be possible in the New York City that I grew up in.
Q: What did you observe when you came back to New York City?
I saw this great city that I loved, that I had grown up in, that was so yeasty and vibrant, descend into meanness and poverty. . . . Politicians were giving away money they didn't have for political reasons and the city went bankrupt. It was a great moment for me because growing up one identified "caring" with being liberal in politics, and there I was thinking, "I don't believe this stuff anymore."
Q: And that movement away from conventional thinking led you into the Reagan administration?
My own conservative "coming out of the closet" really came from being in New York City when the city went bankrupt and seeing that the rhetoric that often surrounded caring was, in some cases, a psychological need to fill the empty spaces that people felt inside themselves. In other cases it was mindless, and in some cases it really did involve a worship of secular gods-the notion that somehow if we redistribute income or pass enough laws we can create the Promised Land. That too was part of the ideology of New York City-and I saw it fail.
Q: When did you start thinking about the situation of Christians?
I started looking at [human rights] and I made an eerie discovery: In so many ways, Christians had become the Jews of our time-the scapegoats of choice for the thug regimes around the world. One hundred years ago, if you wanted to know whether there were human rights in a country you didn't need a fancy human-rights survey, you'd go in the local synagogue and if the Jews were persecuted you knew that there was some dictatorship persecuting everyone else. Now, going into remnant communist countries or Muslim countries, you don't need a fancy survey. Go to an Evangelical church, go to a house church, and if they are scared and if they're getting arrested and persecuted you know no one else is free.
Q: You also learned something counterintuitive about the relationship of coalition-building and legislation . . .
People think you need coalitions to pass laws and that the coalitions are the means and the laws that get passed are the ends. The truth is exactly the opposite. It's the effort to pass laws, not fake laws but laws with teeth in them, and the means of making sure those laws get enforced that build coalitions. The end is a coalition of people who have purpose, experience, and most of all confidence in their ability to make history and to make change.
Q: What do you see as the restraining influence of Christianity on sin?
Let's assume God was not dead as the 20th century dawned. Let's assume Nietzsche was wrong in thinking that the Christian God had lost his viability. Evil, ambitious people would have gone to where the action was. If the action was the church, that's where they would have headed. And a guy named Lenin would have looked at the Eastern Orthodox Church and said, "This is the route to power," and he would have been Bishop Lenin; he might have been Pope Lenin of the Eastern Orthodox Church. And people would have said, "Look at the hypocritical church! Here's Pope Lenin with all of his Christian whatnots and he used his power to kill 20,000 people." And he would have. No doubt about it.
Q: And what really happened?
Let me tell you the glory of your faith: As Pope Lenin, with all the power at his command, he could have killed 20,000 people. As Commissar Lenin he easily killed 60 million people. There's something in that faith that inhibits us. It doesn't turn us perfect, but it makes us better, and it makes the world a better place.
Q: How can Christians involved in politics make the world a better place?
Take a look at what William Wilberforce did. His lessons: Be very attentive to defining yourself and not letting others define you. Understand that politics is seductive and corruptive. Understand that "us against them" and demonization of the other side is not very Christian-and won't succeed. And don't simply say, "I care about these issues" and sign letters, because that doesn't count.
Q: What should young Christians guard against?
Going into the enclave. People who have come to their Christianity later on in their lives, they can deal with the real world and hold on to their faith. They really have a core faith that they've earned that nothing is going to stop. Young people's faith is much more fragile because it hasn't come under challenge, because they've just lived it and been brought up that way.
Q: You see lots of problems with the religious right . . .
An aspect that's really insidious-and it's true of both left and right politics in America-is direct mail. Groups get their money by sending out these letters. You can raise a lot of money by saying, "The baby killers are at the gates. Please, they're going to take over the world, send me a check for $25." . . . It works for the other side, also: They're saying, "These Christians want to put you all in concentration camps . . . send me $20." These forces are out there splitting us apart.
Q: How would you handle an issue like abortion?
Take a pro-choice doctor who stays up until 1 o'clock in the morning reading the New England Journal of Medicine so she can help her patients-is she just a "baby killer"? And yet that's the type of rhetoric that comes out. Why don't you go to that person and say, "Listen, I care deeply about this issue because as a Christian I care about vulnerable human beings. And it makes me sad that you don't share my view that a fetus is a vulnerable human being. But please let me tell you something, I care about the abortion issue for the same reason that I'm against the trafficking of women-the slavery issue of our time-or prison rape, or AIDS in Africa. See it in those terms. Maybe you don't agree with me, but let's keep talking about it.'"