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James Allen Walker for WORLD

'The Jews of our time'

Q&A | Christians bear the brunt of persecution in the world today, says Michael Horowitz, and he's joined with evangelicals to do something about it

Issue: "The schools that Arne built," April 11, 2009

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.

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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.

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