Some time ago, there was an opening for a religion reporter-like person to work at something new on the Washington (DC) landscape: A John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics. It is named after the former U.S. senator from Missouri who is also an Episcopal priest.
I didn’t know any of the folks who were hired at the center, but recently I stumbled across its site and hit upon some intellectually meaty think pieces. For example, there’s a piece on newly confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos by someone who appears to understand Calvinism and why DeVos probably isn’t a Calvinist at all. There’s a piece on President Donald Trump and “militant evangelical masculinity” by a Calvin College professor.
But what really interested me was another piece; this one on “How an Orthodox Rabbi became an Unlikely Ally of the Christian Right.” It begins:
We are in a third world war,” said Shlomo Riskin, slamming his fist on the table. We were sitting in a windowless room in the D.C. convention center, and Riskin, an Orthodox rabbi, was explaining how he had ended up here, at the annual summit of Christians United For Israel, giving a speech to thousands of conservative evangelicals.
Riskin kept banging on the table. “If you have eyes to see, extremist Islam has taken over Islam. And this is the third world war!”
Riskin is one of the most influential rabbis of his generation. Now an Israeli, he was born and raised in Brooklyn. As a young man, Riskin voted for Democrats. He marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma. He officiated at a young Elena Kagan’s bat mitzvah and advocated for women’s rights. Over time, he developed a reputation as a religious progressive.
In the last decade, Riskin has quietly developed another project: outreach to Christians, and especially to conservative American evangelicals. His most important partnership is with John Hagee, a Texas megachurch pastor whose organization, Christians United For Israel (CUFI), claims a membership roll larger than that of AIPAC. Like AIPAC, CUFI advocates for policies that it sees as pro-Israel and organizes activists and donors across the country.
I remember Riskin’s controversial move to the West Bank in the early 1980s when he was leading the influential Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan.