- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

ROANOKE — The leader of the largest branch of American Judaism yesterday urged evangelical Christians not to compromise church-state separation as a quick fix to the “disturbing collapse of public morality.”

Prayer in the schools is not the answer to moral decline in the United States, Rabbi Eric Yoffie said at a chapel service at the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Lynchburg.

Mr. Yoffie, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, publicly has criticized the Christian right in the past, drawing the distinction on issues such as abortion and same-sex “marriage,” both of which most evangelical Christians oppose.

“But as significant as these issues are, my hope is that they will not overwhelm us,” Mr. Yoffie said. “I can discuss these issues and believe what I believe without calling you a homophobic idiot, and you can do the same without calling me an uncaring baby killer.”

Mr. Yoffie called for Christians and Jews to “build bridges, find shared values and join together” to fight what he called a “moral crisis” in the United States.

“We live in an era of rampant materialism and no-strings-attached sexual encounters,” Mr. Yoffie said. “Every night television assails our children with mindless reality shows that present self-gratification as the only goal worth pursuing. Pornography … has become a staple of our culture.”

The left and the right are at fault, he said. The left has ignored public morality “in the name of personal choice,” he said, while the right has been too tolerant of corporations that “reach into our homes and relentlessly market sex and violence.”

Despite the assault, Mr. Yoffie said, religion is not imperiled.

“Neither do I want to ask the government to impose its problems by imposing its will,” Mr. Yoffie said, noting that the Founding Fathers were careful to make sure that government was not an agent of religion.

“The bloody rise of theological politics in the Islamic world, and especially in Iraq, reminds us how rare and fragile an achievement the separation of church and state really is,” he said.

Religious leaders should work with leaders in the press to come up with a content-based rating system to protect children from on-screen sex and violence, Mr. Yoffie said. And he said religious leaders should remind their followers to turn off the television.

“We need to make our churches and synagogues into safe places, where kids know that they matter and where they are shielded from the pressures of premature adulthood,” he said.

Mr. Falwell was not available late yesterday for comment on Mr. Yoffie’s remarks.

The Union for Reform Judaism says it represents about 900 synagogues in North America with an estimated membership of 1.5 million people. Of the three major streams of U.S. Judaism — Orthodox and Conservative are the others — the Union for Reform is the only one that sanctions homosexual ordination and supports civil “marriage” for same-sex couples.

About 20,000 students attend Liberty University, which Mr. Falwell founded.

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