If Job couldn’t understand God’s ways, how can we? I refer to individuals who claim to speak for God and even speak to Him. God appeared to Job out of the tempest (or whirlwind) but did all the talking until the end when Job capitulated. “Indeed, I spoke without understanding / Of things beyond me, which I did not know” (Job 42:3-6).
Two sets of verses in the Book of Deuteronomy, 13:2-19 and 18:9-22 (the latter in this week’s portion, Shofetim) deal with the problem of recognizing prophets (and witches and soothsayers) and their prophecies. They advise on distinguishing true prophets from false. According to Deuteronomy, a real prophet’s predictions must come true. But miracles do not confirm a prophet. The prophet’s words must fall within the parameters of the Torah and its commandments. This concept proved so difficult to grasp that the Sages drew no comprehensive or universal conclusions. Revelation—and with it prophecy—was deemed to have ended with the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE.
The 2012 presidential campaign poses a similar question. How can the electorate know when a candidate’s words ring true? And as the Republican primary campaign moves forward, how will Americans respond to a candidate like Texas Governor Rick Perry, who claims—or whose supporters claim—to have been chosen by God?
Rachel Tabachnick, born a Southern Baptist and a convert to Judaism, who writes for talk2action.org, recently spoke with Terry Gross on National Public Radio. She offered interesting insights. Perry’s August 6 prayer rally in Houston was orchestrated by two ministries of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), an emerging Christian movement that seeks control over what it terms “seven Mountains:” American arts and entertainment, business, family, government, media, religion and education. All, the NAR believes, have fallen under the control of demons. The NAR engages, according to Tabchnick, in the pursuit of Dominionism: Christians “must take control over the various institutions of society and government.” Major topics of Perry’s Houston rally and others like it, says Tabachnick, include “anti-abortion, anti-gay rights and the conversion of Jews in order to advance the end times.” Not surprisingly, the NAR wants to convert Muslims, whom demons, they believe, hold in bondage.
Are believers in Dominionism entitled to their beliefs? Yes. Are they entitled to impose them on others? No. People may think they can divine God‘s will beyond “Love thy neighbor” and “Do unto others,” but how can they know? Of course, what they can do is threaten the liberties of others who don’t believe as they do. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat on August 28 dismissed the threat of Christian archconservatives. He advised journalist to see their “tendencies for what they often are: not signs of religious conservatism’s growing strength and looming triumph, but evidence of its persistent disappointments and defeats.” Certainly, this is not the first time a Christian movement has swept the nation. I am not, however, that sanguine.
Rabbi Gunther Plaut, editor of The Torah: A Modern Commentary, offers perspective. “Ultimately it must be the people, in their ongoing history, who will distinguish true from false.” Americans will hear many claims over the next fourteen months. Rabbi Plaut’s words of wisdom will be put to the test.
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