Want to hear a crazy prediction? I think Jesus could decide this year's presidential election.
I shall explain . . .
Today Al Gore officially announced that Sen. Joseph Lieberman would be his vice presidential running mate. Of course, one of the first things you learned about Lieberman was that he is Jewish and, as a consequence, he became the first Jew to be on a major party's presidential ticket.
I'm not much of a religious scholar, but I do know one thing about those of the Jewish faith: they do not believe that Jesus was the Son of God. This makes a lot of folks here in Texas somewhat uncomfortable. After all, ask any good Baptist sitting in Matties how to get to heaven and you'll hear John 3:16 and the less familiar statement from Christ that "No one comes unto the Father except through me." John 14:6.
So what exactly do the Baptists mean when they quote those verses? Well, all hell broke loose, pardon the vernacular, in 1980 when the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bailey Smith, told a group that "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew". And although the Baptists shy away from proclaiming it, they simply do not believe the Jews go to heaven. (They got pretty close in 1996 when the Convention passed a resolution to "direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the Gospel to the Jews.")
Does George Bush align himself with these Baptist beliefs? Well, he touted the Baptist party line when a Houston Post reporter wrote on October 2, 1994: “One decision of which Bush is certain is that heaven is open only to those who accept Jesus Christ.” (He also raised a few eyebrows when he issued a proclamation on May 17th in Texas calling the day "Jesus Day". The governor's official state link to the text of the proclamation, www.governor.state.tx.us/Proclamations/May00/5-00Jesus.html, has mysteriously disappeared)
This potential area for controversy did not get pass the national press in the round of Republican debates last spring. I specifically remember, although for the life of me I can't tell you on what network, a journalist asking Bush directly whether a Jew can get into heaven. Bush, of course, is in a bind here. He can't make a statement in direct conflict to his religious faith (I think he's too honest for that), but at the same time if he answers "no, they cannot" his proverbial goose is politically cooked.
So how did he respond? "It's not the governor's role to decide who goes to heaven. I believe that God decides who goes to heaven, not George W. Bush."
That's probably a politically astute answer.
But now one has to wonder whether the Jesus/Jew debate will surface again in the fall debates. This morning, Lieberman's made this rather unusual opening statement to the cheering crowd:
"I am proud to stand by [Al Gore's] side and ready to use every ounce of strength and capacity that the good Lord has given me to make you the next great president of the United States . . . . I ask you to allow me to let the spirit move me as it does to remember the words from Chronicles; which are to give thanks to God. To give thanks to God and declare his name and make his act known to the people . . . . To sing to God and to make music to God, and most of all, to give glory and gratitude to God from whom all blessing flow. Dear Lord, maker of all miracles, I thank you for bringing me to this extraordinary moment in my life".Ladies and gentlemen, I smell an ambush.
How about this scenario: Over the weeks to come, Lieberman continues to praise God and makes himself out as a righteous man (he was, after all, the first Democrat to criticize Clinton about the Monica Lewinsky affair). Now, with Lieberman's image set, Gore and Bush begin their series of debates. During one of the debates, Gore begins to praise Lieberman and then turns to Bush and says, "Do you think, simply because he is a Jew, that he cannot go to heaven?".
Sure Bush will repeat his line that "God decides who goes to heaven", but what if Gore bears down? And what if Bush has a melt down similar to the way he acted when the Boston reporter gave him the pop quiz on foreign leaders?
It would be a turning point.
The American public, and I put myself in this group, doesn't understand the intricacies of school vouchers, reforming health care, the nuclear threat of North Korea, social security, and the like. However, everyone has an opinion about heaven. Many people do not believe it exists and those that do have a strong belief of what it takes to get there. With this in mind, if Bush falters when confronted with his Christian beliefs, it could be fatal. If he is too Baptist, he alienates most of the country. On the other hand, if his answer is too politically "smooth", the Religious Right could perceive it as a waffling of Christian beliefs and they will turn on him in a New York minute.
I might be crazy, but I think I'll watch the debates a little more closely in the months to come.
Barry Green is the District Attorney for the 271st Judicial District.