Conservative Jews and Christians forge public policy

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Emphasizing shared values and the desire to create a more civil, "moral society," a coalition of conservative Jews and Christians has formed a new Washington public policy center.

"Our goal is to transcend and heal divisions — those between Jews and Christians, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives — and to seize those shared values in public policies that are unfortunately being ignored and shunned because of the polarization marking our differences," said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the new Center for Judeo-Christian Values in America.

Building on the 13-year-old International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which has focused primarily on support for Israel, the new organization will make policy recommendations primarily on domestic issues.

Speaking at a news conference announcing the center this week, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who will co-chair the organization, stressed a need to find common religious ground in order to establish moral standards and a greater sense of personal accountability in society.

"When we do not respect and build on the religious impulse that is shared so broadly in this country, we are depriving ourselves of one of the great sources of strength and unity and morality that we have," said Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew.

Eckstein has in the past played a key peacemaking role between Jews and conservative Christians.

Last year, when the Anti-Defamation League released a report accusing evangelical and fundamentalist Christian leaders of "intolerance" and of using "a rhetoric of fear, suspicion and even hatred" in their efforts to gain political clout, Eckstein effectively helped both sides declare a truce and agree to soften their rhetoric.

"We believe there is far more that unites us as Jews and Christians than divides us," said Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed, who will serve on the center's advisory board along with former secretary of education William Bennett and others.

Although Eckstein has organized a largely conservative coalition in support of the center, he insists it does not have a conservative agenda.

"I don't think bringing greater morality into society should be defined as a conservative agenda," he said.

To broaden its coalition, however, Eckstein said the center would attempt to identify and embrace liberal-leaning Jewish leaders who "might be more willing to take a more conservative stance on certain issues."

The center's director, Chris Gersten, said the office would open early next year.

Specific policy proposals have not yet been launched, though the center's leadership said it sees as a starting point Dan Coats' "Project for American Renewal," a 19-bill initiative suggesting ways the government can strengthen families and communities through tax credits and grants.