The ultra-Orthodox Shas party campaign to elect their representatives to the government in next week’s general election in Israel advises and warns that a vote for them will secure righteousness on the Judgement Day of the Lord – not voting for them will bring eternal condemnation on that terrible Day of the Lord.
These kinds of religious fear-tactics are illegal in Israel, though it is almost impossible to enforce the law. There is no official separation between state and religion as found in many democracies. Israel does understand that it is an abuse of their power when respected religious leaders use fear and reward tactics to manipulate voters into choosing their party. It is disturbing too that the Shas campaign is invoking Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the founder and long-time leader of the Shas party who passed away six years ago (and can somehow speak from the grave?) to assure voters that there is either an eternal blessing or curse depending on who you vote for.
In Israel, this is obviously wrong and even illegal. Yet, when I hear my American friends summoning religion to influence voters I wonder if they understand the dark side of using faith to manipulate voter conscience. Many high-profile Evangelical Christian leaders declare openly that unless US citizens vote for Trump in 2020 their nation will slide into eternal damnation.
Here is a recent post from a prominent former American in the Messianic community in Israel: “President Trump must win the 2020 election … the alternative is unthinkable… We are fighting evil and strong powers … it is clear to me that the Lord wants President Trump for another four years… let’s join the battle…”
To an Israeli, this sounds a lot like our ultra-Orthodox. They may not be threatening damnation on the Day of Judgement, but these influential Evangelical leaders are conjuring up religious and spiritual concepts to spread fear and influence voters.
In the US, if an Evangelical Christian wants to vote for a Democratic candidate, I hear many Christians call it sin. That is wrong because it turns voting in a national election into a religious act governed by dogma, and not the matter of conscience that it is supposed to be, and that is against the law.
Thomas Jefferson, in reference to the US Constitution’s First Amendment and the Bill of Rights on the separation between Church and State wrote to the Baptist Church Association that, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship … they do not have to fear interference in their right to expressions of religious conscience…” The Bill of Rights, adopted in 1791 as ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States, was one of the earliest political expressions of religious freedom and remains an important rule to protect our society and the right to vote freely without fear according to one’s conscience.