“Senator Rubio, You’re No George Washington…”
Back in January, Time Magazine referred to Florida senator and Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio as “The Republican Savior”. At a debate held a short time later, Senator Rubio was asked about the Time quote, and said “Let me be clear about one thing, there’s only one savior, and it’s not me. It’s Jesus Christ, who came to earth and died for our sins”. I have a problem with that.
I am a non-religious Jew. While I was raised in the Jewish religion and still identify as ethnically and culturally Jewish, I currently do not hold any supernatural beliefs, Jewish or otherwise. But one thing I certainly am not is Christian. I never have been, and it’s a pretty good bet I never will be. Now I do respect much (but not all) of what Jesus had to say, possibly to a greater extent than some “Christians” in our midst who value money above all else and care little about helping the strangers and impoverished among us. (This reminds me of the quote often attributed to Gandhi: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians as so unlike your Christ”). But Jesus is not in any sense my “savior” So when a leading presidential candidate refers to Jesus as the “one savior”, who died for “our sins”, and does so in the context of a civil institution (a presidential debate), what is he saying specifically to me? The message I get is that his idea of an inclusive America does not include me, and that therefore this is not really my country. But George Washington said otherwise.
In 1790 President George Washington visited the City of Newport Rhode Island, where he was greeted by prominent citizens, including Moses Mendes Seixas, the leader of the Touro Synagogue, widely regarded as the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. Mr. Seixas gave a letter to the president, thanking him for his service to the country in both war and peace, but which also raised issues of religious freedom. Shortly thereafter President Washington sent a reply letter to the synagogue in which he wrote, in pertinent part: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that those who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support”. This is, in effect, George Washington’s covenant with the Jews of Newport, and by implication, with all non-Christian citizens of our country. He is saying that all Americans, no matter what their religious beliefs, possess the rights and immunities of American citizenship. All that is required is that those who live under the protection of the United States government act as good citizens by giving that government their effectual support. In essence, what Washington is doing here is bringing Article VI, paragraph 3 of the Constitution (“…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States”) from the level of “any office or public trust” to the level of the average citizen, in that there is no religious test for citizenship in this country.
I would have no problem with Senator Rubio speaking of the “one savior Jesus Christ” if he was addressing his fellow congregants in one of the Christian churches he attends. But this was a nationally televised presidential debate, in which candidates are supposed to be speaking to all of their fellow Americans. I know Rubio is courting the right-wing Evangelical vote, but isn’t he supposed to, at least nominally, want my vote too? Certainly, if elected he will be my president, whether either one of us likes it or not. So perhaps the good senator would be well advised to read the words of President George Washington, and understand that this country belongs to all of its citizens regardless of their religious beliefs. I’m not asking you to be my or anyone else’s savior Mr. Rubio. But if elected I demand that you be my president, in keeping with the United States Constitution and George Washington’s promise to the congregation of Touro Synagogue.