Albany Times Union - Rob Brill
Rabbi Dennis S. Ross, director of Concerned Clergy for Choice, a multifaith advocacy group, and associate rabbi at Congregation Beth Emeth in Albany.
Background: Ross was born in Brooklyn, graduated from Queens College and received a Master of Social Work at New York University. Ordained by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion of the Reform movement in Manhattan, he has served congregations in New York, Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts and taught bio-medical ethics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is married to Rabbi Deborah Zecher, who serves at Hevreh of Southern Berkshire in Great Barrington, Mass., where they live. They have three children, Joshua, who works in musical theater, Adam, who lives in Israel, and Miriam, who is a senior at Clark University.
The title of your book "All Politics is Religious" is a play on Tip O'Neill's aphorism, "All politics is local." The book supports church-state separation. Don't you want a title that keeps the two apart?
All Americans, including religious people, have a right, really responsibility, to make their opinions known. But it is one thing to tell your elected officials what you think and another thing to demand that your religious point of view be made into the law, especially when it comes to religious restrictions, like those that would restrict same-gender relations, access to birth control or safe abortion. There is a difference between healthy, robust public dialogue that includes religious perspectives and codifying religious rules that take away rights or health care. Religion informs the debate, but it must not decide the issue.
Why did you write this book?
To give voice to religious ideas that often get lost in the fray. I also hope it helps people of faith find a way to have an honest yet respectful dialogue about controversial issues. Democracy thrives when we can have a good conversation about the issues that, at the same time, stays away from name calling and broad attacks, be it on the floor of Congress, at a town hall meeting or around the dinner table.
You are a congregational rabbi and you also work as an advocate. How do the two connect?
People reach out to clergy in times of need, especially when confronted by a medical decision, and we provide counsel, prayer and support. Like any clergy member, I carry the memory of those experiences with me always. In my advocacy work, we are urging passage of the Reproductive Health Act in New York state that would guarantee a woman can make her own personal, private health care decisions and get the care she needs, especially when her pregnancy threatens her health. In discussing legislation with lawmakers, I find that my experience as a pastor helps inform their position. They welcome Concerned Clergy for Choice whenever we are at the Capitol.
Many religious people disagree with you. How do you counter their arguments?
Religious people disagree about all kinds of things, including health care issues like the use of and access to birth control. Many of the religious groups represented in Concerned Clergy for Choice recognized the moral good in birth control some 80 years ago. This includes the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. So we need laws that include protection of the religious liberty of people of all faiths, so that each one of us can make personal medical and spiritual decisions without interference from politicians or clergy of other religions.
Advice on advocacy
Rabbi Dennis S. Ross will discuss and sign his new book, "All Politics Is Religious," at 7 p.m. Thursday at The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany.
Jewish Media Review - Dov Peretz Elkins
This is a book for clergy and laypersons, for preachers and synagogue/church/mosque-goers. It is practical and empowering, a great resource, which has the potential to strongly influence public discourse. Faith grows when we uphold its vision for a better world, and speak of it in the public square.
This book is a practical and empowering resource. It provides ideas and strategies for expressing a clear, forceful and progressive religious point of view that is all too often overlooked and under-represented in public discourse. It identifies the religious themes in today's great debates—gay rights, the needs of children and families, church-state separation and reproductive rights, including access to sex education, contraception and abortion care—and presents new language and methods for effective communication with the media, policy makers and community. It steers away from the polemics and jargon of politics—left, right, liberal, conservative, socialist—and instead relies on factual historical examples, current events and personal stories to illustrate the best ways to communicate the positive role faith can play in personal and public life by reinforcing the separation of church and state.
Would that every person involved in religious and/or political life would study this excellent manual and use it to bring about meaningful change in the world.
Rabbi Dennis S. Ross serves as a reproductive rights advocate and director of Concerned Clergy for Choice at the Education Fund of Family Planning Advocates of New York State. He consults to Planned Parenthood on clergy organizing, religion in the media and religious lobbying. He is a frequent speaker on the topic of religion and the media at professional conferences, college campuses, houses of worship, health centers and other venues. He is the author of God in Our Relationships: Spirituality between People from the Teachings of Martin Buber (Jewish Lights).
From the Publisher
"An incomparable guide for embracing faith as a platform for supporting the social justice issues of our time—from health care and reproductive rights to marriage-equality and sex education."
—Cecile Richards, president, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
"I love this book! Both clergy and lay[people] need it. It's clear, compelling, instructive and biblically-based."
—Rev. Finley Schaef, United Methodist Church; founding member, Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion
“Offers refreshing insights into the moral issues of our day and the role of faith in the political debate. Part homily, part how-to, [it] encourages the choirs of unrepresented voices to sing out.”
—Liane Hansen, former National Public Radio host
“An encouragement to all who are searching for a richer and more meaningful way to engage in our democracy, and a much-needed corrective for these bitterly partisan times.”
—Nancy Northup, president and CEO, Center for Reproductive Rights
“An unusual book—both wise and practical—for those who want to make a contribution to resolving issues that divide our country. A wise resource for those who care deeply about their faith and our country.”
—Rev. Dr. John G. Wightman, former president, New Jersey Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion; retired minister, United Church of Christ
“An impassioned call to action and an eminently practical guide to strategies and resources for dealing with politicians and the media ... [it] could not be more timely.”
—Mary Zeiss Stange, professor of women's studies and religion, Skidmore College
“For clergy and religious leaders concerned about the narrow, often intolerant religious forces that are trying to dominate national policy, [this] book offers a way forward to a more complete, compassionate discourse.... I heartedly recommend it.”
—Rev. Dr. Carlton W. Veazey, former president and CEO, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; pastor, Fellowship Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.
“The essential guide for religious leaders who want to influence public policy. It provides essential theological support for advocating for sexual justice and other progressive issues while also effectively teaching the tools of lobbying, media appearances and organizing.”
—The Reverend Debra W. Haffner, executive director, Religious Institute
“Warm and endearing.... Applies Martin Buber’s views of relationships to a rich tapestry of contemporary experience. Highly recommended for persons from all religious traditions.”
—Rev. Leo D. Lefebure, editor-at-large, The Christian Century
“[For] all of us who care, from a faith perspective, about politics as the instrument for peace with justice. [Approaches] religion for the purpose God intended, to foster understanding and faithful pursuit of truth, rather than as an excuse to disagree with and demonize one’s adversaries.”
—Rev. Charles H. Straut, Jr., DMin, Consultant in Ministry,
New York Conference, United Methodist Church
“An acknowledgment of social reality and a clarion call for social action. Combines a rich religious perspective with practical suggestions for religious advocates who want to 'repair the world.’”
—Rev. Dr. Richard Gilbert, president, Interfaith Impact of New York State; social justice coordinator, St. Lawrence Unitarian Universalist District; author, The Prophetic Imperative: Social Gospel in Theory and Practice and How Much Do We Deserve: An Inquiry in Distributive Justice
“A distinctive, much-needed voice [in] the American debate on matters of politics and religion. Sharp insights, sanity and unfailing good humor.”
—Rev. Tom Davis, author, Sacred Work: Planned Parenthood and Its Clergy Alliances;
chaplain emeritus, Skidmore College
“This excellent, very readable book is a 'must have’ for all people of faith, especially in this day of polarization.... It’s like having your own personal media coach. I highly recommend it not only to spiritual and interfaith leaders, but to anyone involved in community activism who wants to make a difference.”
—Kay Lindahl, co-founder, Women of Spirit and Faith; co-editor, Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power
“With a wealth of personal stories from his experiences as a faith advocate, Rabbi Ross powerfully makes the case for an assertive, proactive yet civil faith advocacy (as opposed to a reactive one defined by the Religious Right) that is rooted in shared core values and effective messaging tactics.”
—Rabbi David Saperstein, director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
“Provides insightful communications advice for anyone looking to break through the usual media noise and spark social change on some of the most important issues of our generation.”
—Andrea Hagelgans, vice president, strategic communications and media relations,
Camino Public Relations
“With wit and passion, Rabbi Ross articulates his belief that all major political issues can be deconstructed to find a religious argument at their core. He then demonstrates how it is possible to move the political pendulum forward while encouraging civil discourse and steering clear of vilifying those whose views run in a diametrically opposite direction.... [This] guide book is for those who want to begin down the path of political activism without losing their religious conviction.”
—Michael Zimmerman, executive director, The Clergy Letter Project
“Religious voices are a critical component in the movement for equality and justice. Rabbi Ross is extremely qualified to provide insight about how to effectively engage the voices of the spiritual community in the movement for positive social change.”
—Ross D. Levi, executive director, Empire State Pride Agenda
“Clearly highlights the areas of social concern that often get lost in the barrage of words and rhetoric.... Give[s] new ways to talk about these controversial issues with civility and candor. A must-read for all persons of faith regardless of political perspective or religious ideology.”
—Rev. Vincent Lachina, Northwest Chaplain, Planned Parenthood
“Offers tangible tools to amplify messages of compassion, unity and collaboration. [Provides] practical media strategies for restoring the integrity of moral agency, effectively raising our voices of inclusion and hope in the cultural conversation.”
—Kathe Schaaf, co-founder, Women of Spirit and Faith; co-editor, Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power
Association of Professional - Rev. Stacy Otto
Rabbi Ross' primary goal for All Politics Is Religious is to encourage faith-based communities to successfully engage both media and government officials through application of his communication guidelines, thereby contributing "a dignified and respectful religious perspective to national policy conversations" (xx, preface). The highly politicized nature of the book, however, makes it better suited for an audience of community organizers and activists.
Rabbi Ross minimizes one of the most important tenets of effective communication and ministry, that is listening. While affirming the precepts of the "I-Thou relationship" as taught by Martin Buber where "I-Thou pays careful attention to the thoughts and needs of the next person," he then makes contradictory statements (xviii). His focus on talking instead of listening is evident in the following statement: "Even the best sermons aren't very effective at swaying opposing opinions. So I stopped trying to change people. I stopped harping on the inconsistencies and mistakes of the other side. I stopped trying to convince my opponents of the errors of their ways and started talking to those who agree with me, describing what they can do and say, motivating those in agreement to action" (67).
That being said, a beneficial aspect of the book is a focus on the use of faith-based beliefs as a platform for upholding moral values and supporting social justice, particularly in the area of patient and family advocacy. If the reader is able to overlook the political rhetoric, the guidelines found in the second half of the book offer insights suitable for use by chaplains engaged in public relations, or those who serve on ethics boards, where highly charged discussions need to be facilitated with candor and grace. Chaplains may also find it useful as a resource to help refine communication skills among members of the interdisciplinary team who hold diverse, and sometimes divergent, ideologies regarding health care practices.
In summary, the author was very candid about his desire to motivate like-minded people of faith to action in the formulation and implementation of government policies. In this respect, he effectively promoted his agenda. While there are nuggets of useful information regarding the refinement of communication methods to achieve positive outcomes, overall, this book diverges from the core precepts that define effective ministry in the field of chaplaincy. For more information, visit www.jewishlights.com.