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‘Trump’ pastor’s call for Sanders to ‘meet Jesus’ offends many

(RNS) Pastor Mark Burns, opening a Trump rally, calls on Bernie Sanders to "get saved."

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump asks his supporters to raise their hands and promise to vote for him at his campaign rally at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Florida on March 5, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Kevin Kolczynski


(RNS) Jews, atheists and others denounced televangelist Mark Burns and Donald Trump after the pastor kicked off a North Carolina Trump rally by calling for Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, to “get saved.”

“Bernie Sanders, who doesn’t believe in God, how in the world (are) we going to let Bernie — I mean, really?” Burns said to the crowd’s applause. “Bernie’s got to get saved, Bernie’s got to meet Jesus. He’s got to have a coming to Jesus meeting.”

After Monday’s (March 14) rally, headlines from the U.S to Israel spread news of the North Carolina pastor’s remarks, and the Internet lit up with charges that Burns and Trump — who is currently leading the GOP presidential field ahead of Tuesday’s next round of primaries — were trying to pit Christians against Jews and non-believers.

Sanders, lone rival to the leading Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, is not religious but has said he is proud of being Jewish and that it is an integral part of his identity.

Here is a sample of the reaction to Burns’ remarks:

Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance:

“It is profoundly un-American to use a campaign platform to denigrate and demean the faith of a candidate for President, it is unbecoming of a member of the clergy to do so when these rallies have increasingly resulted in violence toward religious and racial minorities. Like almost no other campaign in recent memory, this election cycle has demonstrated just how easily rhetoric that abuses Americans of all kinds can turn into incitement and violence.”

Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:

“We are offended by the comments of a Pastor prominently featured at a Donald Trump rally saying that Bernie Sanders must “meet Jesus.” Reform Jews, like millions of Americans, find meaning, strength, comfort and community in our faith. Yet a candidate’s faith or lack thereof has no bearing on his or her fitness for office. We call on Donald Trump to denounce Pastor Burns’ comments and refuse to associate himself with religious leaders who attack the religion of any of his political rivals.”

Hermant Mehta on his “Friendly Atheist” blog:

“Besides the idiocy of slamming another candidate on the basis of his religion, it doesn’t even make any sense. As the saying goes, Jesus was a Jewish socialist. He reached out to the minorities of his time. He helped the poor and said, ‘it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ Sanders seems to have the ‘Jesus’ concept down pat. Meanwhile, Trump can’t even get Christianity right. He doesn’t ask for forgiveness, swears like a sailor, misstates Bible verses, and urges mobs to go after his enemies.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

“We urge Pastor Burns to retract and apologize for his hurtful comments. They convey the offensive, erroneous, and exclusionary message that Jews and other religious minorities are unfit to be President, and they are disrespectful remarks to Jews beyond just an election. Every American can aspire to be President regardless of their faith or background. There is no religious litmus test to hold the Presidency or any other elected office. That right is guaranteed by the Constitution, which strictly prohibits religious tests for public office.

(Lauren Markoe is a national reporter for RNS)

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