The Conservative Jewish movement, the faith’s American-based middle ground between liberalism and orthodoxy, is nearing a leadership decision that seems likely to permit openly gay rabbis and same-sex unions.
The Rabbinical Assembly Committee on Jewish Law and Standards which last tackled the issue in 1992 meets in New York next week, its 25 members reviewing an issue that has already rent many Christian churches and simmers across Judaism.
“The way it looks, it will be decided on a more liberal understanding of the law,” Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of the National Jewish Centre for Learning and Leadership, told Reuters. “It would be a very big, big surprise if that’s not the case.”
A gay pride rally in Jerusalem this month met with stormy protests and finally unfolded in a small stadium under heavy security. But Israel’s highest court also has ruled that homosexuals who marry abroad may be registered as married in the country.
There are perhaps 6 million Jews in the United States, only about a third of them affiliated with a congregation. Of those who do attend synagogue 38 per cent are Reform, 33 per cent Conservative and 22 per cent Orthodox, according to one survey.
Rabbi Kula, author of Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life, said the move toward liberalisation among Conservatives “is not something that came down from the top. It came from Jews in the pews … Jews who had homosexual children and wanted them to be rabbis.”
Rabbi Gerald Zelizer of Neve Shalom, a Conservative congregation in Metuchen, New Jersey, a former president of the Rabbinical Assembly who is a contributing columnist for USA Today, said in an essay in that newspaper this year that he backed the 1992 position but now had a different view.
“Conservative Judaism has always taught that we must upgrade our biblical understanding with new scientific knowledge. Contrary to the biblical assumption that gayness is a sinful choice, our best knowledge today indicates that it is as determined and irrevocable as blue or brown eyes …” he wrote.
Hermeneutics in action. I, for one, am glad to see this move. I’m looking forward to my PC(USA) getting it, someday, when we realize that, yes, God creates you with a sexual orientation (yes, sometimes on a sliding scale), and that God creates most of us to live out the fullness of our life in intimate relationship with another (though some of us, regardless of orientation, have no such desire and live celibate lives). When we as a church come to see that, then this matter about ordination will be simple. Then we can see how blessing same-sex couples to lasting, intimate, reciprocal relationships can be important, a responsibility, and a gift for the couple, for the culture, for the church. And how realizing this will not decimate our view of either God or the bible, any more than our rejection of slavery or the full inclusion of women in all teaching ministries of Christ’s church did. And how these, in fact, led to fruitful reappraisal and renewed appreciation for scripture, not less. So much so that almost all Presbyterians (of the PCUSA variety) now read the bible with new eyes and reject readings that support slavery or subjection of women. I’m still waiting on those PCA folk, but I’m not holding my breath…
While this move was prompted by “Jews in the Pews,” we too have our voices from the pews. Some people in the our pews object to this (see
the comments, for instance, to the this comment in this thread over at the Classical Presbyterian‘s Blog):
I’ll speak bluntly. I am a person in the pew. I do not want to be affiliated with a denomination that ordains practicing gays. I do not want my children being taught that two men or two women living together in a “marital” relationship is not only o.k. but blessed. I don’t want to support church leaders who want to “re-imagine” God or spend their time thinking up new names for the Trinity. I don’t want to go to a women’s bible study on the book of Genesis and find out that it is about “voices that have been muted, if not outright silenced” (from the PCUSA website).
But this isn’t a universal, or even a majority view. (Not addressing either the reaction to the “re-imagining” conference, or this reader’s rejection of the denomination’s theological reflection on the full biblical revelation of the nature of the one triune God, or the rest) I think progressives are way out ahead on the issue of sexual orientation and the church, and the PCUSA moderates, like the Conservative Jews in this piece, realize that we’re talking about their children, their nieces and nephews, their brothers and sisters, and they don’t want them excluded from the fullness of life that God intends for them, nor from the fullness of service that God might be calling them toward in the Church.
And my prayer is that, three generations or so from now, most of my conservative brothers and sisters in the PCUSA (those who haven’t already gotten this) will see this like they now see women leadership. I think that will happen, and, frankly, I think that’s what they think will happen too, and it scares the crap out of them.
Our church is more Christlike because we’ve moved past abolition and women’s ordination, and we’ll be more Christlike when we achieve this one too. My two cents.