WASHINGTON October 15, 1998—My name is Rabbi Marc Israel and I am the Director of Congregational Relations at the Religious Action Center, the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million American Reform Jews in 875 congregations throughout the country.
In the last few days and months, we have seen a disturbing marriage between the Christian Right and the ex-gay movement. In newspaper ads, in political and religious rhetoric and now in television commercials, using language that is deceivingly full of love and compassion, they are, together, promulgating a message hate across our country. We stand here today, together, to say that this campaign goes against the teachings of our religions and against the values that America holds dear.
The Christian Coalition would have us believe that the Bible's central teachings are anti-gay and lesbian. We know that this is not now, nor has it ever been true. When asked to explain the meaning of the Torah over 2000 years ago, the great rabbi Hillel taught "Love your neighbor as yourself—all the rest is commentary." Shortly thereafter, the great sage of the Talmud, Rabbi Akiva, taught that this is the great principle of the Torah. In Christianity it is this, and not a few passages from Leviticus, that is the Golden Rule.
Similarly, America has a long history of working towards greater tolerance and greater inclusivity for all its inhabitants. Since the Declaration of Independence stated that "all Men are created equal" and "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" our country has worked to make this ideal a reality for more and more people. This is why over 75% of Americans now believe that gay men and lesbians should be protected from discrimination in the workplace and support a federal law that would do so.
In the Biblical passage that every Jewish congregation will read this week, we are taught that God created every person B'tselem Elohim—in God's divine image. It is taught that the reason that God began creation with a single human being, Adam, is so that none of us might claim that our inheritance is any greater than any other person. All people—men, women and children; gay men, lesbians and heterosexuals, rich and poor; black, brown or white; Jewish, Christian or Muslim—all people are equal under God's eyes and all people are capable of loving God and receiving love from God.
The prophets teach that one day, "God's house will be a house for all people." Our task, our solemn obligation, is to work towards making that dream a reality, to make our homes, our congregations, our community, and our nation a place where everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, will feel welcome and accepted. That is what our tradition demands. That is why we raise our voice in opposition to those who claim that gay men and lesbians need to be "saved." We know that they, like all of us, need only to be embraced for who they are—a part of God's holy creation.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing 1.5 million Reform Jews and 1,800 Reform rabbis in 875 congregations throughout North America.