Saturday, June 24, 2006

Real Biblical Values?

Perhaps you’ve seen the new Monday night program on TLC, Shalom in the Home. For many folks this is the first introduction to an Orthodox Jewish rabbi by the name of Shmuley Boteach. I had heard of him, but didn’t know a whole lot about him, and I haven’t watched the TLC show for one reason or another.

But Rabbi Shmuley also writes a regular column on the website Beliefnet, which he calls “Rebbe with a Cause.” The column that was there this past week began with his musings on The Da Vinci Code controversy and ended with his opinion that he can relate a great deal more to a Jesus who was human than he can to the way Jesus is often portrayed. (Christian theology says Jesus is fully human and fully divine; but since our minds don’t handle paradox well, we often find ourselves thinking about Jesus as more divine than human, or vice versa.)

Now, I don’t want to get into the whole controversy about The Da Vinci Code here; I have read the book (found it mildly entertaining, but definitely not a classic work of literature) but haven’t seen the movie, and I’m not really up on all the intricacies of folks’ objections to it. But in the middle of Rabbi Shmuley’s column he made a very interesting observation. He said that part of the appeal of the book and movie stems from a desire not only for a more human Jesus but also for more humane forms of religion.

He gave an example: Evidently one of the families he worked with on Shalom in the Home was a lesbian couple with children. Right after that another Orthodox rabbi said Rabbi Shmuley should not be allowed to read Torah at the synagogue as a result. (Lest we fall into the trap of shaking our heads at “those legalistic Jews,” Rabbi Shmuley pointed out that we Christians have not been totally innocent of similar charges either—and he’s right. He also pointed a finger at Muslims, but that’s a subject for another day.)

Rabbi Shmuley said, “Faith has become so harsh in our time, so inhuman, that hundreds of millions have turned to the New Age to accommodate their spiritual needs in utter rejection of organized religion…Many Christian evangelicals believe that the essence of Christianity is best captured in condemning gays.” (It’s my understanding that Orthodox Judaism isn’t exactly open and affirming toward gay and lesbian people, either, but his point is still valid.)

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, even though they admitted up front that it would not pass, the U.S. Senate devoted time, energy, and taxpayers’ money to debating a Constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage once and for all. (A certain element of the Senate seems to believe they need to raise this issue in an election year solely to energize their “base.”) On the cable “news” shows, the usual suspects appeared to explain that this ban is needed to “protect traditional marriage”—I have not yet figured out just exactly how my marriage or that of my parents or grandparents is truly in danger because there are two men or two women somewhere who also want to be married. God is brought into the conversation, and Christian values are appealed to.

I know there are a few passages in the Bible that seem to condemn homosexuality, and since they’re in the Bible we at least have to struggle with them. However, there are far, far, far more passages in the Bible that say a nation stands or falls not based on how stridently they denounce homosexuality but on how the most vulnerable in the society are treated. The Old Testament prophets, for instance, speak volumes about their people’s guilt before God—and their sin is not tolerance of gay people in their midst but “[trampling] on the poor” (Amos 5:11, and many other places in that book, for instance).

If we as a nation truly are committed to being a Godly nation, we’d spend a lot less time screaming at one another about gay marriage, and a whole lot more time treating one another—especially the poorest and most vulnerable among us—with care and compassion.

Far too often in this country religious faith is becoming a club with which to beat one another, instead of a means by which we are able to encounter the love and grace of God—most generally through the words and actions of one another. I agree with Rabbi Shmuley that it’s high time to put a stop to that, and perhaps to return to true Biblical values, such as love, grace, and faithfulness.