I am saddened that Richard Grennell, Mitt Romney’s foreign policy spokesman, resigned over what the press is saying was pressure from the far right because he is openly gay. Who cares? He had a distinguished career as a spokesman for four United Nations Ambassadors and was widely respected. It is particularly disconcerting to learn that religious groups criticized Romney for appointing him due to his homosexuality.
As an orthodox Rabbi with a gay orthodox Jewish brother, I have endeavored mightily to reconcile the dictates of my faith with the most human, loving, and respectful approach to homosexuality. I have counseled hundreds of gay men and women of faith who seek to find their place in God’s love amid a gay lifestyle.
But such efforts at reconciliation are undone by the gratuitous hate-filled bigotry of people like Dan Savage whose response to prejudice against gays is to offer insulting and degrading prejudices against religion. Just what Savage felt he was accomplishing by irresponsibly using obscenities about the Bible at a journalism conference for High School students is beyond me. But what I do know is that the answers to homosexuality and faith do not lie either with religious haters like Fred Phelps who insult God by hating gays, nor with secular fanatics like Dan Savage who insult homosexuals by falsely portraying them as angry bigots.
Everywhere we look today we find fanatics. So often we blame religion for all the extremists. But there are plenty of secular fanatics as well. From Savage’s offensive attack against the Bible and religion in front of High School students, he appears to be one of them. I am prepared to accept that he has been misportrayed. But then let him retract and apologize for his remarks.
The Bible he assails is responsible for Western society’s most cherished values. It has given us the Ten Commandments, and thus morality. The belief that every human being is created in the image of God, and thus the infinite worth of the individual person. The crushing of Egyptian tyranny and thus the insistence that despots must be deposed. The Messianic idea of directional history and thus the ideal of human progress.
That does not mean that there aren’t aspects of the Bible that people will find unacceptable or objectionable. They have every right to disagree. But doing so while respecting people of faith is the way of the gentleman.
Once, I was sitting with my brother at a kosher restaurant in Manhattan when a religious man walked over and told me I was a dog. I asked him why the insult? He said because he read about how I defend homosexuals in the Jewish community. Ironically, he had no idea that my brother was sitting at the table with me. I thought to myself, “If I’m one step removed and I get attacked like this, how much hatred has my brother endured? How many times has he heard things like this?”
Do we gain anything by having the Dan Savages of this world demonstrate that they can give as good as they get? If Savage savages the Bible, has he struck a blow for his gay brethren, or has he just inflamed the discourse?
I receive a steady stream of sad and tragic emails from gay orthodox Jewish men and women who speak of their desire to be dead, or worse, to take their own lives. They have few to whom they can turn. They wonder how they can accept their natural sexual feelings amid their commitment to their faith. But they are committed to faith. They’re not looking to detach but rather to fit in. They do not identify with religion haters like Dan Savage because they love their religion. They are simply looking for their place within their faith and they are devastated to feel condemned by their own communities.
There is no question that we need a new religious approach to Biblical approach to homosexuality. I suggest this.
The Bible consists of 613 commandments, one of which is for a man to marry and have children, and the other is for a man to avoid gay sex with another man. That leaves 611 commandments for gay men to observe. That should keep them pretty busy. Homosexuality should be treated like lighting fire on the Sabbath or eating non-kosher foods, both Biblical prohibitions. Eating shellfish carries the same appellation of ‘abomination’ as homosexuality.’ Moreover, as I have written at length elsewhere the prohibition of homosexuality is not a moral sin but a religious sin, akin to, say, eating on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, as there is no injured innocent party.
Why we have all chosen homosexuality as the worst sin in the Bible, going so far as to distance homosexuals from their own faith, is beyond me. Some say the reason is because of the word ‘abomination.’ Little do they realize the word appears 104 times in the Bible, as I wrote in a recent column analyzing the word and its usage in the Bible. So there are human approaches to homosexuality that seek to reconcile gay men and women of faith and the Bible. Savage’s attacks on the Bible are utterly unhelpful.