Tikkun Magazine, September/October 2010

Response to Noach Dzmura

Jay Michaelson

Noach Dzmura and I agree on many things, even on where we disagree. While I would characterize his approach as "radical" rather than progressive, we agree that it is quite different from (and I think complements) the more moderate, liberal arguments I made in my article. Clearly, progressives need both: mainstream arguments to engage the "movable middle" of America, and further-left arguments to push all of us along in our thinking.

The question is which we need more right now. I agree that my arguments will not help the (presumably non-passing) transwoman, rent boy, intergenerational partners, and genderqueer campers whom Dzmura imagines. In my view, gender-nonconforming and more or less traditional-morality-nonconfirming people pose a serious challenge to the fundamental structures of our society. As well they should! And more power to them! It is true that to include all of these and more, we need different arguments from the ones I propose.

Yet we do not need such difficult, radical arguments to transform the lives of millions of LGBT people or to move our society one incremental step closer to full inclusion for all. Dzmura's arguments stand no chance of being adopted by the American mainstream in 2010 -- or 2020, I think. Thus, if we want to "move the needle" of public opinion, we need to make different ones.

That needle right now is pointing toward liberal religion. Dzmura is right to observe that "liberal religious institutions save queer lives every day." But he is wrong to think that such voices are the predominant ones: poll after poll tells us that Americans still believe in "God versus Gay." The Metropolitan Community Church, the Unitarian Univeralists, the Catholic group Dignity -- all are wonderful allies, but they remain on the margins of American religious discourse. Most of America does not resemble the San Francisco Bay Area, or even New York City. (Indeed, even within liberal San Francisco, the very blessing for "intimacy with a stranger" that Dzmura praises, which a good friend of mine authored, has come under blistering attack.) So, if we want to make change "on the ground" for millions of people, we need something less than revolutionary rhetoric. We need to engage with the plurality of Americans who are sincerely Protestant or Catholic and sincerely grappling with what they perceive to be a contradiction between faith and liberated sexuality. Yes, to some religious progressives, many of my arguments may indeed seem old hat. But I am not preaching to the converted. I am asking spiritual progressives to engage in a conversation about God and sexuality that meets skeptical moderates on common ground.

Toward the end of his piece, Noach writes that "a progressive Jewish agenda would dismantle the central tenet of Jewish practice." This is not my definition of "progressive"; it is my definition of "radical," and if dismantling central tenets of religion were the only way forward for progressives, we would be in a lot of trouble. Dreaming such dreams is much needed, especially in the friendly pages of Tikkun. But far away from the islands of liberal religion, there are still kids killing themselves because they've been told that God hates them because they are gay or lesbian. Those are the ones I'm trying to reach.

Jay Michaelson is the author of Everything is God: The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism and other books. He is also a columnist for the Forward, the Huffington Post, Zeek, and Reality Sandwich magazine, and is director of Nehirim: GLBT Jewish Culture & Spirituality.

Source Citation: Michaelson, Jay. 2010. Response to Noach Dzmura. Tikkun 25(5) 74
tags: Gender & Sexuality, LGBT, Queer Spirituality & Politics, Rethinking Religion  
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