by . Rabbi Mike Moskowitz and Rev. Dr. Amy Butler
Those of us to inhabit spaces of privilege may feel a growing hopelessness, like a chasm opening up in front of us these days; it’s like the advent of a deep nighttime that perhaps we have not seen in our lifetimes. We are waking up to the realities of injustice and oppression that have defined the daily living experience of too many of our neighbors. For those of us who tend faith communities and teach people of faith how to birth into the world more kindness, justice, and peace, well…times are hard.
Folks answered the question with comments like:
“I’m angry, really angry, and when not angry, deeply depressed.”
“I kind of lost my shit in preaching class today. I’m the professor.”
“I’m tired and worried.”
“Pretty scatterbrained and struggling to focus. My sleeping is erratic.”
“I felt physically ill driving to the office this morning, and realized it was a physical reaction to the news I was listening to.”
“Helpless to change the situation.”
Any one of us paying even the slightest attention to the atrocious policies being implemented by the American government, both within, along, and outside our borders, can’t be unfamiliar with feelings like these. Sometimes the darkness of this world, the evil all around us, steals our joy and cripples our resolve.
Yet we know, especially those of us who speak from a religious platform, that we must keep speaking, we must keep calling for love and justice, we must insist on welcoming the light, or evil will even co-opt religion, as it has over and over again. How can we keep going?
It’s Pride month. All across the country people of many faith expressions and no faith expression are celebrating the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in our communities. There’s light where there was none before, a world in which new generations of LGBTQ young people will be loved and accepted exactly as they are. It has taken us long enough to affirm their status as beloved children of God, and still they struggle to enjoy the same full rights as others…but, oh what a long way we have come.
God’s first creative act: “let there be light” models for us how we are meant to respond to darkness in the world: we are to make light. In the oppressive, incapacitating, and depressing darkness of hate, discrimination, and inequality we have witnessed the hope-filled joy of LGBT Pride.
It was June 28, 1969 when Pride began with a riot at The Stonewall Inn in New York City. Like most gay bars in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Stonewall was a sanctuary where people who had to hide their identities (or face socially sanctioned bigotry if they couldn’t), could fully embrace their humanity and the image of God they represent. Many have noted that Stonewall in particular was a safe haven for the most marginalized of the LGBTQ community – drag queens, transgender persons, and others who did not conform to gender stereotypes. And when the forces of oppression sought to raid this safe haven, the most marginalized of society responded by shining their light, by boldly declaring that they will not be ashamed of who God created them to be, and by expanding spaces of sanctuary into more and more corners of our society. One spark catching fire.
For more than 50 years Stonewall has been a beacon of hope that has created community, progress, and sustainable optimism – in fabulous ways! The LGBTQ community has refused to be silenced by societal oppression or even content with stasis after the considerable achievements of marriage equality and adoption rights. These gains are now being threatened and the legalization of discrimination, based on gender or sexual identity, is a real danger.
As religious leaders, we are often asked some version of the theological question “Why doesn’t God feed the hungry, heal the sick, and protect the vulnerable?” Jewish tradition holds a concept that we are to be partners with God in the healing of the world. If the world was perfect, how would we contribute? Darkness can only exist in the absence of light, but without the darkness there wouldn’t be a need for light. Christian scriptures read: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
There is so much work to be done and it is really hard to look at this world and not get depressed. The situation in which we’re living is indeed exhausting, draining, and often overwhelming. But God forbid it should ever be easier to be motivated to do something about it.
This weekend let’s take to the streets with our LGBTQ friends and be nourished and reinvigorated as we celebrate: being created in God’s image; being loved for who we are; keeping hope for a changed future alive; shining light, even just a little, until every corner of this world shines with welcome and hope
Rabbi Mike Moskowitz is the Scholar-in-Residence for Trans and Queer Jewish Studies at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah. He is a deeply traditional and radically progressive advocate for trans rights and a vocal ally for LGBT inclusivity.