We’ve been close friends for years. We have shared Sabbath meals and addressed one another’s constituencies. One of us is a very large black man, the other is an average size white guy. One of us raises Rottweiler dogs, the other sails boats. One of us is a Christian pastor while the other is an Orthodox Jewish rabbi. Yet for all these differences, something recently united us. And it was not that we’re both bald or that we both have beards!
What happened is that the senior rabbi of one of Seattle’s largest Reform congregations attacked us in a local newspaper for our opposition to homosexual marriage. In his florid article, filled with alliterations (apparently we promote “regressive religion” and “puritanical politics”) he fired off three grenades at us.
The first: In regard to homosexual conduct as a sin, we demonstrate that we lack love and compassion.
Second: We sully religious faith with political exploitation.
And third: We hurl out our hate speech, while safely hiding behind our ethnic identities.
Well, he’s not the first to deploy that outdated ordnance and not the first to discover that those particular grenades are duds. They make a lot of noise, but throw no shrapnel.
Take that first charge for instance. Does a mother who denies her children their urges for an excess of unhealthy food lack love and compassion for those children? Of course not. However, you might argue candy imperils teeth and half-pound hamburgers cause obesity, while homosexual behavior hurts nobody.
This is precisely where our beliefs differ from his. We believe homosexual behavior does indeed threaten the durability of a society – maybe not immediately, but in time.
You see, clear and present threats like angry Rottweiler dogs are not so dangerous because people recognize the threat and avoid them. However, dangers that take longer to develop can be truly terrifying. For instance, early in the 20th century, people would seek therapeutic benefit in the tunnels of uranium mines in Montana. This horrifying practice persisted for decades before the dangers of radioactivity were fully understood.
By the time they were understood, it was too late. By then, large numbers of patients had contracted cancers, become diseased and had died. By the time the perils of homosexual marriage become obvious, it might well be too late. That is our belief and we are entitled to share that belief with others.
Our belief, along with millions of our fellow Jewish and Christian Americans, is that Scripture provides a sort of biblical blueprint for safe and long-term human organization. Call us “old-fashioned” or any other names you prefer, but human history does seem to bear out our view. It is hard, if not impossible, to think of a society for which rampant homosexuality was not a symptom of impending extinction.
Additionally, we also believe, though this seems obvious, that living in a healthy and vital society with a long-term future is more valuable than living in a doomed one. Thus it is our belief that societal acceptance of homosexual marriage will, in time, worsen the quality of our own lives and those of our children here in the United States. Let us make it as clear as we can: We oppose homosexual marriage because it will ultimately harm the land we love and lower the quality of life for those many millions for whom we have great compassion.
Look at it this way: we are advising all the occupants of our lifeboat to discourage some individuals from drilling small holes through the hull. They have their own reasons for wanting to drill those holes, and those small holes may not appear immediately to imperil the vessel, but in time, make no mistake, they will sink us.
Let us move onto the second grenade which lies fizzling at our feet. The Reform rabbi charged that when we oppose homosexual marriage because the Bible views homosexuality as a sin, we use faith merely to advance a political agenda. That is like saying that because he quoted Scripture while fighting segregation, the Rev. Martin Luther King used faith to advance a political agenda. Civil rights was not any more a “political agenda” than is protecting the traditional family. They are both deep moral values. They may not be everybody’s moral values, but they are ours.
Politics is nothing more than a society applying its deepest moral values in a practical way. Without politics, citizens who disagreed with one another would resort to guns and knives. However, the system of politics does depend upon treating others with respect, even those with whom we disagree. Labeling us as prejudiced bigots is not respectful. You may disagree with us, but we are as entitled to our beliefs as you are to yours. America grants freedom of belief to Bible-believing Jews and Christians as well as to secular fundamentalists.
Drawing upon the Bible as a source for our deepest moral values, as we both do, does not give you license to demean our values. We do not insult those who gain their moral compass from John Locke, Karl Marx, Jean-Jacques Rousseau or the Readers Digest. We may disagree with some of those values, but we disagree on the merits of the morality, not by demeaning the source.
To us, the Bible is not a dried-up, desiccated, dusty, old volume devoid of all passion and practicality. On the contrary, to us and to millions of our fellow citizens, it is a vibrant source of life-affirming guidance, as relevant today as it was a thousand years ago. Encouraging our fellow citizens to apply these biblical values to society through the blessed mechanism of democratic politics honors the Bible. Doing so certainly does not sully it.
The rabbi’s third grenade is not even fizzling. It merely rolls across the floor looking ridiculously impotent. He charged that the past suffering of Jews and blacks provides the two of us with the “ethnic bona fides to minimize the rights pursued by others.” He betrays himself by suggesting that the merits of our argument depend upon skin pigmentation or upon tribal affiliation. No, rabbi, you are just plain wrong.
We feel confident opposing homosexual marriage not because one of us is descended from slaves in America while the other is descended from slaves in Egypt, but because the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob opposes homosexual marriage. Frankly, what baffles us both is how you, calling yourself a rabbi, can completely ignore that book which God presented to the Jews at Mount Sinai 3,317 years ago.
However, even if you choose to ignore the Torah and its guidance on homosexual behavior, millions of Americans do not. They are entitled to hold their beliefs and even to vote their beliefs without earning your antagonism.
This attack upon us has revealed the real difference between medieval Europe and modern America. Long ago, Europe’s sinister theocracies made secularism look benign. Today, here in the United States, secular fundamentalism has become sinister in how it demonizes Orthodox Jews and serious Christians. Secular fundamentalism has become its own stern faith with its own harsh doctrines, practicing intolerance for dissent and administering punishment to heretics. Thanks, rabbi … we think we understand.
Your attack upon us has done something else for which we both thank you: You have shown that the real canyon cutting through our culture is not between Jew and Christian. It is not even between black and white. It separates those of us who regard the Torah as divine and binding from those who don’t. It is as simple as that. There are Jews and Christians on both sides of that canyon, just as there are blacks and whites.
Finally, we thank you for helping our friendship grow still deeper. One black man and one white man, one Orthodox rabbi and one Christian pastor, arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder as we try our best to defend the America that our Founders intended.
Pastor Ken Hutcherson, a former Dallas Cowboy, is senior pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland, Wash. Radio and TV talk-show host Rabbi Daniel Lapin is president of Toward Tradition, a bridge-building organization providing a voice for all Americans who defend the Judeo-Christian values vital for our nation’s survival.