This is Pride Month and we’re celebrating Pride Shabbat. This is a profoundly religious matter, going to the essence of what God wants of us.
I don’t believe in a God who is cruel and closed. On the contrary, I believe in a God who says to us over and again, in every encounter with each other and with life, ‘Open your heart.’
Therefore, our holy places must be open-hearted too, from the most public, our houses of prayer, to the most intimate, our souls, because all life is sacred and God’s presence dwells within us all.
A comment by Rashi sticks in my mind. Appealing for help in finding a leader for the next generation, Moses calls on ‘the God of the spirits of all flesh,’ a phrase used only twice in the entire Torah. (Bemidbar 27: 16) Rashi explains this choice of language:
The thoughts and feelings of each human being are revealed and known to you, God, and they are all different. Appoint a leader who will bear with every person according to their particular thoughts and feelings.
The words ‘bear with’ probably reflect Moses’ weariness after forty years putting up with everybody’s foibles and frustrations. I would prefer terms like ‘listens to’, ‘appreciates’ and ‘cherishes’.
Yet this is what a LGBT+ friend just wrote to me:
Hate crimes are rising. Many of us have been shouted at in the streets, me included. Some have suffered physical violence. Trans people experience deep hurt and discomfort in our congregations and wider societal spaces. They are often without support networks due to families turning them away.
Stonewall stresses that every LGBTQ person should feel ‘safe, respected, recognised and protected in law.’…Yet ‘with every day that passes, we feel a little less safe going about our lives.’
A populist wind has blown across the world eroding tolerance and the celebration of diversities. An Israeli woman told me she now fears regularly for her safety.
A tragic consequence can be the internalisation of feelings of rejection. Stonewall is currently focussed on seeing through proposed legislation banning so-called conversion therapy. The very premise implies that people must be wrong about who they feel themselves to be. Mind notes that those undergoing such “treatment” are ‘75% more likely to plan to attempt suicide.’ A gay friend told me it took him years to accept himself fully and say the daily thanksgiving blessing for being ‘made according to God’s will.’
Religion should be the most generous and inclusive social force but has sadly often proved bigoted and cruel. Armed with powerful ancient texts, which need to be carefully re-evaluated, God is deployed against all kinds of difference: in religion, ethnicity and gender orientation.
But I believe what God seeks is not contraction but expansion of the heart. This is the very essence of what God wants from us, irrespective of our gender identity: to live with integrity, justice and generosity, faithful to God’s presence in all life.
The Talmud records how Rabbi Beroka Hoza’a meets Elijah in the marketplace of Lefet and asks him, ‘Is there anyone here worthy of the world to come?’ The prophet points to a man who, of all professions, proves to be a jailer. ‘What do you do that’s so special?’ the rabbi enquires. He explains that he protects his inmates from sexual abuse and reports threats of racist attacks to the communal authorities. (Talmud, Ta’anit 22a)
God wants us not only to protect, but to listen to, support and cherish each other, so that we can create a world of safety, trust and togetherness.