Oy. The leader of American Reform Judaism, the largest branch of Judaism in the country, wants you to know that he’s pissed.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, said “religious right” leaders believe “unless you attend my church, accept my God and study my sacred text you cannot be a moral person.”
“What could be more bigoted than to claim that you have a monopoly on God?” he said during the movement’s national assembly in Houston, which runs through Sunday.
He used particularly strong language to condemn conservative attitudes toward homosexuals. He said he understood that traditionalists have concluded gay marriage violates Scripture, but he said that did not justify denying legal protections to same-sex partners and their children.
“We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations,” Yoffie said. “Yes, we can disagree about gay marriage. But there is no excuse for hateful rhetoric that fuels the hellfires of anti-gay bigotry.”
The Union for Reform Judaism represents about 900 synagogues in North America with an estimated membership of 1.5 million people. Of the three major streams of U.S. Judaism — Orthodox and Conservative are the others — it is the only one that sanctions gay ordination and supports civil marriage for same-gender couples.
Yoffie said liberals and conservatives share some concerns, such as the potential damage to children from violent or highly sexual TV shows and other popular media. But he said, overall, conservatives too narrowly define family values, making a “frozen embryo in a fertility clinic” more important than a child, and ignoring poverty and other social ills.
Oy squared. I thought I wouldn’t hear a major religious leader angrier than Abe Foxman for another week at least. Yoffie’s religious pluralim reflects what I remember of Reform Judaism, which the more conservative branches think of more or less as circumcised Unitarians, but the anger seems like something new. It means something when a leader of one of the most easygoing religious branches in America comes out sounding more like a blogger, or like one of the frothy fundy types that he’s railing against. Has fundamentalism really pushed America this close to open religious war? Yes, I guess it has.
On a practical level, for maximum message effectiveness I still think that the critics need to bring on some other mainline religion such as the UCC. It makes even more sense when you remember that the UCC has no problem stepping into the right side of the gay debate. The Dalai Lama seems to be on board as well, for whatever good that does. At the very least, in today’s religion wars it’s great to see another organized squad playing defense.
On a side note, you have to wonder how the internet will react to this story. In one short blurb you have scrambled together some of the greatest flamebait in internet history: gay rights, the religious right, joooooos and a Hitler reference that would make Godwin spin circles in his grave (assuming that he’s dead, which he’s probably not). Have at it, but try not to melt the server.