A Voice from North Carolina

Image: The Black Mountains of North Carolina. Public domain.

Rabbi Stephen Roberts is a colleague and dear friend who wrote a guest editorial for the Boone, NC newspaper, the Watauga Democrat. It appeared on the paper’s website today.  I share it because the situations of lesbians, gay men, transgender persons and bisexuals in North Carolina and Mississippi are much on my mind and in my prayers.

To my Christian readers: I ask that you read this thoughtfully, prayerfully, and consider sharing it.

To all my readers: I welcome discussion, but please as always keep it kind.

– Rabbi Ruth Adar

Jesus’ Teachings Conflict With State Law

As a rabbi, I have always viewed Jesus of Nazareth as a rabbinic colleague of mine from two millennium ago. While studying at seminary, I wrote my 125 pages rabbinic thesis on his words: “The Lord’s Prayer.” He is referred to as “rabbi” 16 different times in Scripture Christians call the “New Testament.”

In Mark 12:31, Jesus, the rabbi, taught: “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” In Judaism, our similar teaching by the Rabbi Hillel, of the same period, is: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

What then would Jesus do in the following case: Jesus, I and your own pastor/priest/reverend are out to dinner. We have ordered and are about to be served. The owner of the restaurant comes over to our table, and in front of your clergy and Jesus, I am told I will not be served. Further, I am asked to leave and told not to return. The reason given is that the owner had found out I was gay and he did not serve “queers.” I ask you: “What would Jesus do?” Would he agree with this person? I think Mark 2:15 provides the answer. Jesus, the rabbi, would fight for the right of each person in North Carolina — no matter how they are viewed by those around them — to be able to eat a meal in a public facility without having to worry about the discriminatory refusal of service — as can legally take place today here in the state.

I ask you further — what would Jesus do if he and I came to your town to teach about the Lord’s Prayer. When we went to register at the hotel, I am told by the manager that they will not rent me a room because I was gay. Further, he was going to call every hotel in the region and alert them to my being gay so that I would not have a room anywhere in the area. Mark 12:31 makes it clear that Jesus would be horrified that this was both allowed and legal.

Time and time again, Rabbi Jesus went against society to protect those on the margins. He spent his life working to keep them safe, to make sure they were treated well — no matter if society saw them as “sinners.”

Today, here in North Carolina, the state I work in as a rabbi by serving a congregation, I can be refused service and also be removed from any restaurant in the state because I am gay. It is not against the law. Today, here in North Carolina, I can be refused service at any supermarket, pharmacy, gas station, just because I am gay. I can be fired from a job. I can be refused admittance to a college. I can even be denied health care services from hospitals, nursing homes, doctors and nurses.

To treat me this way, to discriminate against me, as someone Jewish is illegal. However, to treat me this way as someone who is gay — is completely legal in North Carolina. The state legislature just passed House Bill 2 and the governor signed the bill, keeping this discrimination the law of the state.
I am left to ask each of you: “What would Jesus do?”

Rabbi Stephen Roberts, MBA, BCC

Rabbi Roberts’ family have deep roots in the Appalachians. He and his family have summered here for more than five decades, he has immediate family that are year-rounders and he is in his third year serving a congregation in the region.

Lag B’Omer and Marriage Equality

Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue sk...
Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue skies and the sun. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s Lag B’Omer, a brief moment of lightness during the intense count of the Omer from Passover to Shavuot.  Tonight there are bonfires, tomorrow tykes will get their first haircuts.

After the vote for the hideous Amendment One in North Carolina this week, I was braced for a glum Lag B’Omer.  I hate feeling like a second-class citizen, and it’s pretty clear that’s exactly what I and other LGBTQ folk are in the Tar Heel State.

Then the news came over the car radio that President Obama had finally spoken in favor of marriage equality.  I honestly never thought I’d see the day when a sitting American President would speak up for us, much less one in the midst of a campaign.  The news made me feel light-headed: I actually pulled off the road and sat for a bit, until I settled down a bit.  I’m happy, and surprised, and grateful.

As for the folks in NC:  I wish I could talk to them.  I wish I could say to the Christians of North Carolina who fought so hard to pass Amendment One, do you remember your forebears?  Many of your spiritual ancestors fled Europe because the lived in places where Baptists, or Methodists, or Catholics were not free to worship as they wished. They came to this country, and eventually set up a government where they carefully separated religion and state.  They understood that that meant that this country would never enshrine their religious beliefs in law, and they wanted it that way.  They did not want to risk ever again being a persecuted minority, nor did they want anyone else in that position for their religious beliefs.

I am a Reform Jew.  Reform Judaism affirms the sacredness of marriage between two individuals regardless of gender.  My sweetheart and I have a ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) on our wall.  We are married in the eyes of God and our congregation and the Reform Movement.  Unfortunately our state and our federal government has chosen not to honor our marriage, because the religious majority in our country holds that homosexuality is a sin.  Reform Judaism is not the only religion that recognizes as sacred the union between two men or two women who vow to be responsible for one another for life:  the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalists, and the Alliance of Baptists also recognize same-sex marriage.

I am beginning to hope that I may see the day when this unfairness is no longer with us, when the intention of the founders of our government is honored.  I hope I will see the day when religion and state are truly separate.  In the meantime, I am glad that President Obama spoke up.

In the meantime, I will celebrate this moment of lightness in a long journey, this Lag B’Omer.