Sunday, June 28, 2015

Racism, Gay Rights, and Truth in America Today (Updated 7/6/15)

With the murder of a South Carolina pastor, and eight of his students engaged in peaceful bible study, racism has once again grabbed the spotlight in America this month. Ironically, this week proved that the civil rights battle of the 60's is now a broad and permanent victory.  The nation responded with horror and empathy, and the AME church in Charleston which suffered the slaughter was heralded as an historic landmark for the development of American cultural life. Historically black churches led the way, with all of America in the supportive wake of their example: Racism is intolerable on the American stage.

This does not mean that racism is absent, but bias against skin, language, gender, sexuality or religion has become fully foreign to the mainstream of this society, and all political leaders from left to right and in between immediately spoke out against the crime.  The federal prosecutors have added bias to the docket, and none are arguing that 'bias' is not an aggravating element of violent crime anymore. Despite the bloody and murderous example, this despicable event has come to prove the fact that America has truly become a nation of not only high ideals, but follow through.

This same sweep of history saw the Supreme Court rule this week that gay marriage is a civil right afforded by the principles of the U.S. Constitution.  It is now unconstitutional for any state or local government to refuse to provide a marriage license, or to refuse to recognize a license from any other place, for a gay couple. Absolutely equality and equal protection under law have been extended to homosexuality.

Compare that to the December 17, 1963 N.Y. Times article, "Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern," which chronicles the shutting down of certain social establishments for attracting and serving "homosexuals and deviants," and its assertion that modern psychiatry had proven that homosexuality was deviant, avoidable and curable.  Just 50 years ago, the mainstream of our society treated homosexuality with disdain, pity, or persecution.  And at the same time, large segments of our society had segregated restaurants, bathrooms, buses and schools.

The advance of civil rights in this country as a peaceful movement of democracy is quite simply stunning.

This week's rulings are fully in keeping with our understanding of Judaism today. The knowledge that homosexuality is a natural phenomenon indicates that it is created by God, and therefore good. The bible also knows no race, per se, and judgement on that basis decries the image of God in all humanity. Judaism did not always universally understand these truths, but they have become self-evident. In these past 20 years we have come to accept that it is not "liberalism" that is changing the landscape, but "truth" and "justice."

Tzedek tzedek tirdof.  The prophet adjures us to seek justice incessantly. This week, we are reminded that the turning of time does bring with it changes and improvements and that both the Torah and our civil law in America are flexible to accommodate new revelations of truths. Even more so, however, it our traditional siddur that links the shema to our beliefs and proclaims Adonai Eloheikhem, emet:  The Lord your God is Truth. That which is true, scientifically, is divinely designed.

And He saw it, and it was good.

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