By: Rabbi Shahi Held
It is now four days since the heinous attack in Orlando. In the world of cable news, an eternity has already passed. But for those of us entrusted with caring for students and congregants, the story is only now beginning to unfold—and the pain being expressed is simply searing. As a friend and colleague wrote to me yesterday, as a queer person, “I feel completely burned, charred, incinerated, like my life has been destroyed, like the world was not created for me.”
So what should we say to our congregants? If ever there was a moment to put theological differences and Jewish legal disputes—real as they are—on the back burner, this is surely it. When someone writes that they feel degraded, invisible, insignificant, unvalued, Jewish theology teaches us to respond with love.
With that, a response:
An Open Letter to People Who Are LGBTQ
These are excruciating days in America, but I imagine that they are particularly painful for you.
I’d like to share a message that I believe lies at the very heart of Jewish theology: God loves you. (Don’t let anyone tell you that this idea is exclusively Christian; it isn’t.)
Rabbi Akiva, one of Judaism’s greatest sages, tells us that each and every human being is beloved by God because we are—all of us, without exception—created in the image of God. In other words, you don’t need to earn God’s love; it is given to you with your existence, the gift of a loving God.
No amount of hatred or bigotry can ever change that simple but stunning fact: As a human being, you matter, and matter ultimately.
One of the biggest problems with religion is that people stubbornly, insistently reduce God to their own size; they imagine that God loves the same people they love, and that God hates the people they hate. This is not just insidious theology; it’s actually idolatry, because people are just worshiping a blown-up version of themselves. So let me say it simply: God’s love transcends all of that.
When your parents reject you, God loves you; when your friends or classmates make fun of you, God loves you; when your priest, minister, imam, or rabbi tells you that you are an abomination, God loves you; when politicians cater to people’s basest prejudices, God loves you. No matter how many times and in how many ways people make you feel less than human, God knows otherwise, and God loves you. When you feel frightened, or abandoned, or humiliated, I hope the unshakeable conviction that God loves you can help hold you and enable you to persevere.
What it really means to be a religious person is to strive to love the people God loves — which means, ultimately, to try to love everyone. Where this is concerned, the history of human civilization is filled with one horrific failure after another. White people still struggle to see that people of color are no less human, and no less precious than they; people who are wealthy often forget that people who are poor are no less human, and no less precious, than they; people who are able-bodied all too often fail to see that people with disabilities are no less human, and no less precious, than they; and yes, people who are straight are just beginning to see that people of varying sexual orientations and identities are no less human, and no less precious, than they. As a theologian and a pastor, I would just like to beg you: Don’t let other people’s confusions and biases make you forget. God loves you, and you are no less human, and no less precious than anyone else.
As a straight man, I want to say without equivocation: I stand with you. And I hope that every person who has ever considered me their teacher stands with you as well. And I look forward to the day when humanity as a whole can stand together and say with one voice: each and every one of us is created in the image of God, and is therefore infinitely valuable. No one of us is less human, or less precious than any other.
In these dark days, I extend to you my heart as well as my hand. More people are with you than perhaps you know, or even imagine. May God bless you.