My husband and I attended a “Straight for Equality” event sponsored by PFLAG yesterday. PFLAG–for those who don’t know the acronym–stands for Parents, Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays; the organization has 350+ chapters in the US and abroad. “Straight for Equality” is an advocacy campaign the national organization has just launched.
The President of the national board this year is one Rabbi Horowitz, who actually was the assistant Rabbi at Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation back in the 1970s. He was an entertaining speaker, if a bit long-winded (a common “clerical error”). As he made his pitch for taking the “Straight for Equality” campaign into faith communities, he said something that struck me as both totally new and–upon reflection–self-evidently true.
He said the word of God is subject to vote.
Think about it: The way congregations read their holy books is inescapably influenced by the culture the congregants inhabit. It wasn’t so long ago that most Christian denominations read the bible to require racial segregation and the subordination of women. Some still do, but the vast majority no longer interpret the text in that way. The culture changed, and so did religious people’s understanding of God’s commandments.
When I was researching God and Country, my book about the unrecognized religious roots of contemporary policy preferences, I quickly recognized that even our most fundamentalist contemporary Christians, those who insist the bible is the literal word of God and thus unchanging (God presumably also handled the various translations), hold beliefs that would be shocking heresies to fundamentalists who lived 100 years ago.
We are all creatures of our times. We share the sensibilities of our cultures no matter how stubbornly we resist, and we bring those sensibilities to our interpretations of religious texts.
When enough members of a congregation recognize both the humanity of gay people and the justice of their claim to equality, those members’ attitudes–their “votes”– change doctrine. We’ve seen plenty of examples, as one denomination after another reinterprets rules that previously kept gays from being ordained or married. That process will inevitably continue, no matter how hysterically some try to fight it.
I had always thought of this as the process of social change. The Rabbi calls it “voting on God’s word.”
However we think about it, it reflects the reality that we humans create gods in our own image–which is a good reason to get serious about self-improvement.