It’s not too often that a quote from a female Rabbi makes one think of a popular, male, dead, ancient Rabbi-like character about whom who have virtually no real knowledge. But whether or not we have any legitimate record of this guy, we have not been stopped from developing our own fairly deep understandings of who he was, what he did and stood for, etc. Jesus of Nazareth means different things to different people, and we form our individual opinions largely based on our own needs, wants, experiences, obligations, fears, intellects, etc. So I wonder who folks out there think this sounds like…
In a recent interview (for the full article click here), Rabbi Toby Manewith, of Washington D.C.’s Bet Mishpachah synagogue, mentioned that behavior of radical welcome grows out of “[an individual’s] experience of being on the outside.” She added, “Everyone who comes [to her synagogue], no matter [who they are], everyone is welcomed with open arms.”
This may come as a surprise to some readers, but that sounds like Jesus to me. From what I can tell, Jesus was an outsider his entire life. And his experience on the outside translated into a spirit of radical welcome and inclusion. By sharing his table with even the most despised in society, Jesus welcomed everyone with open arms no matter who they were. Sinners and saints of all stripes were welcomed, embraced, and loved by Jesus. And Jesus emphasized that especially those who are different from us are to be loved, embraced, and welcomed.
The welcoming congregation about which Rabbi Manewith is speaking is made up primarily of those who are used to being on the outside. Her synagogue, like the other houses of worship mentioned in the article linked above, is made up of primarily LGBT persons. Those LGBT persons have shared in Jesus’ experience as an outsider. And those LGBT persons have heeded (whether they know it or not) Jesus call to love. Just as was Jesus’ experience, and just as Rabbi Manewith said, these wonderful people’s radical welcome has come from their “experience of being on the outside.” Not only that, but the radical welcome, embrace, and love expressed by these primarily LGBT houses of worship is seeping into their communities and extending to those people who are different – straight men and women.
Here are Rabbi Manewith’s exact words: “Everyone who comes here, no matter their sexual or gender identity, religious affiliation or knowledge, everyone is welcomed with open arms. And she added: “You’d hope that would happen in all religious communities, but the truth is it’s not an easy thing to put into practice.”
She is right. It is most definitely not easy to welcome, embrace, and love sinners and saints of all stripes. It’s so difficult that people have crafted clever sayings to relieve themselves of some of the responsibility. Take for example the awful phrase, “hate the sin, love the sinner,” which, due to our inherent inability to separate the two, subtly functions – at best – as an excuse to shirk our responsibility to welcome, embrace, and love everyone – at worst it brings us to hate.
This call to unconditional love is even more difficult when the people we are to love are different from us. If they’re not us we tend to see others as merely them, and our embrace chills as our love wanes. And this difficulty is magnified further when the people we are to love are members of a group of people who have persectued us, our friends, and our families – again, just like in the case of Jesus and the LGBT community. Jesus must have know difficult such love is to express and to mean. That’s what made him a radical. Indeed, we know this was difficult for Jesus be even he failed at times in this regard. But interestingly, the best example we have of his failure in this regard is the result of the behavior of those who would not be so warm and welcoming as Rabbi Manewith and her congregants. For a moment, Jesus loses his love and lashes out at people who would embrace only those who would conform to their embrace, and shut the doors of their homes and places of worship to outsiders, and forget love for the sake of the specifics of sin, etc. Jesus who taught the welcome, embrace, and love of all loses his love when he is confronted with those who do not welcome, embrace, and love all.
It is very difficult to love everyone. It is most difficult to those who are different from us. But, if one ever asks with seriousness, What Would Jesus Do, the answer must certainly be welcome, embrace, and love – and all of it unconditionally. It seems if we were to ask, What Would The LGBT Community Do, we would get the same answer. Who/what else would give us the same answer? Would you? Or does that not sound like Jesus to you?