Creeping Towards Acceptance in Faith: Russian Orthodox Church, Gay Jews

The erratic and halting movements towards acceptance that I have remarked on regularly are not limited to the Western Christian churches. Two items from Box Turtle Bulletin that I had missed earlier, remind us that others too(in this case, Russian Orthodox and Orthodox Jewry) are being forced to reconsider some of their past positions.

In Russia, the Orthodox church remains opposed to “homosexuality”, but in an important move, the patriarch has clearly spoken out against discrimination, which is common in Russian society. This is significant progress, and is better than the Catholic Church has managed.

Russian Orthodox leader opposes discrimination

Gay people in Russia are subject to significant discrimination via both social and governmental oppression. Thinking of their country as a “Christian nation”, Russian leaders pride themselves in their opposition to the “satanic” practice of homosexuality.

But an important voice has now spoken out against discrimination. (Ria Novosti)

The Russian Orthodox Church condemns discrimination against sexual minorities, but treats homosexuality as a sin, Patriarch Kirill said on Wednesday.

Meeting with the secretary general of the Council of Europe, a pan-European human rights body, in his office in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in central Moscow, the Russian church leader said: “We respect the person’s free choice, including in sex relations.” (Read the full report at Box Turtle Bulletin)

The Jewish faith has many strands, from reform Judaism which can be completely welcoming and affirming, to much more conservative, even hostile positions. Here too though, there is a new openness to discussion at least, as shown by this report of a debate at Yeshiva College. (I have also seen other signs of increasing Jewish discussion elsewhere, which I have not reported on). The significance here, I think, is that this is described primarily as an exercise in “listening” – it was just such an attitude that has led Episcopalians and the ECLA over the summer to their own important shifts. Once real, sincere listening begins, onstructive change always follows.

Yeshiva University discusses homosexuality

yeshiva

Yeshiva University, the prestigious New York school for joint Torah and secular education, hosted a discussion about homosexuality on Tuesday. It proved to be quite a popular subject. (Jerusalem Post)

Organized by the YU Tolerance Club and Wurzweiler School of Social Work, the event attracted hundreds of students, graduates and faculty members. Indeed, dozens were turned away and fire officials were on hand at one point when security guards said the building had reached capacity.

Much of Judaism and the Jewish people in the United States are accepting of gay men and women and are often outspoken in favor of civil equalities. But these voices come predominantly from Reform and (more recently) Conservative Jewish communities.

However, this event revealed that some within the Orthodox community are willing to ponder whether and to what extent gay Jews fit into G-d’s order. This presentation was a beginning, not an attempt to address halakha, but rather an exercise in listening.

(More from Box Turtle Bulletin)

For a longer, moving report on the discussion aand personal testimony by the speakers, see the Jewish Star.

To a Catholic, much of the vocabulary of Orthodox Judaism will be totally unfamiliar and strange. The feelings of contradiction between formal religious teaching and our own experience, and the struggle to balance orthodoxy and integrity, will be the exact opposite – totally familiar.

Here are some extracts (all by men. Lesbians were invited to participate, but none accepted):

“I’m gay and nothing I’ve done can change that,” said Avi Kopstick, the president of Yeshiva University’s Tolerance Club and an openly gay student at the college. “I fought for six years, every Rosh Hashana, denying who I am. Every Yom Kippur with tears streaming down my face, asking G-d to take it away. My test is not that Hashem made me gay and I have to become straight, but my test is to live with it.”

***

Most of the panelists recounted suffering from depression after realizing they were gay; each underwent some form of therapy to “cure” him of homosexuality; each dated women; and each stressed that his orientation was not caused by childhood sexual abuse.

“For the record, I’ve never been sexually molested,” said Kopstick. “I had a very positive childhood.”

***

Three of the men came out in their twenties, much to their own surprise.

“I’m a hardcore Miami Dolphins fan,” said Oliver, a past student president of Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business, who asked that his last name not be published. “I work in finance and vote Republican. How am I gay?”

***

“I could envision nothing. No future. The whole future that we hope for – raising a family, [the future] of Jewish existence, all melted away,” he said when he realized he was gay. “Almost overnight, I had gone from being ‘us’ to being ‘them’.”

He remains frum, he said; coming to terms with his sexuality has helped him.

“I no longer feel like a conflicted self. I have benefited from reading articles in Tradition and online. I feel more comfortable putting on tefillin and tzitzis and davening three times a day, now that I’ve just accepted sometimes life will be full of contradictions. This is the part of the person that I am.”

Asked later during the Q and A, Josh elaborated.

“Gay men and women in general don’t have a monopoly on having issues with frumkeit,” Josh said.

***

Since graduating from Yeshiva University, Levovitz helped found JQYouth, which stands for Jewish Queer Youth. He described the group as an “agenda-less” support group of gay and lesbian Jews who come from religious backgrounds.

“Some are trying still to change, some who are gay and live with a gay lifestyle and some struggling still,” he said.



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