Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Two different visions on division

How to handle the ordination of gays is an issue that many religious communities are wrestling with. Certainly, my own Presbyterian church has had several heated summit meetings on the topic, with much concern that it could split the denomination in two -- see, e.g., this deferral of a more open policy, and this example of a local Presbytery torn apart by disagreement. Most denominations are still struggling to balance their desire to defer to Biblical teachings with their desire to accept the heartfelt commitment of homosexual members, especially in light of more recent medical and psychological views.

Thus, I found fascinating the recent decision of an important group of Conservative Jewish rabbis, brought to my attention by a friend. star of DavidSpecifically, their highest legal body passed conflicting resolutions, one in favor of the ordination of gay rabbis, and two against. (This is possible because rulings require not a majority, but merely a minimum number, in this case 6/25.) On its face, this could be viewed as a ludicrous result, or as an abdication of authority. But in fact, as my friend explained, it is consistent with the long Jewish tradition of respecting a diverse range of arguments and interpretations of its text and laws. By voting to endorse two opposing views, the council was saying, in essence, that intelligent people of good conscience can disagree. It is up to the individual synagogue (and presumably seminary) to consider the issues and reach its own decision -- to weigh the arguments and decide whose guidance they trust.

It's a fascinating third way. On the one hand, I find the "we won't always agree" position quite instructive and human. On the other hand, I'm not sure that every congregation wants to have to handle this struggle on its own; that's one of the reasons that they elect governing bodies. The effect may merely be to trickle down the dissent and division. But if the local groups have the same view as their leaders -- that it's not a matter of waiting for consensus to emerge, but of choosing among similarly valid viewpoints -- then perhaps they can survive even internal dissent. Anyway, it will be interesting to find out.

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