In these times of aggression, terrorism and violence between religious factions, it is rare to see the the most pious leaders of Christian, Jewish and Muslim fundamentalism unite as they did to halt a small gay pride parade scheduled for November 10, 2006 in Jerusalem. LifeSite news reported on the Vatican press release:
“The Holy See has reiterated on many occasions that the right to freedom of expression, sanctioned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is subject to just limits, in particular when the exercise of this right would offend the religious sentiments of believers,”
The BBC described ‘Sodom’ fears:
One Muslim cleric suggested gay events in Jerusalem would attract divine wrath similar to that which destroyed the biblical city of Sodom.
And the anti-Zionist group True Torah Jews released an email alert that contained this statement from spokesman Rabbi Joseph Dershowitz:
“The Zionist made it their goal to replace the eternal Jewish religion with empty nationalism. They discarded the age-old Jewish hope for the redemption of the messiah and replaced it with a political military achievement. They discarded the Jewish reverence for the Holy Land and longing for Jerusalem and the Temple, and replaced it with a secular, democratic country in which sin and immorality are defended as legal rights. It is only natural that this total disrespect for all that is sacred to the Jewish people should culminate in their trampling openly and proudly on the laws of immoral relationships called by the Torah “abominations”, acts that even the most assimilated Jews in past generations would never have dreamed of committing.”
Time Magazine aptly summed up the event:
In the end, the clash between gays and the keepers of Jerusalem’s three faiths “” in a rare display of solidarity, rabbis, priests and Muslim clerics in the holy city all united against the parade “” was averted because of security fears. (Hatred of homosexuality, it seems, is the one thing that unites Islam, Judaism and Christianity in the fractious Holy City.)
It is no small coincidence that two local anti-gay activists, one Jewish and the other Mormon (in the mold of Mitt Romney?) joined with a Muslim activist to promote a Piety Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. See transcribed op-ed below.
Put The Focus On Virtue
Leesburg Today – November 17, 2006
For in the fairness of these pursy times
Virtue itself of vice must pardon beg…
Religion and politics has emerged in recent years as an intensely significant issue in election cycles, this last one being no different. Generally speaking, this phenomenon simply highlights the fact that faith has always been and still is a powerful motivator in individual lives and thus in the political questions of the day. However, the headlines dance around a more salient point: the strong nexus between religion, virtue and social stability.
Revered statesmen and philosophers have argued that only religion successfully instills virtue over generations, which in turn is necessary for a republican form of government. We agree. Indeed, virtue has always been effective at preventing many of the social ills that vex us. Such internal self policing is much more productive than constantly repairing ourselves from the consequences of those maladies.
Polls and studies consistently proclaim that we are a very religious nation. In fact, a Baylor University poll released several months ago regarding American religiousness found just 10.7 percent of the electorate categorizes itself as “non-religious,” ten million less than previously thought. And a 2003 Harris Poll revealed that some 90 percent of Americans believe in God. Furthermore, we are a generous and tolerant people, characteristics which some would identify as the hallmarks of true religion.
On the other hand, a slice of daily American life may also reveal evidence of a broad failure to be “doers of the word and not hearers only.” According to a 2005 Rasmussen Reports survey, only half of us pray while other studies reveal that only 20 percent of Americans attend church. A 2005 San Diego State University study revealed that in 1943 America, only 12 percent of young women approved of premarital sex; in 1999, a whopping 73 percent sanction it. The average person watches more than four hours of television per day, certainly a slap in the face to a nominal work ethic. The profileration and prevalence of vice, including pornography, selfishness, wantonness and violence is startling. Though not unique, their pervasiveness and intentensity seem greater than before and the costs are becoming too high: See Bailey, Colorado; Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania; and the National Law Center for Children and Families fact that 86 percent of rapists admit to using pornography regularly, for some examples.
Despite the discouraging trends, we still believe that exacting American religion–our churches, synagogues and temples–is the best way to preserve virtue and indeed, America. In this spirit we offer two suggestions, one private and the other public. While they may seem quixotic at first glance, if one considers America’s historical tendency to right herself, as historian Barbara Tuchman has noted, and the general agreement on the importance of religion by both sides of the aisle, they may also be politically within reach.
First, we think it would be helpful if the religious leaders of all faiths and denominations in America organized themselves into a sort of “virtue-keeping” group. Certainly, there are differences among the great religions and some issues. However, the particupants could define a “short list” of essential virtues that are supported by both history and religion, evaluate trends, discuss successful efforts to encourage virtue, and lend their collective weight on issues of the day.
Second, we do believe that the government has a rightful and necessary place in virtue-keeping, though a limited one. President John Adams provided insight when he wrote in the Massachusetts constitution that it is the “right as well as the duty of all men in society, publicly, and at stated seasons to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe.” A federal constitutional amendment declaring something to the effect that lives of conscious and exacting piety are essential to the future of America while at the same time reaffirming that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”, would draw an important line in the sand.
This is neither an invitation to reinstate legislation or executive branch rules in the spirit of the old Blue Laws nor a desire for the establishment an American-style Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, used viscously by the Taliban. There will be no rules or laws, thus need for any enforcement; rather, it is an exhortation that comes with a trust in a collective understanding of America’s storied past and hopeful future.
While these steps are not a panacea, we believe without them all other fixes will fall short because they ultimately address symptoms, not the disease. It may very well be that we are unwilling or willing but unable to re-enthrone demanding religion as the keeper of our society’s supporting virtues. But this should not prevent us from attempting to secure a promising American future.
Kenneth Reid, member of Sha’are Shalom synagogue
Ahmed Saad, co-founder of the Islamic Society of Leesburg Area Muslims
Chris Stevenson, co-founder of Virginia Parent PAC
[All views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and should not be construed as official positions of the synagogue, mosque or church with which the authors affiliate.]