It has become axiomatic that to be a Jew is to care about the world around us. To be a Reform Jew is to be engaged in the ongoing work of tikkun olam, striving to improve the world. The ancient command to seek justice has led to a long and proud tradition of political activism by the Reform Movement. But, here is a challenge –within this framework, how can we make space for and respect politically diverse voices in our Movement, and in our own congregation, including politically conservative Reform Jews? Several of us who attended the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) Biennial in December had a chance to hear how the Religious Action Center (RAC) and Commission on Social Action (CSA) address this issue and this allowed me to consider how we do the same at CBHT.
The CSA, a joint commission of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Union for Reform Judaism, provides guidance to the Movement as it faces the challenge of applying our progressive Jewish values to public affairs. It oversees the work of RAC in Washington. At Biennial, the senior leaders of RAC and CSA spoke to the importance of consulting thoughtful conservatives who share our enduring Jewish values.
They regularly turn to politically conservative Reform Jewish leaders to vet position papers and resolutions on topics that are ultimately voted on at the Biennial’s General Assembly. In doing so, they ensure that the basis of our stance on any issue is religiously informed, not politically motivated. The resolutions adopted by the URJ do not bind the members of individual congregations, nor do they presume to speak for all.
Joining a Reform congregation does not mean that one subscribes to a particular political perspective. In any group, there will be divergent opinions.
How then, do we as a congregation assure that members with conservative views feel like they have a voice? One speaker suggested that equating community with homogeneity is flawed reasoning, and that the bonds of faith should be strong enough within a community to sustain disagreement. I personally have made the mistake of assuming that everyone in our temple community shares my progressive political views. In doing so, I found out that I offended people who deserve to feel as connected and supported in our community as anyone else. In fact, it is a community’s responsibility to make all members feel connected all the more when there is disagreement. Our rabbi’s right to “freedom of the pulpit” brings with it acceptance of our members’ right to respond, or their “freedom of criticism.”
Reform Judaism does stand for certain principles. Many members of our congregation take pride in our long history of “speaking truth to power. It should be expected that our congregation will bring our progressive, reform Jewish values to bear in the community at large. We will be engaged on issues of local, national and global concern; we will participate in interfaith coalitions and activities; we will speak out on behalf of the vulnerable.
This is who we are. Our politically conservative members have made a decision about the totality of the Reform Movement and about our congregation. There is something that draws them to Reform Judaism, despite the stance we take on certain issues. I have learned that, the way to respect those voices in our congregation is to be curious. Batting around issues with our conservative members will certainly result in a deeper understanding of all sides of those issues. And, approaching those discussions from a place of trust that our religious values transcend our politics will result in a meaningful, respectful discussion that will strengthen our community.
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