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Delivering a Sermon of Equality in Greensboro

This post comes from HRC Religion and Fiath Program Coordinator Joanna Blotner:

I had the honor of delivering the sermon this past Friday night at Temple Emanuel’s annual LGBT Shabbat.  Temple Emanuel has a long and vibrant history of social justice activism and community investment in LGBT equality both in Greensboro and nationwide – they are truly a model of what it means to be a welcoming synagogue and an advocacy-minded congregation. 

Below are highlights from my sermon:

“This week’s Torah portion is L’ech L’cha. It is the story of God’s call to Abram, or Abraham as he is later known, to leave his home for ‘the land I will show you.’  So begins Abram’s journey from a common man to the father of the Jewish people.  L’ech L’cha is one of the Torah’s quintessential portions of transformation, of coming into your own and of having faith in a promise far beyond present comprehension. It is the first of many journey and transformation stories we read each year and seems oddly fitting for an LGBT Shabbat and for the kairos moment that we find ourselves in for equal rights here in North Carolina.  

Whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, straight, or otherwise identified, we all have our own journeys to take to understand, accept and love ourselves and one another… There is a real beauty, I find, in the coming out process and in the journey that many of my LGBT friends have experienced to come to a place of love and peace with of their own sexual orientation or gender identity.  Though not always easy to take this journey it is a profound opportunity for self-transformation and in the process to inspire others to a deeper sense of compassion, open mindedness and justice – what a unique blessing!

My journey, as an ally for equality began, when I interned at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism as a senior in high school. Though I was aware of some of the struggles LGBT people faced, the RAC opened my eyes to the pervasive homophobia, transphobia and codified discrimination in society…  My commitment to equality was deepened by my many friends who came out after high school… and I knew then that I couldn’t be satisfied just be an ally, I needed to do something more!  And so I embarked on my own journey from ally to advocate…

There’s a wonderful midrash, one I typically use in relation to environmental advocacy, but I think there is a poignant lesson to be drawn here as well about the distinction between what it means to be an ally and an advocate for justice:

‘When Noah came out of the ark, he opened his eyes and saw the whole world completely destroyed. He began crying for the world and said, God, how could you have done this? ... God replied, Oh Noah, how different you are from the way Abraham... will be. He will argue with me on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah when I tell him that I plan their destruction... But you, Noah, when I told you I would destroy the entire world, I lingered and delayed, so that you would speak on behalf of the world. But when you knew you would be safe in the ark, the evil of the world did not touch you. You thought of no one but your family. And now you complain? Then Noah knew that he had sinned.’ (Midrash Tanchuma, Parashat Noach)

Come May, will you look back and say you were like Noah or like Abraham?  When there is an opportunity to intervene and make a difference in the outcome of this ballot measure, will you be engaged?  What will your journey be?

Many ponder why it was Abraham, and not Noah, who God called to be the father of the Jewish nation. For me, it is this midrash which personifies God’s thinking and the distinction between these two figures.  It is not enough just to be righteous, like Noah.  Like Abraham, one must be an advocate for justice, even in the face of great odds.  This is the history and the calling of the Jewish people and now, more than ever, North Carolina needs your commitment to equality and your advocacy for LGBT social justice… I implore each of you to what you can to defeat the harmful anti-LGBT constitutional amendment on the ballot here in May... 

Shabbat Shalom”

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