The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Is renting space to Unitarians a defamation of God's name?

To the person who felt compelled to send me an anonymous letter explaining that you are cutting off support to Ahavas Israel because I am profaning the sanctity of God by allowing a church to worship in our building on Sundays: You are a coward.

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

Anonymous Letter sent to Rabbi Krishef at Congregation Ahavas Israel

Anonymous Letter sent to Rabbi Krishef at Congregation Ahavas Israel /Rabbi David J.B. Krishef

Sometimes people send me sensitive questions for the column anonymously. Like the high school teacher who wanted to know what the panel thought about the ethics of going to a nude beach. But if you want to criticize me, please sign your name. I detest anonymous messages of criticism because they do not allow for dialogue, which is the heart of this column.

I created Ethics and Religion Talk in response to an anonymous letter. Somebody left an Easter egg with a message explaining that Christianity is the only true religion, using the Hebrew Bible as its prooftext. I was angry at the coward who left this for my 12 year old daughter to find, who didn’t have the courage to stand by his or her words.

Last year I went on a trip to Israel with a man who held similar Christian beliefs, but who had the courage to sign his name to a 50 page essay he had sent me a year earlier in the mail. After a year of dialogue culminating in our trip together, I was still Jewish and he was still a devoted follower of the teaching of Martin Luther. But we have learned something about each other’s faith from the opportunity to engage in dialogue.

So – to the person who felt compelled to send me an anonymous letter explaining that you are cutting off support to Ahavas Israel because I am profaning the sanctity of God by allowing a church to worship in our building on Sundays: You are a coward. And if we are going to throw Bible verses at each other, how about “My House shall be a House of prayer for all people.” (Isaiah 56:7)

Ahavas Israel rents to a Unitarian congregation. What is it about them that you think God objects to? I would understand your criticism better if we rented to a church that put up crosses or crucifixes in our sanctuary. But All Souls Community Church is not Christian. They are as monotheistic as we are. Although we have different conceptions of God, their conception is well within the wide range of Jewish theologies. If you object to a non-Orthodox approach to Torah, you might also criticize us for partnering with the Reform Temple Emanuel to educate our children. But since you didn’t have the courage to sign your letter, we’ll never be able to engage in this dialogue directly.

How long has your family been supporting Ahavas Israel? You should know that we’ve been renting to All Souls for more than 13 years. I suspect that we were renting to them when you started contributing. Since your past contributions have been anonymous, we have not had the opportunity to thank you for your support. Please know, however, that we did appreciate it. We, like each of the institutions represented by the Ethics and Religion Talk panelists, rely on donations to carry out our mission. We gratefully accept contributions from people who support the kind of Jewish experience we bring to Grand Rapids. We are the only synagogue offering traditional, egalitarian worship and practice, according to Judaism’s Conservative movement. I’m happy to tell you more about what that means … but that requires a dialogue, not an anonymous one-way missive. I’m sorry you didn’t have the courage to sign your name so we could have that dialogue.

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

I deeply regret learning of an anonymous letter being sent to the Rabbi critical of All Souls’ presence at Congregation Ahavas Israel’s sanctuary on Sunday mornings. I agree with Rabbi David in that this approach does not allow for a dialogue. I would welcome a cup of coffee with the three of us to discuss my faith and our relationship with Ahavas. I consider our relationship to be one of our greatest strengths as a congregation. It serves as a testimony of our commitment to truly live out our faith in practice. To share a house of worship for 13 years is in complete alignment with our beliefs and the 7 Principles of our UU faith.

It is true, as the Rabbi has stated, most people do not consider Unitarian Universalism to be a Christian faith. Unitarian means the belief in a monotheistic understanding of God and not a Trinitarian understanding of God. Universalism means universal salvation; all souls will go to heaven. We are also a covenantal faith like Judaism; we do not recite any creed; for us it is all about our relationship with each other. As a faith All Souls has more in common with Ahavas than we have differences. For 13 years we have grown into a better understanding of one another. Clearly we believe and practice our faiths quite differently and in that difference we have gained great respect for one another. Both congregations should be proud of our partnership. The world needs more of this to happen.

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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