In a free, Democratic society, social change is almost inevitable. But not all people of faith agree with the direction of modern life, and changes that some see as progress, others see as a challenge to sincerely held religious beliefs. This week's clergy discuss how to address societal changes that may conflict with religious convictions.
Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, director, Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island, Commack:
Judaism embraces social change and views it as one of the basic goals of humanity, ensuring that societies will better serve the needs of their citizens, and God's plan for the world. In this context, the Jewish people are tasked with being a light unto the nations by role-modeling a life of peace, serenity and values infused with divine wisdom, as prescribed in the Torah, which was given to us over 3,300 years ago. Since that moment, we have been the residents of many lands and worked hard for all types of social change. But we don't expect that all change is going to be in sync with Torah values. One of the secrets of Jewish survival is the ability to be strong in our beliefs, regardless of the changes going on around us. Our belief system defines who we are, especially since we believe it comes from God. As such, the winds of time should not redefine us. With that said, we don't judge or reject those who do embrace these changes. We respect their right to choose as they see fit. And just as we do not try to impose our belief system on the will of others, we trust that others will not try to force their belief system on us. There is a mutual respect in which we seek as much common ground as we can find, and accept that there will be areas of disagreement. That is a healthy relationship. We are thankful and proud that America is a "nation of kindness," as the Lubavitcher Rebbe referred to it -- a country that strives in a democratic fashion to do the will of all its people.
The Rev. Randolph Jon Geminder, rector, St. Mary's Church, Amityville:
This is indeed a thorny question, as we find ourselves in a time when such clashes are not merely encountered in the realm of various religious and social groups, but now involve momentous changes in the very law of the land. The most simple answer would be, "With patience, tolerance and personal resolve." Point being, to accept the reality of living in our diverse and pluralistic country, while not being intimidated into denying what we believe in our soul to be the very truth of God. The issue, obviously, that looms largest is the redefinition of the appropriate participants in marriage. All the sympathetic journalists and U.S. Supreme Court judges in the universe cannot erase arguably five millennia of Judeo-Christian morality. To believe otherwise would be positively Orwellian. Let us hope that people of good will do not label those whose opinions differ from theirs as haters, and still can respect one another, even in the midst of conflicting walks in life. From our Litany of Penitence (Anglican Prayer Book), used on Ash Wednesday, comes the verse: "For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those who differ from us: Accept our repentance Lord." Perhaps that says it all.
Scott Salvato, director of Campus Ministries, Molloy College, Rockville Centre:
No one has ever lived in a time when they said to themselves, "The world and its people are exactly as I would have them." It seems the eternal state of man that he grows up feeling that the world around him is foreign to him -- or that as he ages the world dramatically changes around him. What must it have been like to be someone who believed in the inherent God-given dignity of each person and live one's whole life among millions of black slaves? How did one keep from going mad at the injustice of it? And yet, slavery came to an end. Segregation ended too. Today, we have a black president who was born less than 100 years after the last slave was freed. It's a stunning pace of social change -- and it touches every corner our society. But not every change is good. I doubt very many people today think that the rise of a drug culture in America, or the growth of widespread divorce and out-of-wedlock births has been on the whole a cause of happiness. These were very rare to previous generations. But we have had to adjust. For untold ages, people have bemoaned the decline of society and looked back to some golden age -- or looked forward to some great utopia. Those who find their cherished beliefs are different from the world around them have to do what people have always had to do -- persevere in seeking to know what is true and to do what is right.