The gay rabbi and my mother’s funeral

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There are few things more intimate than a graveside funeral service attended by a handful of family members and friends, and if I were a homophobic person, you would think that I would have been mortified at the news that the rabbi presiding at the ceremony was openly gay. The truth is that I welcomed him warmly (knowing exactly who he was), and he in turn welcomed me warmly (knowing exactly who I am). In fact, he is a regular listener to my radio broadcast, and I’m writing this article with his full permission and encouragement.

You see, it really is possible to love your gay neighbor as yourself while at the same time opposing the goals of gay activism, and it really is possible to recognize that every human being is created in the image of God (yet fallen) while at the same time having massive differences on religious, cultural and moral issues.

In the case of my precious mom’s funeral, I was told by the local funeral director that there could be a potential issue with the Jewish cemetery in New Jersey where my mother would be buried because I am a well-known Messianic Jewish leader (Messianic Jews are Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah). There was also the fact that a rabbi would conduct the ceremony at the funeral, since my sister and her son, who would also be attending, were not believers in Jesus. Would the rabbi have a problem with my participation in the service?

After meeting with the funeral director in North Carolina (where my mother passed away), I heard from the rabbi, who is Reform (which is the largest and most liberal branch of Judaism in America). He wanted me to know that he had no problem with “interfaith” services, and he assured the cemetery things would be fine. He also wanted me to know – to my absolute surprise – that he was a regular listener to my radio show. How extraordinary!

I, for my part, told him to focus on my sister and her son in terms of the ceremony, since he was especially there for them, while I would concentrate on giving the eulogy and he need not be concerned about offending me in any way.

When we finished our talk, I got online to see if I could find out more about him, and, again to my absolute surprise, I learned that he was an out and proud gay rabbi who strongly advocated LGBT-affirming synagogues.

I immediately texted him to let him know that I had read about him online and that it appeared that our lives intersected in yet another unexpected way, making me all the more eager to meet him.

You might say, “But that’s outrageous! How could you let a gay rabbi officiate at something as sacred as your mother’s funeral service?”

Actually, the rabbi was there at the request of my sister and her son, so in that respect, the ceremony was for them. But from my perspective, it was altogether fitting that, on the day of my mother’s burial, I would be standing side by side with an openly gay rabbi and that we would be treating each other with kindness and respect.

You say, “But don’t you believe what the Torah says about homosexual practice?”

Yes, I certainly do, without apology, and the rabbi, Bill Kraus, is fully aware of my position. Yet he, for his part, was quite willing to perform the ceremony for my mother, even though some rabbis once branded me “Public Enemy No. 1” because of my Jewish outreach work, while some gay activists have branded me one of the nation’s “most vicious homophobes.”

The reality is that I am not a Reform Jew and the rabbi is not a Messianic Jew, and so what brought us together last week was our shared humanity, our shared (albeit very different) Jewish heritages and our commitment to honor the memory of the dead, me as a grieving son and he as a hospice and cemetery rabbi.

I truly believe all this was ordained by God rather than coincidental, and from my perspective, it illustrated what I have said for years: My profound opposition to LGBT activism is biblical, not personal, and I truly do care about those whose agenda I resist and whose “marriages” I do not recognize.

That’s why I often recount that my first organ teacher, when I was just 7 years old, was an openly gay man named Russ, and he would often come to our house with his partner, Ed, a hair dresser. After teaching my sister and me, they would stay for dinner, and Ed would do my sister’s hair.

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These are distinct childhood memories, and this reflects the openness with which our parents raised us. My faith in Jesus and my belief in the authority of God’s Word has only deepened my love for those who identify as LGBT, and only God knows the holy tension I live with in following the mandate to “reach out and resist,” meaning to reach out to the LGBT community with compassion while resisting their agenda with courage.

As for Rabbi Kraus, my greatest desire is that he comes to recognize Jesus as our Messiah, and I imagine that one of his greatest desires would be to introduce me to his “husband” so as to lovingly challenge my views of gay couples.

In any event, the funeral service was meaningful to both of us in that it provided an unexpected opportunity in a most personal (and painful) setting to demonstrate that, while we can be deeply entrenched, ideological opponents, we are even more deeply committed to treating each other with kindness and respect, seeking to win the other over with a message of truth and love.

That’s why we have been texting each other since the funeral. That’s why Rabbi Kraus was kind enough to check on my daughter Megan and I to be sure we arrived safely home (she traveled with me to New Jersey for the funeral), and that’s why he assured me that his comments to his friends and colleagues about me were as respectful of my comments about him (he heard me speak about him on the radio after the funeral).

In that spirit, then, may I suggest a prayer that you could pray for both the rabbi and me? It would simply be, “God, bring these men into your very best plan for their lives, whatever that plan might be. Where either one is following the truth, affirm them, and where either one is following error, correct them.” I welcome that prayer warmly and believe that Rabbi Kraus would as well.

As for those who think I’m going “soft” on LGBT issues, it would appear they have not heard a single word I’ve said for the last 10-plus years. (The same would apply to my LGBT critics who would be shocked to read this article.) I do what I do because I seek to love God with all heart and love my neighbor as myself. That’s why I take the stands that I take, and that’s why I deeply care about Rabbi Kraus and his gay friends and colleagues.

Thank you in advance for praying that prayer for us.

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