I am a religious person. I believe in God, the Bible is a core touchstone of my life, and I strive to live my life in accordance with the Bible's precepts, commandments and values. I am pro-life and pro-family and I vote for those candidates who I believe represent fundamental American values. I do not believe the government should be involved in my personal, religiously informed choices. I would like America to be led by a leader who has a firm moral compass, and I want America to be safe and secure.
I recently read Jane Mayer's article in the New Yorker (June 18) about Bryan Fischer, an evangelical Christian minister and radio talk-show host who works for the American Family Association. From the article's description, I think Fischer would closely identify with my self-description above, but I suspect that American citizenship is about all he and I have in common. He is a right-wing, fundamentalist evangelical Christian man. I am a left-wing, liberal, scientifically minded Jewish woman. How could we possibly espouse such similar expressions of self-identity?
"I am a religious person." I am a deeply identified Jew. I look to the Bible -- my Scriptures, the Torah -- for guidance on how to live every part of my life. I uprooted my life as a psychologist in Michigan in order to attend seminary in New York, and I was ordained as a rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2003. I am a God-fearing and God-loving religious Jew.
"I am pro-life." Yes, I am definitely in favor of life. And it is because I am a Jewish religious "pro-lifer" that I am ardently in favor of pregnant women having the right to choose an abortion. I am offended by the (profoundly un-American) efforts of some religious leaders and politicians to dictate to me through the law that I should follow their interpretation of their religion rather than my own religion's teachings. My religion teaches that a fetus is a potential human life and a pregnant woman a fully actualized human life; facilitating the healthy development of a fetus toward birth is of great importance, but protecting a pregnant woman's life is of greater importance. Abortion is permitted if it means saving the wellbeing of a woman's body or psyche. That's right, I am pro-life and pro-choice. The dichotomy between the two set up by the religious anti-choice faction is a false and dangerous one.
"I am pro-family." I think families are just great. Totally in favor of them. Decades of clinical practice have confirmed my belief that people are best off filling their need for family in some way, and for some people that way is through friends and community. People can lead full and fulfilling lives without spouses or partners, but if you are fortunate enough find a compatible lifelong companion, so much the better. If your relationship can be recognized legally as marriage so that both people can enjoy all the interpersonal, social and financial benefits thus bestowed, much better yet. That's why the true pro-family stance is that which supports marriage equality for all adults, regardless of sexual orientation.
As for my commitment to fundamental American values, the values I'm referring to emanate from the ideas of our Founding Fathers (who had diverse views of God and religion) as most clearly expressed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Perhaps there is no value more essentially American than that of separation of church and state, ensuring that the United States cannot force its citizens to live under Christian (or Jewish or Muslim or Hindu or Rastafarian) rule.
The right-wing has long been more successful than the left at effectively utilizing emotional rhetoric. (See Drew Westen's astute analysis in "The Political Brain: the Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.") The political right has, in fact, co-opted certain emotionally resonant descriptors in order to imply that their political opponents endorse opposite descriptors. They are "pro-life," so we liberals must be anti-life, i.e. in favor of death and killing. If they are "pro-family," then we are trying to corrupt and destroy families. (All that togetherness! All that love, support, intimacy -- yuck! Who needs it?) They are "values-voters"; we amoral liberals scoff "values, schmalues." That's why we want to feed the hungry, heal the sick and clothe the naked. That's why we want to provide the opportunity for everyone to have access to good health care and to education that fosters critical thinking and the acquisition of factual knowledge. That's why the religious among us endeavor to see each and every human being as created in the image of God, with the spark of the Divine radiating from within every person's soul (See Genesis 1:26-27).
It is time for us liberals to reclaim our birthright as people who are proudly pro-life (working to help people live in safety and with compassion); unabashedly pro-family (supporting all families that are bounded by love, respect and caring); and unreservedly pro-values (favoring the values modeled by Abraham, with his welcoming tent open to all, and by Isaiah, with his derision of sanctimony and his call to social action).
Finally, "I would like America to be led by a leader who has a firm moral compass, and I want America to be safe and secure." Our current president has not been a perfect president, and I have sometimes felt deeply disappointed by him. But he is a man with an abiding love for the United States and an unwavering commitment to helping as many people as possible to pursue life, liberty and happiness. And that is why I pray that come November, Barack Obama will be elected to be our president for another four years. Amen.
Laura J. Gold is a rabbi who serves as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary and a clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City.