A few years ago I was out having dinner with my orthodox, gay, Jewish brother when a religious man walked over to me and asked if I was Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. From his aggressive posture I knew in my gut that I should not respond in the affirmative but was simply too tired to lie. So I said, yes, I was he. "I think you're a dog and a disgrace to religion." After offering a short, "Ruff, ruff," I asked him what I had done to so offend him. He said, "You call yourself a Rabbi but you're always out defending gays whom the Bible clearly says are an abomination." I tried to reason with the man but his hatred for me was such that I had to let it go.
What I experienced that day had happened often enough to me to kind of get used to it. But the irony was that my brother was sitting right there and he too has had to endure, since coming out in his late teens, the ugliness of some religious people treating him with vitriol. Still, he has held tightly on to his Jewish faith and its rituals and leads a charitable, compassionate life. He will not allow religious haters to tell him whether or not he is allowed a relationship with God.
This painful story came to mind when I read of former Senator Chuck Hagel's radical opposition, in 1998, to James Hormel, President Bill Clinton's choice to be ambassador to Luxembourg, on the grounds that Hormel was "openly, aggressively gay." Here was a United States senator abusing his power and refusing to allow a nomination for an Ambassadorship to go ahead simply because the man was gay. And yes, I am well aware of the fact that Hagel has apologized, albeit 13 years later, when political expediency would demand it.
Now, I understand that Luxembourg is an extremely vital diplomatic post and that our chief diplomat there is an essential cog in the larger wheel of national security. But just what was Hagel worried about?
If the issue was that Hormel was not living in accordance with Biblical teachings, then neither was the President of the United States in that fateful year of 1998. Besides, America is a country with separation of Church and State. So a man's unwillingness to live in accordance with all the laws of the Bible should surely not weigh in any decision as to his worthiness for public office.
And unlike the President of the United States who was guilty of a moral infraction in deceiving his wife through infidelity, homosexuality is a religious sin that is not a moral infraction since no one is being lied to. The ban on homosexuality in the Bible is similar to the ban on lighting fire on the Sabbath. There is nothing immoral about it, but it contravenes religious law.
Perhaps Hagel was saying that, regardless, a man who openly defies the dictates of the Bible cannot be trusted in a public role. But then the Bible also says, regarding Israel and the Jewish people, "Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you." (Numbers 24:9). But that did not stop Hagel from referring to pro-Israel activists as "the Jewish lobby," with its Protocols of Zion overtones of Jewish manipulation of world affairs, and offered the further slur of saying that "the Jewish lobby intimidated lawmakers." We can only hope that their intimidation is not as severe as those who are openly, aggressively gay.
The Bible further says concerning Israel, "For thus said the Lord of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye." (Zechariah 2:8) But that did not stop Hagel from voting against sanctions against Iran, even though Iran not only wishes to plunder Israel but wipe it off the map. As the New York Times noted, Hagel was only one of two senators to vote against the Iran-Libya sanctions act in 2001, "arguing that it would undercut efforts to engage with Tehran." Were these verses in the Bible less important to Hagel then those banning homosexuality?
Perhaps most famously the Bible says, "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Genesis 12:3) But that did not dissuade Hagel from his most unfortunate comment of being "not an Israeli senator. I'm a United States senator," with its disgusting insinuation of the old anti-Semitic canard of Jews and dual loyalties.
Now, why would the Senator insist on the Biblical teachings regarding homosexuality but not those of protecting Israel?
While we should always try and judge people positively, it would seem that the only real explanation is that his opposition to gays was motivated not by religious convictions but just good old-fashioned homophobia. As to the State of Israel, we can only wonder what motivates his lack of sympathy.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, "America's Rabbi" whom The Washington Post calls "the most famous Rabbi in America," this week publishes his newest book, "The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering." Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley."