Welcoming the Stranger at the Maltz Museum

Our only event for Wednesday was at panel discussion at the Maltz Museum titled “Welcoming the Stranger” which was presented by the City Club of Greater Cleveland and the Maltz Museum. It featured clergy from three prominent local houses of worship discussing how they have welcomed people of the LGBTQ community into their congregations. The panelists were Rabbi Josh Caruso of the Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple; the Very Reverend Tracey Lind of Trinity Cathedral; and Reverend Kelly Jean Burd of Pilgrim Congregational United Church.
Reverend Burd said that within her first two weeks at the church she heard at least a dozen stories from LGBTQ members about how they were rejected by more churches with more traditional beliefs which made her proud to be part of a church that is so inclusive; at least 50% of the congregation is LGBTQ and Reverend Burd has come to view a person’s sexuality as a gift from God and is very important as to who that person is.

Reverend Lind says that inclusivity is in the “DNA” of Trinity Cathedral which is celebrating its bicentennial and has a history of fighting for social justice. It will be actively involved in the Gay Games and is working with the IRTF to bring a total of 33 athletes to Cleveland from Columbia and El Salvador to participate. Reverend Lind, herself, is the first openly gay Dean of the Cathedral, and people wondered at first what the impact would be on the rest of the membership but, and Reverend Lind said this part with a sense of humor, only 2 people quit and only 15% of the congregation is LGBTQ so Trinity Cathedral couldn’t be called a “gay church” as many have feared.

Rabbi Caruso said that half of his congregation at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple is LGBTQ and believes sexuality can be as complex as religious issues. He is very glad that his children are being raised in an such an inclusive environment. He recalled a time in 2005 when an older LGBTQ group named Chevrei Tikvah meaning Friends of Hope, which likes to keep to themselves, joined his temple and even though Rabbi Caruso would love to see them interact more with the other congregants as the younger LGBTQ members have no problem doing; he sees the Chevrei Tikvah coming from a “place of discomfort” caused by a history of pain and persecution and he understands and respects this as does the rest of his congregation.

What impressed us the most about this discussion is how much these religious leaders agreed on the important values of inclusivity and love. In fact, they all encourage their congregants to tell their stories so that others might learn from them. It was very refreshing to hear both Rabbi Caruso and Reverend Burd readily admit that dealing with LGBTQ people and their issues has been a process of growth for them and they learn more all of the time. All of the panelist agreed that we have come a long way in the battle for LGBTQ equality but we must not grow complacent and must keep moving forward. Naturally they all endorse Gay Pride on June 28th and the Gay Games in August. Rabbi Caruso even has a special Pride service at his temple.

Afterwards, we talked to Rabbi Caruso, Reverend Burd and Reverend Lind all of whom we regard as friends as they do us. We were curious about what LGBTQ members of their congregations who have immigrated to the U.S. have to say about LGBTQ acceptance in the United States versus their countries of origin. All three said that they only have a few foreign born LGBTQ congregants but they believe that Europe tends to be more accepting of the LGBTQ than the United States, and at this point, Israel is perhaps the most accepting of all. Rabbi Caruso was very proud, as he should be, when he talked for a moment about the Pride Parade in Tel Aviv which is nothing short of spectacular.

We visited the website for the Maltz Museum and discovered that tonight’s program was part of a series titled “Begin the Conversation” which was “a series of thought-provoking play readings, speakers, firm and concerts designed to spark community dialogue and explore the experiences that connect us and the issues that divide us in working toward a more tolerant and inclusive future.”

Tonight’s program was the last one in this series and the only one that we were able to attend but if what we saw and heard tonight was indicative of the rest of it; then this was a rewarding series indeed and we would like to see more like it.