Opinion: Progressive religious leaders must speak out
A wise therapist once told me that anger is a secondary emotion. When we are so heartbroken that we simply cannot take it anymore, we lift our grief from our hearts and transform it into rage. And in that moment of emotional transition, we shift. We are no longer curled up in bed. Instead, we are ready to hit the streets — or something or somebody.
Heartbreak leaves us incapacitated. Rage inspires us to action. I am enraged by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
When we read of the Jewish prophets — Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, to name a few — we don’t read of them sitting alone, silently weeping. We read about courageous anger — rage that erupts into constructive action when there is no other choice.
I was born in 1973, just after Roe. I never knew the days of coat hangers or women dying in back alleys, but don’t think my mother didn’t tell me those stories. I grew up knowing that she and her mother had fought for my rights to my own body. And for most of my life, I didn’t think that work would be reversed.
But then came state-by-state attacks on abortion, including attempts here in Colorado to limit reproductive freedom. And then President Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell rose to power. It became clear that the government was working to reclaim the right to control my body, my daughter’s body, and every body that contains a uterus.
Over these years, we saw a clear agenda from the religious right, and they achieved an undeniable level of power. Determined, cunning, corrupt political and religious leaders had convinced others to put money and strength into turning back time — returning us to an era we thought consigned to history books. An era where they could make demands on my uterus and control my well-being. We didn’t need a fortune teller to see what was happening — we simply needed to open our eyes to the present.
It’s common for humans to look at what is right in front of us and say, “it’s not that bad” or “it may be a problem, but it won’t get that out of hand.” Why do we do this? Because admitting that it is “that bad” is rather inconvenient — and also scary as hell. In some ways, most of us would rather hide under a rock.
But there is no room under that rock anymore.
The Jewish prophets weren’t given their titles because they had magical powers to see the future. They were prophets because they could fully see the terror of the present and weren’t afraid to speak up. Convenience was irrelevant to them.
When the government and the people went astray, and when false prophets reared their ugly heads, the prophets raged. They yelled — even when it wasn’t clear who was listening. They refused to sit idly by, and they refused to ignore the current reality or the looming future.
Nobody can deny where we are now, and Justice Clarence Thomas has made it clear where conservatives want to take us. I am heartbroken, and I am angry.
But I am also angry when I think about how many progressive clergy have been silent for the last six, or eight, or ten, or fifteen years. Why were so many afraid to speak out for the moral imperatives of our time? Why did congregational boards continually suggest that their spiritual leaders not be too “political?” Why was polite conversation over cookies and fruit after services more important than hard conversations about our fundamental human rights?
We learned something very clearly over these past years: anyone who does not take a vocal stand voluntarily relinquishes their chance to shift this tide.
The prophets weren’t silent. They also weren’t particularly popular. Popularity wasn’t their goal. Saving people from themselves was.
The right-wing ministers weren’t silent either. They galvanized their people. They pretended to be prophets, shouting fire and brimstone — fooling their masses. Not only did they use their pulpits to achieve political aims, they worked systematically to change government to fit their religious goals — gnawing away at the fundamental constitutional value of separation between church and state.
In the past decade, too many progressive religious leaders found it easier to abdicate moral responsibility than to own it. This simply cannot continue. We must fight for a pluralistic, secular government that promotes the welfare of all Americans.
We are at a precipice. There is no place to hide anymore. The moral landscape of our country will continue to shift, and our freedoms will continue to disappear. The right-wing conservative minority will continue to use a potent, savvy blend of religion and politics to shape this nation to their extreme vision — trampling the desires and freedoms of the majority of the people along the way.
Our job, as progressive religious leaders, is to stop making excuses for inaction and to step up and speak out.
Rabbi Rachel Kobrin moved to Denver in 2018 to become the spiritual leader of Congregation Rodef Shalom.
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