When Free Speech Becomes Abuse

There's a concept in Judaism called "צימצום" (tzeem-tzoom) or, contraction.  It's the idea that back in the Very Beginning, before God created the world, God filled up every inch of the universe - literally, the presence of God filled up everything before there was anything. And in order to create something, God had to self-constrict. The literal amount of space that God was taking up had to be reduced in order to make room for the creation of something new - the acceptance of something else. And so, we're taught, that God did just that. God self-contracted, creating space for the world and everything in it to be created. And with that constricted space, God was able to create all of the wonderful things that exist in the world and delight in them.

This afternoon I attended (watched from a balcony above, really) a rally held in support of Kelvin Cochran, the former fire chief of Atlanta who was fired for, among other reasons, publishing a book calling homosexuality vile and vulgar and comparing it to pedophilia. 

More than one of the speakers today talked about homosexuality - as a concept - and here's where I'm troubled. See, these folks weren't talking about civil marriage as a political issue or even a need to enforce religious marriage law over civil law. They know that battle is over. Instead, they focused on homosexuality as an actual thing; The state of being, the orientation itself. Now, if you've read our blog before you'll know that the bible doesn't actually say anything about orientation or attraction at all - only sex, and very specifically at that.

And that's what brings us to the impasse. In my job, I encounter lots of people who tell me they're anti-same-legal-sex marriage, and that's something I can understand. Sure, they're wrong, and I'll certainly tell them that, but I can have a rational conversation with them on legal ramifications and how the US Constitution requires equal protection and all of that. That's easy. 

It's when someone tells you that they can't accept you for who you are, at your most basic level, that the conversation stops. Of course people have a right to say what they want. But saying that you disagree with someone getting married is on an entirely different level than saying you disagree with someone's right to exist. It really does become a matter of how you define humanity. Today's speakers got rid of that line. They shouted that it was saddening that they could no longer tell their coworkers that they would be going to hell if they didn't repent and accept Jesus; they cried that they were being deprived of their right to insult someone to their very core, and they were shocked that they could not thrust the Bible into peoples' faces while without response. And they want the right to do this while being funded by taxpayers. That's not a conversation I can have.

To expect LGBT people to sit back and listen while people use our holy books to denounce our very existence  - as they beat us, kill us, and and hurt us - that's not being polite; that's being abused. And with the rising numbers of kids, teens, and adults dying by suicide every year, it's unbearable harm.

If today's speakers and supporters truly want to embody the words of the Scripture, they must embrace the concept of צימצום - of holy self-contraction. They must allow themselves to see beyond their own world. They must allow themselves to see the damage they are doing to children, teens, and adults around the world when they tell them that who they are is a sin.

When we allow ourselves to contract and give some of our space to someone else, incredible things can happen. It's not easy, and it's not comfortable, but it's so very, very necessary. 


Below are some tweets and pictures from today's rally. 



Robbie Medwed

Robbie Medwed began working with SOJOURN when it was known as The Rainbow Center as a volunteer in 2008. He served as chair of the TRC Advisory Board and as co-chair of Purim off Ponce (2010, 2011) before moving into his current role as Assistant Director, where he oversees SOJOURN's educational programming and outreach, including our award-winning workshops and training seminars. Robbie holds a master's degree in Jewish education from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and has written curricula and nationally-recognized inclusive programs for the Marcus JCC of Atlanta, BBYO, USY, Camp Ramah, the Jewish Teen Funders Network, Babaganewz, and JewishGPS. Robbie is also a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and cyclist. Robbie can be reached at [email protected]