After an open letter condemning the burning of an LGBTQ flag at a church was delivered to Cardinal Blase Cupich of the Chicago Archdiocese, Rabbi Seth Limmer of Chicago Sinai Congregation shared his thoughts on how Chicago’s interfaith community can forge a way forward. Below is an edited transcript from his video interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.
I think incidents like this, yes, they set people back. I mean — a flag burning, and an exorcism. Right? That’s equating something with a demon. As far as I can tell, a flag burning is the destruction of someone’s symbol that’s meaningful to them. It obviously has waves.
If someone burned the flag of the state of Israel, if someone burned the American flag, if someone burned the Chicago flag, actually— I mean, I would be hurt, as my identity is wrapped up with those with those places. And I would hope someone would say, ‘Wait that was one person. That’s not us.’
And if there’s one church in Chicago that’s burning a gay flag, or there are 150 religious institutions that are embracing the LGBTQ community, and to say, well it’s clear where Chicago co-religionists stand for the LGBTQ community, and it’s unfortunate that someone’s an outlier. And that message is where media comes in, where unified letters come in that say ‘No, as religious leaders, we might say, you’re entitled to your opinion, but we differ strongly, and we’re going to be on record as saying religion stands with the LGBTQ community.’
And those things do have an impact on public opinion. And sometimes when people realize that that’s where most religions stand, especially if you’re an LGBTQ individual, you might be more willing then to walk into a house of worship of your own denomination, because you saw them on that list, and you realize they do care, and they’re putting their name on the line. So sometimes there’s an interplay of the public and the inside that kind of a fashion.
The reason why I’m doing this interview is because one very public religious institution in Chicago did something offensive — and literally, inflammatory — to the LGBTQ community, and I feel the responsibility, as a religious leader who wants to embrace that community, to say: That’s not who we are. And that’s not who most of us are. And to try and help people realize that this is an outlier situation, that is not where most religious leaders are today. And that’s one benefit of the letter. I just wish it were a different letter.
If there are 300 religious institutions in Chicago, one of them did this. Two hundred ninety-nine are saying, ‘We will never do this. We’re going to do the opposite of this. We’re going to stand up for you. We’re going to protect you. We’re going to embrace you. You’re part of us.’ That’s what hopefully can happen in a situation like this.
I think the visceral fear of that burning affected a lot of people, and raised a lot of fears. And therefore, there is the opportunity to try and assuage those fears, and to minimize and to put into proper perspective: This is a terrible event. It’s a hateful event. But it’s not who most of us are. And we’re going to be here, and we’re going to speak out on your behalf, and not make you carry your own weight and carry your own fear.