This year we celebrate Easter and Passover on the same weekend. Two holidays that for many are a time of prayer and thoughtful introspection about what has come before and what is in our future. The first Passover Seder this year will be celebrated on Good Friday.
Christians will go to church on Good Friday to remember the crucifixion of Christ and on Easter Sunday will celebrate his resurrection. They might take a moment to think about what the church means to them and how the church’s teachings relate to their own life. Many of my Catholic friends might contemplate the place of women in their church today and the continued lack of acceptance of those in the LGBT community.
Many young members of the Jewish faith will learn about their ancestor’s escape from Egypt and Pharaoh while reading the Haggadah at their Seder. They will come to the last line of the story which reads, “Next year in Jerusalem” and think about what that means today. It will surely create many discussions after dinner over the recent elections in Israel and what they mean to the world situation. At the Seder in an Orthodox home, young people could surely have thoughts about the continuing limitations on women and the lack of acceptance of the LGBT community in Orthodox beliefs.
Religion is important to many and is creeping into our political discussions in America more and more. It is harder to find politicians who understand the meaning of the separation of church and state and are willing to speak out on it. The last time I remember hearing an emphatic statement on the issue from a Presidential candidate was in 1960 when John F. Kennedy spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association and said “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” He did so to convince voters who were contemplating the election of their first Catholic President he wouldn’t take his direction on civil law from the Pope.
While it has always been difficult to separate politics and religion and most of the world’s wars have been fought over religious disagreements, we must continue to try. It might be permissible for religious leaders to speak out on civil issues as they relate to their church’s tenets but it is definitely not acceptable for politicians to couch their support or non-support of civil law on their religious beliefs. We now see many Republican candidates vying for their party’s presidential nomination having a very difficult time understanding that.
Following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in February 2013, the current occupant of the “Throne of Saint Peter,” Pope Francis, appears to be making a major effort to bring the Catholic Church more in line with the world as it is today. During his first news conference, Pope Francis made the statement, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” while discussing the gay and lesbian community within the church. In another interview he said the church has the right to express its opinions but not to “interfere spiritually” in the lives of gays and lesbians. His problem is moving such a huge bureaucracy into the 21st century isn’t easy and for every two steps forward there seems to be a step back. It can be hoped Pope Francis will live long enough to effectuate real change in the church.
The Jewish community, particularly American Jews, will find themselves in heated discussions after their Seder trying to clarify their feelings with regard to the State of Israel and its government. Many like me will come to the conclusion while we find much of what Prime Minister Netanyahu said before and during his recent campaign for Prime Minister abhorrent, it will have no bearing on our support for the State of Israel. The United States as President Obama has said must continue financial and logistical assistance to the State of Israel to ensure it remains free and has the wherewithal to protect itself.
However this doesn’t rule out applying all the pressure we can on the Israeli government, even potentially using the UN to do this, to insist they don’t leave the negotiating table. The current policy of the United States, which was once supported by the current Israeli Prime Minister, is for a two state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian question. It is really the only viable one if we are to ever have peace in the region.
So over this holy weekend let us all pray for peace and understanding throughout the world and may our discussions and debates prove fruitful in bringing about a better future.