By Michael Jacobs | firstname.lastname@example.org
First Baptist Church Atlanta Senior Pastor Charles Stanley has atrocious views on the LGBT community, but Jewish National Fund made the right decision to honor him at its annual Israel Independence Day breakfast last month, Israeli Consul General Opher Aviran says.
The ambassador spoke during a breakfast meeting May 8 at The Temple that was meant to reconcile JNF with SOJOURN: Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity and others who were angered by the decision to honor Stanley at the Yom HaAtzmaut breakfast 15 days earlier.
Stanley declined the Tree of Life Award days before the April 23 event, but only after three weeks of angry public debate over his anti-gay statements.
Aviran said he has told Stanley that he disagrees with those statements and that they are indefensible. But as a representative of Israel, he said his nation must embrace people like Stanley who are true friends.
“His support is incredible,” Aviran said of Stanley, who responded to last summer’s Gaza war by organizing a trip of 400 members of his church and 300 other Christians to Israel.
The consul general questioned how many of the roughly 50 people in the room visited Israel during or soon after the fighting last year. “I don’t blame you,” he said. “Israelis didn’t rush back either.”
Neither Aviran’s call to separate the issues of LGBT rights and support for Israel nor JNF CEO Russell Robinson’s lengthy statement about JNF’s organizational support for LGBT rights and determination to better vet honorees healed the community rift.
“I am sadder today about JNF than I was before I came to this meeting,” said Congregation Gesher L’Torah Rabbi Michael Bernstein, who attended the April 23 breakfast only because Stanley withdrew.
But teshuvah (repentance) takes time, Young Israel of Toco Hills Rabbi Adam Starr said. “I think this is the beginning of something.”