How The Church Can Show Up After The Pulse Shooting

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Just when LGBT people started to feel safe to be out and open in public, our community was targeted for the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. And within hours of learning about the massacre at Pulse, we heard a man from Indiana was arrested on his way to LA pride with three assault rifles and chemicals that could create an explosion.

We are scared. We are overwhelmed with grief. And when we LGBT Christians have most needed support from our churches, we’ve watched our leaders remain largely silent. Some briefly stated that they’re praying for Orlando, but few have publicly named the significance of the shooter targeting gay people––specifically queer people of color. So here are some scattered, link roundup-ish thoughts to help you better understand what we’re feeling. Hopefully more understanding will lead to the kind of change that can bring healing.

Rather than fighting and dividing over our differences, this is a time to come together to lament. It’s a time to grieve the human beings whose lives were cut short. Watch this beautiful tribute to the victims by Anderson Cooper, who said: “They are more than a list of names. They are people who loved and who were loved.”

It’s hard to explain the sense of safety we have felt in queer spaces. Whether it’s in gay Bible studies, night clubs, or rugby leagues, queer spaces have provided a place for us to exhale, to drop our filters, to stop code-switching or monitoring whether the people around us think we’re gross. Broderick Greer shared about the familiarity and warmth he feels in black churches and gay bars, which he described as “a sanctuary for people who are subjected to violence and discrimination on a regular basis.” Richard Kim said they’re “homes for folks without families,” which includes many LGBT people, since family members often grow distant when we come out. The anxiety around the violence was exacerbated by the fact that it happened in one of the few places that felt safe for so many.

I’ve been sad to see the silence or qualified condolences from conservative Christian leaders. You do not have to support same-sex marriage to fight for safety and protection for human beings made in the image of God. Your solidarity will not be taken as theological agreement, and it’s hard for me to understand how grieving the death of 50 beautiful people can feel complicated for a Christian. It’s always right to grieve with those who are grieving. We’ve heard your outrage over Target, Chick-fil-A, and the bathroom bills. Where is your outrage when LGBT people are slaughtered?

Matthew Vines offered some suggestions for Christian leaders in TIME yesterday. Here’s a snippet but the whole thing is worth reading: “It didn’t help that we were faced with the news of the slaughter on a Sunday, a day that already serves as a reminder of how unwelcome we are in most traditional sanctuaries. For the nearly 50% of LGBT Americans who are Christians, as I am, it only compounded the pain to have our faith leaders either ignore the massacre, qualify their condolences in ways they never would for other victims, or simply omit the fact that LGBT people were targeted for death because of who they are.” He ended with this powerful word: “Churches will be marked in the LGBT community for years to come by how they respond to us in this moment. Please do all you can to let that mark be one of unconditional love.”

I’m thankful for Christian leaders who HAVE spoken up to show support. Some have done so with sincerity and love. I want to encourage you to go further by understanding how the church’s treatment of LGBT people has helped create this kind of culture. Rachel Held Evans explained some of our angst on her Facebook page yesterday and Jen Hatmaker did the same today. I encourage you to read both of those to better understand more of the context around our grief. My hope is that understanding will bring repentance, and repentance will lead to reconciliation. As a gay Christian who’s devoted my life to following Jesus and serving the church, I desperately want to see us grow. I want to see grace and forgiveness and restored relationships. Repentance will pave the way to restoration.

Over the years, many straight Christians have asked me how they can love their LGBT neighbors. My response is usually: “The same way you love any neighbor.” We show up for one another. We cook meals, share stories, and catch a fresh vision for the world through one another’s eyes. Love grows in relationships, and the best way to support us is to show up, listen, and lament. There are prayer vigils happening all over the country and I hope you’ll join us to seek the Lord alongside us.

Finally, I know many Christians are eager to show compassion. I see many of you trying to support us and I know it can be hard to figure it out when some of us seem hurt or angry regardless of how you respond. There’s a lot of pain for LGBT people when it comes to our relationship with the church, and part of your role might be to absorb some of that pain. Healing happens in relationship, and I would ask that you be patient with us as we grieve. I know many of my LGBT friends and I have tried to be patient with the church.

12 Responses

  1. David Ford

    The most surprising and comforting response I’ve read was from RCC Bishop Robert Lynch who wrote:

    [S]adly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that. Without yet knowing who perpetrated the PULSE mass murders, when I saw the Imam come forward at a press conference yesterday morning, I knew that somewhere in the story there would be a search to find religious roots. While deranged people do senseless things, all of us observe, judge and act from some kind of religious background. Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop also.

    . I was heartened that he had the courage and integrity to admit the Church’s/religion’s complicity in this tragedy.

  2. Victoria Adams

    This was beautiful. I tried in my way, to blog about the multifaceted cause of this, this thing that has torn my heart away. Not just because of the tragedy itself, but because of the way so many are responding. Especially those who wish to cover the core issue – the people who were sacrificed. I have come to learn about the LBGT community because I choose to learn. I choose to know and I understand that they are a product of an amazing creative universe — just like me. I, too, hope. I hope that somehow these lives will shine a light so bright that those who will not see are forced to see that God demands love – unconditional, non-judgmental love, from each and every person. Please know, there are those of us who do understand, who have had to look over our shoulders for one reason or another, and who shudder at the need for your grief.

  3. Dr. Marilee Ruebsamen

    You are so right, Julie! I am so heartened to see some of my friends and relatives are already in relationships with gay and trans individuals – gay, for many decades in our family, and becoming real friends with people who are transgender is quite new, and I’m proud of those I love deeply who are learning how to ask the right questions and learn from their new friends how to better understand them, and proud of their new friends who have been so honest and willing to explain. As I read what you wrote, I realize that I strongly identify with some of the processes you describe, as a Christian (former wife of a pastor) who chose to leave an abusive relationship and was officially “shunned”/thrown out of church membership with two small children, then rarely spoken to again by those who had been my close friends – plus endured years of attempts to ruin my reputation and take my children . . . – I remember strongly identifying with new gay friends who felt disenfranchised from the church, and I became strongly attached to one or two coffee house . . . still am. Among the student and other motley crew there, of course I experienced respite from judgmental and harsh, abusive behavior, but further, an affection for people not based on creed or social class, a genuine fondness and manner of relating person to person that was altogether new. Refreshing, after years in the fundamentalist-y end of the evangelical church with its not-so-well disguised layers of agenda . . . I understand. I became a trauma, Ph.D. psychologist, a global humanitarian, and my kids, who suffered greatly as I struggled to free us all, are both, with their wonderful spouses, a director of student ministries who is completely progressive, a professor/writer/children’s ministry director who welcomes gay and trans kids, a skilled teacher/pastor’s wife who shows wide inclusive love, and a global, interfaith Pastor and leader – and they don’t put up with the exclusive nonsense I lived through. They are wide and generous and welcoming of all, warmly inclusive of people and cultures and faith traditions (or non at all) that sometimes I have never heard of. Be encouraged – this generation (45-ish) and their children even more so) does not put up with the nonsense. Hugs to you for writing so honestly. Come to California and we’ll have a mocha!

    • Joe Greenblade

      Of course Julie has seen them.

      Matthew Vines penned his anti-conservative Christian diatribe for Time magazine on June 13. Sadly like Julie, he made and still makes no mention of the killer’s stated motive and radical Islamist allegiances. Orlando was just an opportunity for him to further his own cause. There are good parts to that cause but his whole ‘crybully’ approach to social justice issues prevents him (and others) from acknowledging those laments.

  4. James Lumsden

    The churches and synagogues of Pittsfield were out and strong – straight and gay clergy together – we are united in love and solidarity

  5. Erin Nelson

    Julie, thank you (for so many things, but specifically) for addressing this issue. I woke up Sunday morning to a text from my brother about this tragedy. He’s a gay Christian & this tragedy really affected him. I was on location for a film in San Francisco so I wasn’t able to attend a church service that day, but I posted on Facebook & sent text messages out asking anyone who had attended a service asking if their church addressed the topic at all. The replies were few and disappointing.
    I often find myself in the crossfire of the conservative influences from my upbringing and the liberal advocates I’m surrounded by now. NYC is the best place in the entire world to figure out who you truly are and what you believe because every type of person exists here… and it’s okay. The Pride celebration in NYC last weekend was the most supported in the 8 years that I’ve lived here. It was beautiful.
    Raised in a conservative Christian home in Texas now pursuing the arts in NYC, I feel like I’m constantly trying to help each side understand the other. I find your voice so refreshing and relatable, so please keep sharing!

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