My eyes are dry, my faith is old
My heart is hard, my prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to You and dead to me – Keith Green
49 people died over a week ago in a brutal shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. 53 people were injured in the attack that has circulated around our Facebook dashes and news outlets. It has re-ignited furor over the lack of gun reforms in the United States and has exacerbated anxieties regarding Islamic terrorism–relevant or not to this particular attack. Many have offered their opinions about the significance of this event, the most deadly shooting to date within the U.S. Many more have offered their prayers.
The coverage has already begun to fade into the ether of infamy as the media jumps to document the next crisis (looking at you UK).
A sense of deja’vu arises in times like these: a tragedy occurs, and out of the shock and heartbreak come the pointed fingers as everyone asks, “How could this happen? How could this happen in America?” So much focus has been fixed on the presumed Islamic connections to this attack; it has become all too easy for Americans to blame horrific events on an external group, an outside threat we can hold accountable.
We have become blind to the poison rife within our borders that results in blood. Others do not have the luxury of ignorance when Orlando represents another bookmark in an overarching narrative of rejection, alienation, and violence. The trending hashtags disappear…yet the community affected remembers.
The 49 human lives killed last week identified along the spectrum of LGBTQ identities and were predominantly people of color. No matter the soundbites popularized in the news, do not forget this crucial fact: this was a hate crime. Not an Islamic terrorist attack, not a mentally-ill person who slipped under the radar (the go-to scapegoat). This attack intentionally targeted one of the most vulnerable populations in the U.S: queer people of color.
Prayers are easy condolences to extend during tragedy. As a follower of Christ, I believe they channel great power to shape our reality and invoke the power of God in the darkest places. But there is a disturbing trend within mainstream American Christian communities that our prayers function as arms to reach out to those hurting, but our feet remain planted where we have always been. We become sign posts pointing to the suffering but unwilling to touch them. Prayer transforms into an exercise of safety, a spiritual discipline that allows us to feel empathetic and loving while expending the least amount of effort and honest reflection.
Church, we must ask ourselves if we only show up to love our LGBTQ family when they are dead. Sermons preach to “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but we are in danger of becoming so overly conscious of “hating the sin” that we render ourselves inert. I have witnessed too many insular Christian communities that pander to the principle of love and mercy for all yet fail to protect those most at risk in our country.
LGBT youth are 4 times more likely to commit suicide.
Nearly one-fifth of students in in NYC public schools have been physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation.
These bullet points only scrape the surface. To members of the LGBTQ community, these realities are nothing new. They don’t need reminders of the lived-experiences these statistics represent; it surrounds them each day as they step into spaces that could signify life or death for them.
For those of us outside of the LGBTQ community, we need to stare at these facts and not avert our eyes. Orlando happened because LGBTQ persons are not safe in our country, and many of the attitudes within our church communities contribute to that toxic environment. Just a few weeks ago, a 20-year old trans woman was burned in her car in New Orleans. The flames Westboro Baptist Church promises for people like her were forced upon her that day, leaving her trapped in a metal death cage. More trans persons have been killed so far this year than all of 2013 combined. In this country, well-meaning Christians deliberate over the increasing persecution of Christians in America. We are called names. Gay and trans people are shot and burned.
I held back from writing this post for days because I didn’t know what to say. I agonized over whether I should just be silent and let the voices of my LGBTQ family speak for themselves–that should be the priority. But I also realized that does not give me permission to check out. Being silent would do a greater injustice to not only the 49 people murdered, but to the hundreds of LGBTQ persons being marginalized every day.
Our churches have been far too silent on this subject for too long. I have been silent too long. I remember lesbian friends in elementary school who were bullied, people I was too scared to stand up for, friends now who grieve lost lives that could be their own. When gay, lesbian, and trans persons are being beaten and left for dead, where are our Samaritans? Have we forgotten that our prayers to Christ must also translate to being the hands and feet of Christ?
Words come easily enough when it’s the time to condemn LGBTQ persons and talk about their sin. On the other hand, it’s not as if compassion is absent in our churches, for most people can reach a consensus that discrimination, murder, and harassment are evil. There are also Christians who genuinely care about the LGBTQ community but don’t know how to engage it. But let us all take responsibility for our inaction.
We are too afraid of diluting our Gospel, of being seen as appeasers who “approve of the lifestyle” that we have forgotten how to empathize with others and love them with our presence. We justify our distance with theological treatises while people are suffering, and that is wrong. When an LGBTQ person shares their story, that is not our moment to castigate them inwardly while outwardly offering platitudes of “loving the neighbor.” Where is the love for them when they are alive? We send missionaries around the world to minister to the lost but will not step outside of our sanctuaries to spend time with the LGBTQ teens wandering homeless in our own cities. We should be ashamed that we have allowed so much suffering to go unrecognized in our faith communities.
I wish I could count the number of stories I’ve heard of LGBTQ persons who left the church because they experienced an isolating alienation there. Instead of existing as spaces where all people are welcome, invited to meet Jesus and learn about His love for them, our churches erect barriers with our rhetoric of anxiety and judgment. There are conversations about sexual identity we avoid on reflex, parroting news headlines as our meager contribution to the crucial dialogues others are having. Gay people are treated as special sinners, dwelling in certain neighborhoods and clubs and street corners where Christians dare not enter willingly. Partnering with any organization that affirms gay marriage is a no-no because as we know, we can’t serve the poor alongside gay people–it compromises our beliefs!
We may have the token gay co-worker or neighbor, but is our contact with those different from us validated only within the boundaries of our conditions and comfort level?
Our primary call is to love God and love our neighbors, but all too often we approach our neighbors when we feel safe to, such as times of tragedy when prayers seem fitting. But between the headlines, where are our voices? Where is our advocacy for the least of these? Are we marching against discrimination in the workplace? Are we petitioning for visitation rights for LGBTQ persons in hospitals? Are we condemning homophobic slurs and sexual harassment and holding each other accountable to that?
Some are, but not enough. Our cities on a hill shine dimly, lost in the fog of our apathy. While we debate and puzzle over interpretations of Scripture, people are dying. Our deepest convictions, the love seeded in us because of our Savior, blazes into promise when we serve them. Love is action, not sentiment endowed at crowded funerals. Love is sitting with those bleeding. Love is being a home to the homeless. Love is listening to the story of your gay neighbor and regarding it as a privilege to hear that story, not an opportunity to covert them straight.
I am tired of my own passivity regarding my LGBTQ family, family not because I identify as LGBTQ, but because we share the same Father and bear that image. That image is being desecrated in this country, and we cannot condone that anymore. Our hearts should be breaking for the sheer invisibility of the trauma LGBTQ persons experience; since we have failed to see their pain, they seek spaces where their humanity is affirmed, whether pride parades or community groups or nightclubs.
Our inaction will condemn us if we do nothing in the face of suffering. We do not need to consult a person’s theological stance or their sexual orientation in order to seek friendship with them or defend them from persecution. We testify to the abundance and all-encompassing power of God’s love when we risk the ire of our peers to pry our feet from the ground and huddle close to the marginalized in our midst. They are not our “gay friends,” tools to testify to our gracious loving selves. They are our family, and what hurts them should pierce each of our souls.
Laying down our lives for our family requires sacrifice. Sacrifice of ego, sacrifice of social safety nets, sacrifice of comfort to enter into communion, not with taboos, but with people. We have nothing to fear when we look to God to steer our actions, so why fear drawing near to the LGBTQ community when we have all confidence that this is what we are commanded to do? We talk of this amazing Jesus who invited everyone to his table, broke bread with them and befriended them, yet we get biblical amnesia when it comes to those whom we welcome into our company. The pursuit of truth is not mutually exclusive from communing with those deemed undesirable by our society; in fact, it is illuminated by our relationships with them.
We can no longer love out of moral convenience. It is time to take risks for the benefit of others and leave our comfort zones. Let’s set a new paradigm for how love is lived:
Challenge homophobic language and actions in the church, in your friend groups.
Enter into LGBTQ spaces when invited and be engaged with those there.
Listen before making assumptions about a person’s story–people are souls we have the privilege to interact with, not salvation projects.
Advocate for civil rights for LGBTQ persons. We are held accountable when they are threatened.
Go beyond sympathy. Be quick to listen and slow to speak, following God’s leading for when to speak and how.
Embody the Gospel through your friendships.
Our country is thirsty for the embodied testimonies of those who have known God’s mercy and thus pursue others boldly, ungripped by fear. Read the facts again and again. Wake up. Pray for those identifying as LGBTQ who are alive right now and ask them what they need. Then show up.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him,and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. – 1 John 3:16-24