In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. (Martin Luther King Jr.)
In the days following the Orlando massacre, it’s become painfully clear to me that there are people out there who really don’t get it. They really don’t. They don’t get that LGBT people like me feel connected to what happened at Pulse. They don’t get that it touched a nerve with each of us individually. They don’t get that we LGBT people live our lives carrying around a keen sense of vulnerability that not everyone can relate to. They just don’t get it. And it’s so disappointing.
Perhaps worst of all, these people don’t get that this is the wrong time to exercise their heterosexual privilege and make excuses for why they couldn’t be bothered to express sympathy for how LGBT people are feeling in the wake of Orlando.
If you think I’m generalizing, I can assure you that I’m not. And if this particular shoe fits you, then by all means I encourage you to wear it. Walk around and see how it feels. If it’s uncomfortable, read on. If it’s comfortable, read on.
It’s because that particular pair of shoes still exists that we have so-called “Christians” taking full advantage of this moment to widen the divisions and hatred in our society. They’re hiding behind an illusion that theirs is the one true faith (thereby implying that they’re speaking for God). They’re hiding behind “morality” and “values” — evangelical/fundamentalist code for opposition to reproductive freedom, marriage equality, and any limits whatsoever on the sacrosanctity of American gun rights.
Well, guess what else is included in that code: That if you’re not “Christian” by their standards, there’s no mercy, compassion or place for you in their America.
In other words, it’s okay for someone to kill you.
Eliel Cruz, executive director of Faith in America, puts it this way:
We also have to examine how specifically Christian evangelicals, the right, have exported their homophobia. I mean, let’s really look at Christian evangelicals who have influenced legislation abroad in many countries in Africa, and in Russia, that have led to LGBT people being killed.
There are specific ties to these individuals.
The same messages that are being preached in the pulpit are the same messages that are being preached abroad, and it’s being translated to understand that they believe this… is okay because these white missionaries told us it was. And that, because of what scripture says, it’s okay to kill these individuals as well. Whether or not that is your intent, that is the impact.
And in case you think this is just hyperbole, allow Rev. Roger Jimenez of Sacramento’s Verity Baptist Church to disabuse you of that notion (the following being from an hourlong sermon):
Hey, are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today? No… I think that’s great. I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida’s a little safer tonight.
… It is unnatural for a man to be attracted to another man.
… The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die.
Or allow Congressman Rick Allen to assure you that LGBT people are worthy of death.
Statements like these are so far apart from my morals and values — and my Christianity — that I find it hard to believe they draw breath on the same planet as I do.
There have always been Christians who take an exceptionalist view of their faith — i.e., that there’s one road to heaven, and they’ve got the map. But the religious right (and political right), the fundamentalists, the zealots, the anti-intellectual evangelicals and the end-of-times crowd have a lot of nerve trying to claim their narrow brand of Christianity is the only one to be practiced.
Why is this stuff so dangerous? Because as a society shifts toward acceptance, those who oppose it are likely to become more radical, according to law and psychology experts interviewed by the New York Times for an article stating that even before the Orlando massacre, the LGBT community was more at risk for hate crimes in America than any other minority group. According to FBI data cited by the Times:
- Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are the most likely targets of hate crimes, with LGBT people being twice as likely to be targeted as African Americans.
- In the past 10 years, the rate of hate crimes based on sexual orientation has surpassed that of crimes against Jewish people.
- Of 5,462 single-bias hate crimes reported in 2014, nearly one-fifth were because of the victim’s perceived or actual sexual orientation.
In other words, being out and LGBT is simply dangerous, as a friend recently shared. I agree. When it comes to my husband and me, there are places we don’t go. We instinctively scan any room we enter. We have a plan in place in case we run into an aggressive homophobe. When someone walks into a restaurant where we’re seated and gives us “that look”, we tense. Partly because at one time we were literally on the receiving end of threats, we don’t ever assume we’re safe.
But then there’s Robert Lynch, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla. Writing about Orlando in his blog, he said:
Sadly 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… 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.
Meanwhile, the political right was in a hurry to connect the massacre to Islamic terrorism, with the shooter’s Muslim identity breathlessly noted.
Yet before we allow the Christian/political right to label every Muslim an extremist and every Syrian refugee a terrorist, let’s not forget that it’s the message of the Christian extremists and terrorists in our own nation — those who organize their own militias, who wear white sheets and burn crosses, who bomb abortion clinics, who kill and kidnap in the name of God, who refuse to recognize homosexuals — who might as well have been bullets in the shooter’s gun.
Has anyone noticed that these Christian exceptionalists never talk about what Jesus did or said, opting instead to go immediately to their own twisted version of the Old Testament to justify their fear, their hate, their grab for power?
Throw in a spoonful of the writings from Revelations, and Christian-identified American exceptionalism blesses the carpet bombing of a country into submission, or the injection of needle full of poison into the arm of a man or woman the state has determined is expendable.
By the way, do you really think someone who has been married 3-4 times has any morals or values to offer up to a same-gender couple who have been together for 34 years? Or that an institutional church that has made a century-long practice of hiding pedophiles has any moral grounds to be worried about who a LGBTQ person chooses to marry?
Do you really think that a person who calls themselves a “right to life” Christian yet allows the state to murder someone in their 30’s or 40’s has any moral compass from which anyone else could take direction?
My editor likes to call me “Pastor Angrypants” when I get worked up about these glaring hypocrisies. Well then, so be it. I am tired — and maybe even a little righteously angry — that my religion has been hijacked, repackaged and returned to me as something I should swallow whole or risk burning in hell.
I resent that in today’s environment, I am expected to rent my faith from the institutional church rather than owning it for myself.
I am tired of counting the angels dancing on the head of a pin while our culture collapses around us. I am tired of watching my tax dollars being spent on a false war on Christmas while thousands of souls are left on the streets without shelter, food or decent clothing — and with little hope of that changing in the foreseeable future.
I am tired of these so-called Christian leaders taking front and center on moral talk and then encouraging people to go get a gun.
I am more than just a little tired of having to give comfort to those grieving in my community because it seems that every other day we are gunned down, knifed and beaten beyond recognition because of who we love or what public restroom we use.
It is time for the “followers of Jesus” to speak up and remind the world that “Christian” means someone who follows the example and teachings of Jesus. Not someone who will swallow whatever a power-hungry and opportunist pastor tells them.
Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. As a matter of fact, Jesus very seldom talked about the “thou shalt nots” of what we’re not supposed to do. Rather, his moral compass, his teaching, was much more concerned with what we’re supposed to do. He was always crystal clear about the “thou shalts.”
So here’s a “thou shalt”: It is time for our family members whose silence has have been deafening to stand up! And to our other (largely straight) allies, hear us when we say this: We need you to stand up with us. We can do a lot by ourselves, but this won’t end without your help. When you hear a gay joke, or someone saying “that’s so gay”, or someone being called queer (or worse), or a clergyperson demonizing gay people, say something. Stand up for us. And if you know us, stand up for us. Stand up for my family.
We need your help emptying the bullets from the literal and figurative guns that are killing us.
Here’s another “thou shalt”: It is time for us to really walk with Jesus. Feed the poor (in America alone there are 12-15 million souls who worry daily about whether they will have food); visit the sick and imprisoned (and advocate for their humane treatment); accept the outcast (the queer, the single mom, the street person, the Muslim, the mentally challenged); shelter the homeless (and stop creating more of them); be good stewards and shepherds of Creation (and stop raping the environment); depend on God rather than on wealth (and stop collecting it at the expense of the poor); treat others as you would have them treat you. And if you’re going to fight, fight for justice!
And it is far past time for the “followers of Jesus” — those who believe in and actually attempt to live the teachings of Jesus — to reclaim the name “Christian”, to reclaim the faith, to reclaim the discussion… to stop being co-opted by persons and politicians who have little knowledge, understanding or practical application of Christian principles in their own lives.
Let us today reclaim this definition of love from 1 Corinthians 13:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Let us reclaim this theme of the Old Testament (Micah 6:8):
But God has already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love. And don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously.
Let us reject the repackaging of today’s Christianity into silly self-righteous proof-texting of the old Hebrew scriptures whose byproduct is real spiritual violence in service of a naked power grab by which the institutional church dominates and controls people.
Murder and violent aggression are immoral. Allowing people to wallow in poverty is immoral. Raising children to hate others for any reason is immoral. Rewarding the rich and greedy is immoral. Lying is immoral. Suspending basic human rights is immoral. Torturing prisoners is immoral.
Insecure (and all too often power hungry) preachers and politicians feed on people’s fears. They prey on the weak, they divert our abundance away from the poor to build a building or win an election, and they threaten believers with hell on earth at the hands of weapons of mass destruction. That is not congruent with my faith, nor should it be with yours.
It is now more than past time to leave behind the preachers, priests and politicians who have proven themselves to be a badly behaved bunch of hypocrites. It is now more than past time to abandon the churches that are temples to greed, self-indulgence and self-righteousness.
And finally, it is time to take seriously this urging of Martin Luther King Jr., who said:
Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
To which I would add: Let us not be bullets in the gun of hate and despair.
Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He was called to Atlanta in 1994 to pastor All Saints MCC. Five years later he founded Gentle Spirit Christian Church. He lives in Decatur with his husband Bill, who he met in 1982 while living and working in Ohio and legally married in 2015.