This week’s post comes from a man named Greg White. I met Greg on social media. Social media, especially Facebook groups and Google Hangouts, have become a safe haven for marginalized people groups of all walks of life to gain support away from those who would cause injury. Greg’s recent Facebook post resonated with me and many others. It’s a reflection on the events in Orlando after the media has moved on to other things. It’s a reminder of how people are hurting, not helping. Most importantly, it’s an honest account from someone like me.
It’s been over a week since the events of Orlando, and it seems everyone has had their say. Forgive me if I’m late to the conversation, but I’m still trying to piece together my feelings about it. I find myself utterly heartbroken. While I floated through Sunday in a sense of shock, and even went to a candle light vigil in a strange disconnect, reality set in on Monday night.
I’d come home from work having spent the day in a numb haze, and decided to decompress by making soap. It’s a simple hobby, one that requires little concentration and lets my mind wander through the day’s events and prepare for the stressors to come. As the bars of soap began to congeal in their molds, I began to sob uncontrollably. I cried first for the victims, every precious soul gunned down in the Pulse nightclub. I cried for their families, for their friends.
Suddenly the face of every LGBT person I know flashed through my brain and all I could think was, “It could have been him. It could have been her,” and finally, “It could have been me.”
In the days that followed, I found myself torn by grief while tending wounds that I thought had healed shut. Theological debates about the six “clobber passages” regarding homosexuality came roaring back into focus. My sense of public safety was suddenly shaken. The true face of bald, unbridled homophobia was unleashed in that hail of gunfire, and in its wake, those sympathetic to the gunman’s hatred were emboldened to speak. Fringe public religious figures like Pat Robertson pointed their fingers back at the LGBT community, and some even praised the killings.
But most painful of all, my beloved denomination put out a well-meaning but tepid response. They were sorry and saddened by the events. They were praying for the victims and their families. But where were these words when LGBT kids were killing themselves? Where were those prayers as queer people were denied their rights, kicked out of their homes, suffering depression and religious trauma, bullied, or ostracized?
We have told our stories over and over, and it seems they’ve fallen on deaf ears. Does it really take the worst mass shooting of the century to elicit a response? Decrying the violence, the Church never even condemned the cause. They never said the words “homophobia,” “LGBT,” “gay,” “lesbian,”“bisexual,” “transgender.” And so, the only word that really mattered to me was the word they’ve used to describe homosexuality in the manual; “perversion.”
It simply isn’t enough to stand up against mass murder without condemning the more subtle, institutional forms of bigotry that enforced it. I’m not a pervert, I’m a human being. I’m not an issue, I’m a child of God. I’m not a problem to be solved, a policy to be debated, a statement in a manual or even an out-of-context Bible verse.
How could the denomination that I love so dearly be so tone-deaf? Maybe it’s politics. Maybe it’s blind conviction. Maybe it’s fear. Maybe it’s a love too bewildered by a changing world to know how to express itself. All I know is that it doesn’t seem to be listening.
And yet, in the midst of all this heartbreak, I’m reminded of the text messages and phone calls from my sisters, brother, parents, friends, asking if I was okay. I’m reminded of the extra long hugs I received at church before I even realized I was going to need them for the week ahead. I’m reminded of my church friends marching alongside me in the candle light vigil, crying for justice. I’m reminded of my pastor, who preached repentance from bullying and lamented with me. His precious wife told me that she recognized my hurt, opened her home and let me know I wasn’t alone. Two friends had me over for dinner, let me pour out my anger and frustration, and made me feel understood. During communion, a friend looked me square in the eye, reached out, and clasped my hand in support. Countless conversations, notes of solidarity, and messages of comfort began to put me back together.
Is this what Jesus looks like? Is this what he meant when he said, “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”?
I want more than anything for my denomination to understand, to listen, to learn to love more fully. I want them to recognize the depths of pain their policies cause, to recognize that homophobia doesn’t only manifest itself in bullets. Sometimes it looks like smug superiority. Sometimes it looks patronizing. Sometimes it’s disgust disguised as moral righteousness. And sometimes it’s a child learning to hate herself.
But then, I guess policies and manual statements were never really Jesus’ M.O. The Holy Spirit transcends issues of doctrinal and theological debate. And God, it seems, is reluctant to work through imperious power or righteous fiat, but rather through individual acts of love. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and my congregation, family, and friends have been that to me. I only hope the broader Church can one day do the same. I long for the day the Church can be that for each member of the LGBT community, and not only in times of crisis.
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