Some learned the news as they used their phones to open Bible Gateway in church. Some were accosted by the images as they woke up and checked Facebook. Others got a text from concerned friends asking if they were okay. However it was they heard, it wasn’t long before LGBTQ+ people found themselves united in the terrible grief of knowing that the worst mass shooting in U.S. history had been caused by hatred towards people just like them.
As details continue to be added to the story of the murderous rampage in a gay nightclub in Orlando, layers of complexity emerge. Many LGBTQ+ Christians immediately expressed concern that the tragedy not inflame Islamaphobia given the shooter’s pledge to ISIS. The majority of victims were the particularly vulnerable demographic of LGBTQ+ people of colour which highlighted the intersectionality of marginality. The assumption that LGBTQ+ people don’t worry about their safety now that there is marriage equality was starkly challenged as images of bloodied survivors flooded the media. The perception that Christians who had publicly mourned similar tragedies in the past were strangely silent, exacerbated the pain and loss many LGBTQ+ people felt. The questions about the possibility of the shooter’s own internalized homophobia have added confusion to an already complicated grieving process.
These concerns expose the ways that privilege and power energize fear and division, obfuscating our shared humanity. But this is precisely where the gospel brings light in such dark and overwhelming places. Followers of Jesus are called to model the incarnation – an intentional stripping of privilege, status, and reputation to find ourselves in identification with those who are powerless, despised, rejected. This takes concrete and practical shape as we amplify LGBTQ+ voices in this time of public grieving, as those in the straight and cis-gender majority join in unqualified lament; as religious communities humbly ask LGBTQ+ people to lead them to become safer places; as individual Christians commit to rigorously review attitudes and language to embody value and respect for all human beings; as Christian families unashamedly embrace their LGBTQ+ loved ones; and as followers of Jesus take every opportunity to speak up whenever they encounter stirring up of hate.
1. Amplify LGBTQ+ voices
Have you taken the time to listen to the ways this tragedy has triggered fear and pain for LGBTQ+ people? Take time to have coffee, read a blog, watch a youtube video, and then share the stories.
2. Join in unqualified lament
No matter what your theological position on sexual ethics for LGBTQ+ people, Jesus called us to grieve with those who grieve. To mourn the loss of life. To mourn the loss of safety LGBTQ+ people feel. To mourn for mothers and fathers and siblings. To mourn a culture of hatred and violence. None of this needs to be qualified with, “But I believe same-sex relationships are sinful.”
3. Humbly ask how to become a safer place
Faith communities declare, “All are welcome!” Such a declaration can ring hollow when LGBTQ+ people encounter both verbal and non-verbal signals that their presence causes discomfort, fear, or confusion. People who present in a manner that is different than expected norms, particularly in the realm of gender, deserve to receive an embrace consistent with their inherent dignity and value as Image-Bearers of God. This may mean that congregations need to ask LGBTQ+ people to help them become more comfortable with sexual minorities, answer their questions, debunk stereotypes and assumptions, learn new language, and understand how to express and demonstrate a genuine invitation to connect and belong.
4. Review attitudes and language
The idea of changing an entire culture where LGBTQ+ people feel like second class citizens or worry about potential verbal or physical abuse can feel completely overwhelming. But, each individual can take ownership of their own internal posture towards those who might experience gender or sexuality differently than they do. An incarnational shift draws us to relinquish exclusion and embrace the other. This may require personal reflection on our sense of security in our own sexual identity and gender expression. This can be a threatening process – but one that will ultimately free us to live more fully in our own skin and be able to love those who may be quite different than we are.
5. Embrace LGBTQ+ love ones
There is a sad legacy of rejection of LGBTQ+ children from Christian homes. This ought not to be. We have learned that people do not choose their sexual orientation. We have also learned that sexual reorientation is profoundly rare and attempts to pursue this can be harmful. And the testimony of countless LGBTQ+ followers of Jesus demonstrates that a gay Christian is NOT an oxymoron. It’s time that unconditional love be consistently demonstrated to our LGBTQ+ children.
6. Speak up when you encounter hate
The LGBTQ+ conversation is a hot topic for the church. It is not a subject that will be uniformly resolved any time soon. There are, however, key tenants of the gospel that connects this topic to so many other arenas of controversy. Love of enemies. Being peace-makers. Speaking up for those who are being mistreated. When Christians believe that same-sex sexual behaviour is sinful, it can cause them to ignore the valid injustices that the gospel compels us to address. LGBTQ+ people need people of privilege to speak up for their safety and fair treatment. This is the common grace of a loving and merciful God.
The targeting of LGBTQ+ people in the Orlando shooting is a tragedy. The tragedy of hate is one that followers of Jesus can actively, intentionally, and persistently engage. It may cost us our comfort at times, but it will also grow us as disciples of Jesus Christ. Let this be an opportunity to cultivate our witness to the outrageous love that includes all God has made.