I think we must acknowledge and feel our sorrow and vulnerability. Members of our congregation have known rejection by their families, homelessness, joblessness, and racism. We know that this attack could have just as easily happened in Houston as in Orlando. It could have been us. Homophobia, scape-goating, and fear have marred our city’s public life. Trans people have been murdered in our neighborhood.
Historically, one of the charisms (gifts of the Holy Spirit) which St. Stephen’s has had as a community is to be a safe place. Whether it was to be a sancturary from segregation, sexism, or homophobia, our congregation has been deliberate in being a place of welcome and refuge. Our call has been to be a community of healing and binding up so that we can all live abundant and full lives, despite our experiences of fear, self-hatred, and spiritual abuse done in the name of God.
I am not surprised that there is a cultural and violent backlash to the gains that LGBTQ citizens have made or that the perpetrator may have been struggling with issues of his own orientation. Our worst fears are often rooted in the truths we deny in ourselves. Religion can exacerbate this problem when it fails to allow people to grapple with the truth of their lives. Jesus reminds us that the truth shall set us free.
The failure of religious leaders to denounce hatred of sexual and religious minorities laid the groundwork for this violence. Orlando is a call to repentance. As people of faith who are versed in expanding the circle of acceptance and love, we have an important ministry to offer in its wake. We have the opportunity to share our strength, hope, and love through courageously naming our truth. Cowering in silence and fear is not the only option.
During the AIDS pandemic the LGBTQ community declared, “Silence is death.” The courage to speak out brought solidarity and community to lonely sufferers, encouragement to researchers, and money from the government to effect public policy change. As we catch our breath from grieving, we pray that Christ will move through us that we can model speaking out the truth of God’s love for all people. This is our gift and our testimony.