Being the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting which claimed 29 lives, I am thinking of the environment in which that tragedy occurred. It would be easy for me to say, ‘I wasn’t a part of that’. I live nowhere near Orlando. I am not gay. I hate dancing. The communities and people involved are quite removed from me. It doesn’t pertain to me. I have enough issues of my own over here.
Technically, all of that is true. Morally, that is quite far from the truth. The shooter is alleged to have targeted the club because it was a social center for the LGBTQ community of Orlando. The shooter is said to have been pledged to ISIS. Pull back a bit and the Pulse shooting happened in a context of multiple incidences targeting the LGBTQ community. Just last month, two men in Indonesia were publicly flogged for being gay. I had two thoughts in quick succession: 1) how medieval to deal with an issue in that way and 2) the ideology of my church is the same as the flogger’s. The United Methodist Church doesn’t condone flogging, but it does condemn homosexuality and treat LGBT people as less-than their straight peers. Actually, the second realization has stuck with me. Even as we remember Pulse, the ideology of the shooter is perpetuated by my own church.
This same church has taught me everything I know about loving my LGBTQ neighbors as myself. The church really is an enigma.
The church tries to be two heroic things at once. We try to be a community of people trying to be as much like Jesus as possible. Forgetting for a moment all the miracles and supernatural stuff, just following the teachings of Jesus is a tall task. Ever tried loving your enemy? We also claim to be a healing ground for broken people. People are broken by greed, strife, warfare, anger, grief…nearly all aspects of life. Our book even includes poetry beautifully describing how God loves the broken-hearted. Whole books are dedicated to various processes for dealing with wrongdoing and suffering. Our heroes are murderers, adulterers, war mongers, rapists, mobsters and thieves.
The process for the church dealing with heroic thing #2 (healing broken people) is to invite people in “as-is”. Ever bought a used car as-is? It’s a pain in the ass! In the church, we say “come as you are”. Well…people can be pretty effed-up. We invite them to pay their issues at the feet of Jesus. That’s not easy: we fake it, we fool ourselves, we miss our own blind spots. And so it is instead of everyone leaving their bigotry at the feet of Jesus, sometimes they arise to positions of power. Once he becomes Bishop, it becomes really tough to curb the damage. And so it is that the church, while genuinely striving to become more like Jesus, has a sorry track record in dealing with our own baggage. We have certainly been as much a part of the problem as the solution.
What else can we do? One popular alternative is to eschew church altogether. When then do bigots give up their bigotry? We are already seeing the encampment of extreme ideologies, where people retreat to like-minded people and even increase in their extremism via the echo chamber of their group. Where do different-minded people get together and work out differences? The only place I see this is at church. Retreating to our twitter feeds is a recipe for disaster. Church doesn’t necessarily do this well. But we are also better positioned than most to offer this remedy.
I grieve my church. I love my church. It gives me great opportunity to learn and it gives me immense frustration. I’ve learned everything good and redemptive about humanity, including the LGBTQ community through the church. And the gravest atrocities seem way to close to remain comfortable. I understand why people need to leave church. I’ve seen amazing people have to leave to protect their dignity and their families. But to give over this historic and powerful entity to the powers of bigotry seems foolish and counter-productive. The remaining best choice is to stay engaged and work for a church that has a place for the bigot and an exit strategy for his bigotry. The grace of God, relentlessly pursued and revealed remains the best strategy to help heal the world from this particular brokenness.