The church, Orlando and LGBTQ pain

June 23rd, 2016

“Healing does not cover over, but exposes the wound to others.” — Sara Ahmed 

Just over a week ago, an angry man with a history of violence and threatening violence, made his way to Pulse, one of Orlando’s gay nightclubs. He was armed with guns, volatile rage, and deep, complicated homophobia. The guns were legally purchased. The rage was socially sanctioned. The deep, complicated homophobia had long been endorsed by at least some practitioners of every major religious tradition. The people who were at Pulse that night were celebrating Latin Night, during Pride Month; they were mostly LGBTQ, mostly Latinx, predominantly Puerto Rican. They were seeking community, connection, celebratory space, safe space, sanctuary. 49 beautiful, beloved, people were murdered; 53 more were physically injured; countless more were traumatized, cast into fear, loss, grief and anger.

Exactly one week before this massacre, I came out on the floor of the Iowa Annual Conference. During a moment of personal privilege, I confessed that I have been a United Methodist almost my entire life. I was baptized, confirmed, called, commissioned, and ordained into this church. This has been my place of spiritual belonging, of vocational calling, my faith community, my faith home. I confessed that I do not want to, therefore, go. But. And. I confessed that I am a self-avowed, practicing homosexual. Or, in my language, I am out, queer, partnered clergy. I confessed that I knew this truth was not news to most if any of those gathered around me, but that by simply speaking this truth, aloud, there, I could be brought up on charges, face a formal complaint, lose my job, lose my clergy credentials, lose my space of spiritual belonging, of vocational calling, my faith community, my faith home.

I confessed that I cannot begin to describe the persistent pain and weary woundedness of being raised in and called to a church that continues to call my being and my loving a chargeable offense, that continues to identify my being and my loving as incompatible with Christian teaching. I confessed that I do not know if it is faithful or just plain foolish of me to continue giving my prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness to a denomination that continues to call me and so many I love an abomination, an issue, a divisive distraction. I confessed that the UMC is instilling in me and other LGBTQ people some horrible, harmful untruths: that we are unloved, and unlovable. That we are unworthy. That we are incompatible, disordered, divisive. That at our core, at the core of our createdness, there is something shameful, sick, sinful.

I asked my sisters and brothers in Christ to be church: to stop the complaints, stop the charges, stop the prohibitions, stop the harm.

The day after the massacre — the very next day — my bishop wrote me a letter informing me of a formal complaint filed against me by three male clergy colleagues. The rest of the week was a blur, spent tending to my own grief, providing pastoral care for LGBTQ people within my appointed ministry context and far beyond, and reaching out to and gathering with LGBTQ folk in that hope that none of us would feel quite so alone in our fear, loss, grief and anger.

I am still struggling to find words to express my own fear, loss, grief and anger.

To my fellow queers, whether you seek sanctuary in churches or gay bars or both, I want to say this: You are beautiful. You are beloved. You are enough. You are not alone. God delights in you. And any message to the contrary is incompatible with Christian teaching.

To my straight United Methodist colleagues, I want to say this: Lean in. Listen to the voices of LGBTQ people crying out in lament. Check in. Call/text/email/message every LGBTQ friend or family member, let them know you love them, that you care. Keep checking in. Confess. Name to yourself, to God, and to other straight people the ways you have been too quiet, too slow, too tentative, too conditional in your support. Repent. Recognize the ways you are complicit in the ongoing spiritual and physical violence against LGBTQ people. Do it differently.

I trust and pray none of you condone killing LGBTQ people. But remember, people do not begin to learn to hate from hate groups, but from more subtle statements and conventional practices, like those found within our own Book of Discipline, and shared from our own United Methodist pulpits.

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