The past 48 hours have been difficult for me to process and deal with. I have been living on a virtual roller coaster of emotions, flying from extreme grief to extreme anger. It breaks my heart that someone would have so much hate in their heart that they would commit such a morally repugnant atrocity. I am grieved by the loss of so many precious lives who were plucked from us with little dignity or respect. It angers me that we live in a world where LGBTQ+ individuals cannot be safe anywhere. That we must bear the brunt of such violence is intolerable to me.
The last thing that I want to deal with right now is the virulent discourses on religion and the role it played in Sunday’s atrocity. In synopsis, here are the major threads of conversation that I’ve seen on my own Facebook wall:
1) Atheists: all religions are bad; religion caused this.
2) Conservative Christians: While I abhor homosexuality, I am saddened by this tragedy.
3) Everyone: Muslims condemn homosexuality; every major Islamic nation puts homosexuals to death.
4) Progressive Christians: This is awful; we stand in solidarity with Orlando and our Muslim brothers and sisters.
5) Muslims: This is awful and does not represent Islam; we stand in solidarity with Orlando.
As a practicing Christian, I reject the notion that all religions are bad. Moreover, as a very intelligent person I further reject the notion that individuals practicing religions are somehow less intelligent, less enlightened than those who are not practicing. I, along with billions of people world-wide, take comfort in my religion and its practice. Religion, at its most basic, is a search for meaning in a dark and often confusing world. The weekly practice of my Anglican faith in the prayers of the Book of Common Prayer, and my community with fellow Anglicans in the Holy Eucharist re-center me and give me a sense of belonging. I also reject the notion that all Christians are intolerant and backwards. My parish was the first parish in North Dakota to call women to ministry, the first to have a female priest, the first to have an openly gay priest, the first to have a ministry to the LGBTQ+ community, and the first (and only) to protest the ban of same-sex marriage in our Diocese. We are now the only Episcopal church in the state of North Dakota to perform marriages for same-sex couples. Along with other progressive members of our local faith community we continually reject the vile and hate-filled rhetoric which seeks to enslave women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people of color, and we call upon our state and federal governments to reject anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
I also recognize that my practice of Christianity, and my experience at Church is different from that of millions of other people. In my life, I have borne the brunt of homophobic and transphobic rhetoric which is minute-by-minute hurled at me and my people by the conservative Church. We are told that we are living a lifestyle choice, that we are going to hell if we do not reject our identities, and that there is no place for us at the table as long as we embrace ourselves and our LGBTQ+ identities. Most Christians assume that I am not one of their number because of my work and identity. Indeed, my legitimacy as a Christian is often questioned because my beliefs are “unorthodox.” Our government, largely influenced by the conservative Church, daily seeks to legislate us out of existence, attempting to restrict where we can go to the bathroom, who we can marry, whether or not we can have kids, and they continually refuse to grant us protections against workplace and housing discrimination, despite mounting evidence that we face ridiculously high rates of both.
And then we are told by the conservative Church, with a sincere smile, that they “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
Translated, this means: we still think there is something wrong with you, and we reject your identity. However, we hope that by being nice to you that it will assuage our guilt at not actually loving and accepting you as Christ has taught us, and perhaps it will disarm you enough that we can convert you and return you to the fold.
Religion is not bad. Radical and extreme practice of religion is bad. Religion, like all other human endeavors can be taken and misused by the people who practice it, and it can exact irrevocable damage on those in its path. From where I sit radical and extreme Islam and Christianity are to blame for the tragedy in Orlando. Because both seek to isolate, discriminate against, and extinguish LGBTQ+ identities. Sunday, at an inter-faith vigil, a Muslim woman got up to deliver a response from her community. Sobbing she spoke words which really resonated with me. She said, choking back tears, “I am horrified that Islam, something which defines my identity and from which I take such great comfort, can produce someone filled with such hatred that they could do such a horrible thing. This is not my Islam.”
And this is the part of the vigil where I broke down and began to sob. Because within me my soul echoed her words: “I am horrified that Christianity, a religion founded upon the commandments to love God and love each other, something which defines my identity and from which I take such great comfort, can produce a nation of people filled with such hatred that they could, with a smile on their face and a cross around their neck, perpetuate rhetoric which rejects all that we know about sexuality and gender identity and fosters oppression, hatred, and violence. This is not my Christianity.” And I am horrified that in such a time as this, there are many among my Christian brothers and sisters who are having a hard time processing what happened because while they love the sinner, they cannot forget the sin. And in the back of their mind they cannot help but think that the 50+ victims of Sunday’s massacre deserved what they got because their open sin made them a target. Because that’s what radical religion does to a person. It makes us forget to love, emphasizes and creates hierarchies out of differences, and points fingers away from ourselves.
So while ignorant people prattle on about how every Islamic nation puts “homosexuals”* to death to justify their Islamophobia while completely ignoring the fact that LGBTQ+ Americans lack legal protections, are treated like second class citizens, and face calls from Christian leaders and politicians to be put to death or put in camps, I will stand in solidarity with my Muslim sisters and brothers and weep. While well-intentioned people preach an end to religion, as if that will end hatred, I will kneel in my church and weep for those who have died and pray for peace. While my Christian brothers and sisters debate among themselves how to love the sinner and hate the sin in light of this tragedy I will embrace my LGBTQ+ family and weep with them and will work to end this hate-filled religious extremist rhetoric destroying our nation.
And to my Christian brothers and sisters, I leave you with these words from our savior, Christ: A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.
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*please don’t use this word, it is offensive.