Early yesterday morning, a twenty-nine-year-old man, full of hatred and armed to the teeth, walked into the Pulse night club in Orlando, Florida, and proceeded to murder fifty people and wound scores more. It is the most devastating mass shooting in American history. It specifically targeted the LGBT community.
In April of 1999, when two young men entered Columbine High School and began their massacre, I was twenty-five years old. I was young enough to remember vividly the experience of being in high school: in the library working on some project, in the cafeteria with friends. The familiarity of those spaces and my ability to imagine myself as a student at Columbine High School rendered that shooting intimately personal for me. It was a long time before I was able to think of Columbine without being overcome by emotion.
My life-long friends Elizabeth Bridges and Audra Hamilton, one gay and the other not, have both written with eloquence and passion in the past several hours about the way in which gay bars and night clubs are, for the LGBT community, places of sanctuary. In a Facebook post, Audra, who is not gay, speaks poignantly of the way in which she has always felt comfortable with friends in gay night clubs. She muses why this is so, and offers this: “I suspect it was…because the people who were there had fought so hard to create a place of acceptance for themselves…and I was a beneficiary of that space and that love. I felt free to be myself, because they did. And they welcomed me.”
The complex role of gay bars and night clubs in LGBT culture is news to me; I had been unaware. Though I minister to many gay and lesbian Christians, and though I am blessed to have gay and lesbian members in my family, I am unfamiliar with much of gay culture. And so, unlike Columbine, which resonated with familiar images and thus hit me viscerally, I am only just beginning to grasp the wound to the soul of the LGBT community caused by yesterday’s massacre in Orlando, which may be more devastating even than the death toll.
This is, I believe, part of our collective challenge. We in the United States have striven to become a tolerant society. But mere tolerance doesn’t breed familiarity, and without familiarity there is little chance for understanding. Tolerance is a passive virtue. It says, in essence, “I can abide your presence in proximity to me, but I do not want to know you.”
I have plumbed the depths of the Gospels, and nowhere do I find Jesus exhibiting tolerance. Rather, Jesus embraces. Embrace is an active virtue, the preeminent Gospel virtue. Again and again, Jesus embraces the one who is outcast, who exists on the margins, who is maligned. Through his embrace, which comes in the forms both of physical contact and words of acceptance, Jesus declares that, in God, there are no outcasts, there are no margins, and woe be it to anyone who maligns any one of God’s blessed and beloved children.
With God’s help, Christ Church Cathedral, where I have the privilege to serve as dean, strives to be a Christian community of embrace. The Cathedral is, by definition, a sanctuary, and into its precincts are welcomed any and all who seek to know the God who is love. Indeed, just a day before the terror attack in Orlando, the Justice & Peace Council of Christ Church hosted its fourth annual “Coming Out in Church” forum, an event which creates a safe space for LGBT Christians to express their faith and for the Church to embrace them in the fullness of, and not despite, their sexual orientation. I was honored to be on the panel for this year’s forum.
Who needs the embrace of Christ’s whole church this morning? Surely, the Orlando community writ large, who are reeling from yesterday’s disaster and will be for a long time. Surely, the LGBT community, who have been made to feel, as I felt after Columbine all those years ago, acutely vulnerable. And surely the mainstream Muslim community in this country, who must contend now not only with age-old mistrust between Christians and Muslims (and vice versa), but also with the radicalized element within Islam whose very goal is to pit the rest of us against all our Muslim neighbors, the overwhelming majority of whom desire God’s peace just as I do.
Across social media, the question has been asked in the past twenty-four hours, by people across the social, ideological, and political spectra: “With whom do you stand?”
God willing, now as always, I stand with Jesus, because I believe Jesus is God Incarnate. And in this instance, I have no doubt where Jesus stands. Jesus stands in embrace of all of God’s children who are afraid, who are suffering, and who wonder what today will bring. With Jesus supporting my faltering knees, I stand in embrace of my LGBT brothers and sisters. I stand in embrace of all people of good will, and of any faith, who seek to know the God of love and also seek God’s peace. Whatever today brings, we will face it together.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be with you and those you love, this day and always. Amen.