In the wake of the Orlando shooting over the weekend, I have seen a wide range of responses from my friends, who range from conservative Evangelicals to reformed Evangelicals to non-Christian, Gay Christian and LGBT, and everything in between.
Among the variety of responses, perspectives, and calls to action for all types of causes, I’ve noticed one shared sentiment: the idea that others are not responding correctly, or are responding incorrectly.
It seems like no matter how people respond, there are a lot who are quick to say that their response is focused on the wrong issue. From gun control to immigration, this tragedy has been used to address a wide spectrum of political issues. From homophobia to Islamaphobia, a wide range of social issues has been presented. Of course, what interests me most is the wide variety of ways Christians have responded, and then argued among themselves about the appropriateness of those responses.
What’s interesting is that all the Christians seem to have good intentions, and they’re all arguing about how to best love people. Debates spring up about how Christians shouldn’t post qualifiers and caveats with their support, and of course others argue that they don’t have to agree with the “lifestyle” to love the people in it. Some Christians get mad that other Christians aren’t addressing it at all, or ignoring the fact that this was a direct attack against the LGBT community and not America as a whole. Some get upset that people are sharing how the tragedy has affected them personally, because that takes some focus away from the direct victims and their families. I could go on and on. There are as many different perspectives as there are people, and there’s no way they could all be represented in one place.
In general, I don’t really care how people respond. People can say whatever they want, and everyone is free to agree or disagree, openly or privately. When I hear people complaining about more Christians aren’t speaking up, and how their silence speaks volumes, I just think about how many issues I have stayed silent on- not because I don’t care, but just because I honestly don’t know what to say or how to contribute effectively. I haven’t said anything publicly about the Black Lives Matter movement, global warming, presidential elections, other terrorist attacks, and many other issues that people find extremely important. The LGBT rights issue has obviously been the topic of my year, but I can’t expect it to be the topic of everyone else’s year.
I think people should be free to hold whatever views and beliefs they hold, for whatever reason, and to express them in any way they want. Even if I don’t agree with them, and even if I think what they share is offensive or harmful, I wouldn’t tell them not to share it. Maybe it’s hard to pick that up from my writing, but I pretty much only have a problem with people purposely hiding and covering up their beliefs and responses regarding certain issues so that others don’t have a fair opportunity to determine if and how they want to be involved with those beliefs and responses. Anything I do to advocate for causes that are meaningful to me are focused on educating so that others can develop, rather than trying to force any kind of change.
I think for my generation in particular, there’s a sense that everyone needs to agree about everything, and that’s just simple never going to happen. I feel like when people push really hard to get people to agree with them and accept them, it may be because at some level they don’t agree with and accept themselves. When we can get over that, it kind of doesn’t matter as much what others think or how they respond to whatever issues are most important to us. Once you make it to that point, it may feel like there’s a lot less reason to speak up on anything, but if there was really a deeper meaning behind your voice it will still be there. Just because we may not see change in opinions and beliefs, that doesn’t mean we stop educating with a purpose, especially about the issues that others purposely try to sweep under the rug.
How do I feel about the shooting, personally? Honestly, I don’t feel much in the way of emotions or anything. A lot of my gay Christian acquaintances have expressed fear, pain, frustration, anger, a renewed sense of urgency to “fight” for acceptance and visibility, etc. etc. In general, I am pretty practical and logical, and I always look for the bottom line in everything. As the bottom line, I kind of recognize that this violent terror attack has brought a lot of attention to an issue that is often overlooked. Religious based homophobia comes in all shapes and sizes, but the bottom line is it’s all the same. I would never want to minimize the tragedy of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history and all the victims and families directly offended, but I can guarantee you that religious homophobia has cost our country a lot more than fifty lives. Suicide rates are highest among LGBT teens in religious families and settings. The religious rhetoric that teaches people, directly and indirectly, that LGBT people are less valuable than straight people, or are different in negative ways, is more deadly than any terrorist with any gun. I totally understand that for many religious people, there is a bottom line that prohibits them from treating anyone who has gay sex as equals, if not people who are just gay and haven’t had gay sex, and that is totally their right. But there is also a bottom line that God would rather have people living authentic lives than a bunch of people dead in the closet or out of the closet.
Say what you want. It doesn’t hurt or frustrate me, it just helps me understand you more, and I feel like that’s an ok goal to have. I don’t feel entitled to anything, much less agreement with my personal values and beliefs. I don’t feel the need to have my surroundings reflect who I am so that I can accept myself. Throughout my journey, what has hurt and offended me most has been pressure to keep silent about what I have felt and experienced, so I don’t want to limit anyone else’s ability to frame their responses within their own understanding, feelings, experiences, values, etc. What’s worse is hiding what you feel or believe. If you’re in a situation where pressure from your social environment or employer prohibits you from expressing whatever you want to express, that sucks. I know what it’s like to feel that way, too. I would encourage you to be more patient with others and whatever they share, but if you don’t feel like it, don’t. Feel what you feel, say what you want, take whatever action you want to take, or refrain from any action you don’t want to take.
If you read the Psalms, you’ll notice every emotion and action under the sun, from the deepest sorrow to the greatest joy, from the the most patient love to the most violent anger, from lost questioning of God to complete faith. God is in all of that, and He’s in all of this. Your experience is valid, your voice is valuable.