We Are One

jill flag

Photo by Jill Corbett

A week ago I rode for two hours with some queer friends to attend a vigil for those lost in Orlando. We had been signed up to volunteer, and even though I didn’t know what exactly that would entail I was a little relieved. I do much better at events if I am contributing in some way, be it a church service or a fundraiser or in this case a community candlelight vigil.

We showed up to a little park with five sidewalk entrances off the main roads all leading to a quaint gazebo. Volunteers were already scurrying about with cases of water and pamphlets. We checked in and were told we’d be among the 49 people holding posters with a picture of each victim along with a brief bio. We would line the sidewalks so that people could come through to connect with each victim. The coordinators, full of empathy, assured us that we could take breaks if it became too intense at any time. Otherwise we were to be silent unless a passer-by initiated conversation, acting as a sort of human pathway between the victim we represented and those attending.

I, of course, was crying by the time the orientation began. I’d been crying since I’d heard about the shooting the week before. In the past I’d heard of shootings and violent acts and responded the way most worldly people do – with a blend of sadness, anger, fear, and cynicism. I remember how devastating the Sandy Hook shooting was for my friends with small children, how that event caused waves of panic in them for months, even years. I’d felt compassion for them, tried to be supportive, but I remember feeling confounded that this act performed states away would impact them so viscerally. Twenty-four hours after the shooting in Orlando I began to understand my friends’ reaction those years ago.

Armed with my Kleenex and my poster, me and my girlfriend took up our posts with the rest of our friends. I was stationed closest to the street entrance on our sidewalk facing my girl, which both helped calm me and made all the emotions that much more intense. This was my first experience with anti-gay violence and the resulting fear; she’s lived with it her entire life. People began to arrive, meandering solemnly through the park as they gazed at each face and read about the lives of the lost. There was a silence that settled over the crowd of more than two hundred as we all sought to honor the dead. Old ladies would pat my hand and mouth “thank you.” Teens came by in clusters clinging to one another and openly weeping. Families came through, parents holding the hands of their children tight as the kids were blissfully distracted by the rainbow flags and candles they received upon entrance. Clergy people stopped, heads shaking and hands over their hearts. I cried with them all.

Then they arrived. Dressed in black, blowhorn around the neck, as soon as they started to unravel the banners I knew who they were. Religious protesters. Fifteen feet away from me. Of all the places they could have set up, they chose the spot I was nearest. As I watched King James verses about sin and death raised high, I felt like my spirit was being shredded. I’ve felt my heart break before, over unrequited love and hard life decisions. This was worse than them all. I felt nauseous, like my guts were being ripped out through my chest. Logically I tried to talk myself down. There were only a few of them. Several clergy people and others, including a dude who stood a head above everyone else there, formed a little wall and distracted the protesters in conversation which limited the damage done. But as soon as the mourners in the park saw what was happening on the periphery, the atmosphere became charged. I started hearing hateful, angry words about Christians and God and Jesus as I stared at distorted words of God proclaiming hate and anger at people grieving a terrible loss.

I’ve spent the better part of the last year struggling to find a place in my Christian community as a newly out bisexual woman. It’s been heartbreaking and sad and hard and enraging and deeply personal while playing out very publicly. This vigil was my first LGBT event attended as an out bisexual Christian. It was just as painful, just as anxiety-ridden, just as frustrating. I’ve never felt so ashamed of us (Christians), never experienced that shame so powerfully, as in those moments.

My gay friends simply cannot separate a judgment of sin from a choice to hate. There is no “love the sinner, hate the sin” formula that actually works. The argument today against LGBT includion is the same argument that said people of color were morally inferior by nature, or that women were biologically more sinful, or that the Jews were in essence inhuman, or that Christians were incestuous cannibals. We can get into the biological, theological, biblical, philosophical, and neurological arguments and I can try to help you understand that applying the term ‘sin’ to same sex, committed, loving relationships is just plain incorrect, inaccurate, and unscientific. But at the end of the day how we treat each other is truly all that matters. What I can tell you, dear Christian, is that no matter how politely or rationally you try to communicate your convictions, all that’s heard is hate. Dressed up, polite, well-intentioned bigotry. I understand the guilt that often accompanies anti-gay conviction, how much you will say you wish the Bible didn’t say this or that. I’m going to challenge you – err on the side of love. It’s the goodness of God that draws people to repent. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict. We were commissioned to invite people in, leaving any changing that might need to happen up to the God extending the invitation. We have to do better. We have to. In Jesus, there’s no gay or straight, cis- or trans-gender, Jew or Muslim or Christian. We are one in Christ Jesus.

we are one

Tattoo by Karin at Maiden Voyage

The day after the shooting, a week before this vigil, I attended another vigil for the victims. This one was in my hometown, and I saw lots of familiar faces there. Including faces of those I know have convictions about the ‘sin’ of homosexuality. Yet they came. They lit candles. They lifted up prayers. They embraced me. They didn’t qualify their love, didn’t offer exceptions to their grace. I long for a day when our convictions no longer manifest as bigotry in action. I long for a day when our churches are truly open to all, when our focus is on advancing the work of Jesus in beauty and reconciliation and peace and justice and grace rather than moral policing. I long for a day when Christians show up to a gathering of mourners with banners of support and love, and the response from the crowd is more like those being held in their hurt than those who are being threatened even in their woundedness.

During the two hour drive home, my friends all agreed that it was one of the most powerful experiences any of them had had. I thought back to the many other times I had felt that heaviness, that energy, that power. That thing I will always know as the presence of God. And I cried some more, because even if they wouldn’t recognize it as such, I knew that was what we’d encountered. I hope some of that was able to reach those protesters on the side, down deep beyond the hate and self-righteousness. It had been a holy moment.

God was there. He seeped in past the preconceived ideas, the bigotry on both sides, and all the rest. She held my heart even as she allowed it to break. As I keep trying to figure out how to be queer and Christian, Christian and queer, bisexual and a cis-woman and all the rest, I have to remember that Jesus knows how to be in all of those communities already. He already is in all of those communities. The best thing I can do is just keep following his lead.

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