I woke up this morning alive with the memories of yesterday’s joy– my sister-in-law married her partner in love. Two women, they were MARRIED (not “unioned”, not “legally partnered”) but married. Theirs was and is a marriage of love, of commitment, of ongoing and generative (dare I say, procreative?) life. They have chosen to live this life together, in joy, to tackle all the many adventures ahead together. It was a day filled with beauty, with joy, with love.
I have also been deeply conscious this past week of the deaths in Orlando, of the senseless and devastating loss of life at a gay night club. It is Pride month, the month where as a nation, many of us remember and honor all the struggles of the gay community throughout the last century, from so many beatings and killings of gay men and women (by the police, in many cases), to Stonewall and the Castro, the election of Harvey Milk to last year’s amazing triumph– marriage equality across the entire nation. And yet, here we are, mourning the tragic loss of too many lives, in what seems like a targeted and hateful crime against gay men.
We live the year 2016– I can’t help but wonder–how can this be?? How can this still be happening? And then, all too easily, I know. It happens because it is still, in some way, if not overtly, then subtly, sanctioned. Most tragically to me, it is sanctioned in the places where it should be most clearly and completely condemned– our Christian churches.
I am a minister for the Roman Catholic Church. I love my Church so deeply I have never been able to walk away, even when I acutely disagree with some of the current magisterial teachings. I know the expanse of Church teaching is deep and broad, that it encompasses liberation theology and feminist theology, the teachings of the early mothers and fathers of the Church, the contemplatives and the mystics, and the incredibly forward movements of the Second Vatican Council. Yet it also includes teachings more rooted in mindsets afraid of change, out of touch with the sacredness of sexuality in all its forms, the truly puzzling inability to see the constant, ever-evolving creative power of the living God now, in all the circumstances of our modern, changing life.
Sadly, issues around non-heteronormative sexuality and marriage seems to be one of the places certain bodies of believers in the Church seem to be persistently and proudly stuck. They spout platitudes like, “of course we welcome them, accept them, love them” and yet there is a firm and clear demarcation– gay men and women can in no way expect to live out their sexuality and marry in the way privileged hetersexual couples can. Within the Roman Catholic context and within many Christian contexts, there is an official ban on gay marriage. Combined with the across-the-board ban against sexual expression and action in any context besides marriage, this leaves gay Christian and Catholic couples with no option in terms of their own sexual expression and union. No wonder so many leave the Church.
Sure, the killer in Orlando was Muslim. He was also American. This country is 70% Christian. This means that Christianity, however it has been interpreted and lived, influences every person in this country, simply through osmosis of culture. Christianity is everywhere– on many street corners, in our schools, in politics, in pop culture and the media. I venture that it makes no difference if this man worshipped in a Mosque or a Christian church– he, like all of us, swim in the waters of a Christian influenced society. This could mean great potential for goodness, for peace, for justice, if we Christians were really following Christ. And yet, something very different is happening in this country.
Subtle hate seeps into all of society when we, as a Church, not only allow but propagate teachings rooted in discrimination and judgement. Presuming we can dictate the moral life of another, understand the yearnings of their body and soul, judge them for anything outside of what has been deemed ‘natural’ and ‘ordered’ and label anything else as “disordered” and therefore wrong (and worse, claiming the falsity that somehow this is “God’s will”) is violent. And violence is violence– whether in the form of barring someone from a sacrament that they feel called to by the God of their heart, mind, soul and body, or shooting up a nightclub because the same rhetoric has seeped into a person’s consciousness. Violence here, in my own heart and soul, is violence everywhere.
Now I know this may seem like a far reach– how can discrimination against gay people in the Christian/ Catholic churches have anything to do with the tragic shooting of a nightclub in Orlando, Florida? I understand. It takes a special lens to see it, a contemplative one, one that gets that the microcosm is the macrocosm, and the macrocosm is the microcosm. Yet it is the view of the one we call the Christ, the one that, in theory, all Christian churches rest on. The one who said: “The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.” (Matt. 6: 22-23) The one who said “the kingdom of God is within you” and he did not mean the ones who make the rules or have the money or happily sit in the positions of privilege. His most beloved ones were those on the margins– at that time, the children, the sex workers, women, the sick and disabled, the poor, the uneducated, all those outcast from the ‘in-group’ of society. These were the ones, he said over and over again, that God has chosen to build the true kin-dom on earth.
I can’t help but wonder who these people would be today, the ones at the edges of society, outcast and deemed disordered and forsaken. The LGBTQ+ community would undoubtedly be at the top of the list. And so, as a Church, we must love ALL people, especially those on the margins, especially our gay brothers and sisters, if we have any hope of really following, really embodying the one we call the Christ. And I mean really loving, really accepting, all the way, not just spewing platitudes that don’t mean anything. We can’t say we love them and then turn and limit their loving. This is not redemption, this is not resurrection, this is hanging them on the cross and leaving them to die. That, my friends, is not the Christian life. And if we can’t love them totally, then we cannot be surprised when so many die at the hands of a man with the same internal hate, the same internal discrimination, the same internal inability to see the inherent dignity and worth of every person that is, unfortunately, all too alive in our Christian churches.