It’s the one-year anniversary of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting. It wasn’t long after 12 June 2016 that I spoke publicly about how I wanted to react in the wake of it. I didn’t go into whether or not I thought gay marriage and LGBT relationships were right or wrong; instead I challenged other Christians on how they were going to react.
I was nervous, but I did it, and afterwards I was glad that I did it (as were a number other people, judging by the feedback I received). I also posted a shortened version on this blog. I incorporated considerations about Brexit (which happened two weeks later), though the original was written with only Orlando in mind.
And for a while now, I’ve wanted to share the full version, and the first anniversary of the shooting seems as appropriate as any other time.
That said, I am now stepping way, way outside of my comfort zone.
It’s not because I’m afraid of getting an anti-LGBT backlash (though – I remember the fear I had the first time I favourited a pro-LGBT tweet on Twitter; I laugh now, but at the time…) This time, it’s the whole blogging and social media thing that terrifies me.
The easy option is to dump all 2,400 words into this blog.
The hard option is to record it and upload it to YouTube. This isn’t hard because I have to make the recording, edit it, open a new YouTube channel and upload it. No, it’s hard because now the viewing statistics will be out there in public view.
And I’m going to look like a melon if no one watches it. (Or worse, if it gets only negative ratings.)
And yet… it’s been a number of years now that I’ve thought I need to move into videos. For one thing, some people simply prefer that format because they find it more accessible or more engaging as a medium. Moreover, this was written as a speech. Half of its punch is in the delivery.
On the flip side, people don’t tend to sit down and watch a YouTube video for 21 minutes. And for the first 8.5 minutes I talk about myself to illustrate a number of points; only after that do I get onto LGBT issues. Can I expect people to have the patience to listen through? Are they going to see me as moaning about my first world problems? Are LGBT people not going to bother with it, because it is addressed to non-LGBT Christians?
Whether or not I should post this has been eating at me.
But eventually I decided I’ll do it anyway and risk the embarrassment. After all, this is a topic that is more than a matter of embarrassment for some people. And even if no one hears, at least I’ve not been silent.
So here it is.
Over the last few weeks, I shared a preview of the video with a few people; one person said asked me afterwards:
The only question mark for me was in points toward the end when you said that it is knowing the hope we have in Jesus that makes people change (this is true and a salient and necessary point) but I was unsure whether you were saying to Christians that they can change homosexuals?
The short answer, is: no. I was not meaning to imply that, though I recognise someone could read that into what I was saying. Rather, what I had in mind was that Christians can have a tendency to try and “get” people to change; my point was that when someone grasps hope, they change of their own accord.
The full text of the video is below (it’s not word-for-word, but close enough).
Non-LGBT Christians, let’s stop, imagine, and challenge ourselves before we claim to know
What I’m about to say is something I wrote after the shooting in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida on 9th June 2016. Though I would count myself to be an LGBT ally, what I’m about to say doesn’t present a view regarding gay marriage or gender identity, either way. Because that’s not the point here. Rather, I think that one of the big steps in peacemaking is for both sides to have an idea of the other side’s context. What I hope to achieve with this writing, is to open people’s imaginations, offer a frame of reference for people, particularly Christians, to contemplate and think about things that maybe they’ve not been aware of before.
So here goes.
What you don’t see about my context
Those who know me well, know that I have a bit of a thing for the books of Law in the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Those who don’t know me well, tend to be completely unaware – because it’s not something I advertise.
The reason why I don’t tell people that I love the Old Testament Law is because if I put it that simply, they would probably draw conclusions that would make them uncomfortable to be around me.
Sometimes people feel I am a threat to them
For example, they might think that I believe I can save myself through what I do. They might think I’m a legalist, or that my concepts of holiness and purity will mean that I’ll want to separate myself from everyone else. They might think I’m judgemental and condemning as the Pharisees famously were in Jesus’ time.
Now, this perception might be wrong, but it doesn’t come from nowhere. And you can imagine some of their concerns: “What about all those animals and all that blood? What about capital punishment? What about patriarchy? What about the genocide of Canaan? What about slavery? Are you saying you’re OK with all of that?”
And there are plenty of things I could say in response. I could analyse atonement theology or make comparisons with the UK’s penal code in the middle ages; I could talk about four contrasting essays compiled in a book called “Show them no mercy”; I could talk about feminist theology or liberation theology, but you know what? They don’t want to know about any of that.
What they want to know is that I’m not a threat to them, that I care about them, and that they can be themselves around me. That’s what they want to know. And that’s what I need to find a way of communicating to them.
And no, it’s not always easy.
Communication must be without pride
Sometimes I want to dive into my long explanation. Sometimes I want to pick apart the obvious flaws in their arguments. Sometimes I want to point out how they have judged me before they’ve got to know me.
But people won’t get to know me if I’m angrily protesting that I’m a good person really.
If I truly believe in my heart that I’m in a relationship with God and he loves and he values me, including the part of me that wants to make artwork with Aaron’s staff in it, then I have to live like nothing can take that away from me.
And that means not taking pride in any of my arguments, even if they are reasoned; that means not taking pride in how many Christians agree with me, even if I do value their fellowship; that means not taking pride in my identity as a Pentateuch-loving Christian, even if that is who God made me to be.
Because the only thing that is really worth anything or is worth boasting about, ultimately, is knowing Jesus. And, well, he did a lot more to make that happen than I did.
Sometimes others feel threatening to me
Of course, this thing with the Old Testament law, it goes the other way too. Sometimes it’s not that people feel I’m a threat to them, it’s that they feel threatening to me.
You see, my love of the Pentateuch is not just culturally unconventional, it’s unpopular. So I frequently hear comments that are negative about the law in one way or another. For example:
- “Those beholden to the law, Hate Grace.”
- “Grace takes no counsel from the ”
- When one person says: “Neither Jesus nor Paul had a problem with the law,” the response comes: “For the love of God, read Galatians 3 or John 1. Also, stop eating shrimp!”
I always notice these kinds of comments. And sometimes they irritate, other times they sting, and at other times they really grieve me.
Now when I hear them, I know that the people who make them probably do not have any idea of the effect they have on me.
And some of these people I would count as friends. After all, you can meet me and start to get to know me quite well, without realising just how I feel about the law, or how deep those feelings go, or how they relate to my sense of identity. And until I trust people enough to know I can be safe and myself around them, they probably won’t find out. The sad part is that until I do tell them, I feel a sense of isolation and separateness – particularly when they make blunt and blasé comments. I can remind myself that the comments are not deliberately targeted at me, but that only goes so far.
And then on the flip side, when I find someone or read something that understands the law the way I do, I feel a palpable sense of relief. I had that feeling when I discovered Psalm 119. And Romans 7 verse 22.
I recognise that I am privileged
Now, I ought to keep this in perspective: although I often feel like I’m a cultural minority in how I view the Old Testament law, this is not a threat to my life or my ability to live a normal life. No one is going to put me in jail or kill me because I love the Old Testament books of law (at least not in the UK). Moreover, I don’t get depressed and I’m not at risk of taking my own life on account of my differences. Not everyone who feels they are part of a cultural minority is as privileged as I am.
So let’s talk about LGBT people
In the UK, there is a lot of activism from the gay and transgender community. And this activism is for more than just gay and transgender people; it’s for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual people. But we say LGBT for short. However, despite this, which is in some ways very visible, we still hold many cultural norms which are prejudiced against these people and sometimes even hostile towards them.
Now, not all Christians would agree that our society is prejudiced against LGBT people; some would indeed say that the opposite is true: that our society is biased in their favour against Christianity.
And the question I would go back to, if that is your view, is to consider what I was saying about these comments about the law. Have you been with someone who’s said, “Ugh, Leviticus! Numbers, genealogies, laws! Boring!” Would you ever have imagined that someone else might be in the room who feels as I do thinking, “You’ve just slammed a part of my identity.”
We can’t judge without both sides of the story
I don’t think this is a perspective you’d have known, and it’s not that I blame you for not knowing. But, I don’t think you would have imagined. And I think a lot of LGBT people have a perspective that non-LGBT people don’t see, don’t know, don’t imagine.
Now I’m not here to explain the LGBT perspective, for one thing their perspectives are many and varied, just as Christian perspectives within the church are many and varied. But I will say that this is not a matter of mere anecdote. When prejudices are systemic, it’s easy not to notice them because they are accepted, and because we usually only have ourselves and our friends as a reference point for what is normal, and because the perspectives of people who are different to us can be so alien that we simply don’t imagine how our actions might impact them.
This makes it easy to feel persecuted
Of course this creates a problem for many people who aren’t LGBT. Because if you don’t see the perspectives of LGBT people, then you probably won’t understand what they’re really pushing against, when they push back against social norms.
And if you are on the receiving end of a push-back, that can be a bit frightening; if you don’t see their perspective you’re much more likely to feel like the push is against you personally or against things that you treasure. Added to that is an element of unpredictability which leaves you in tension. Which piece of legislation will change next? When will we have to fight the next court case? Who will be the next person to come out?
It’s not a pleasant experience.
Strangely enough though, the LGBT community knows how that feels. Except for them the questions are different. The questions they ask are: which government is going to crack down on LGBT people and imprison them, castrate them or execute them? When will the next religious campaign be launched against LGBT people? Who will be the next extremist to shoot LGBT people in cold blood?
Observations following June 12, 2016
After the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, during the following week, my husband went to a vigil held for the 49 people who were killed. When he came back he said he’d never experienced anything like it; he said that there was a palpable sense amongst those there that what had happened in Orlando was what happened to them every day, only amplified.
Yes, there are complex issues around the causes of this shooting, but it was targeted at LGBT people and even though it was committed by a man claiming to be Muslim, we are not off the hook as Christians. When the news was breaking in the US, many people were asking whether the shooter was a conservative Christian. Even amongst moderate Christians, there are many who offered prayers of support but did not acknowledge the targeted nature of this attack.
We don’t get to say that this was a generalised hate crime. And we don’t get to blame Muslims for it. Christians are the ones who pick up Leviticus 18 or Romans 1 to make blunt or blasé comments about the morality of homosexual relationships.
Now I come from a protestant background, and I don’t believe that Luther, if he were here today, would apologise for Romans. And in case you hadn’t gathered from what I’ve said so far, I’m not about to apologise for Leviticus. I’ll apologise for what some people have read into it and how they’ve applied it, but that’s not the same thing.
More important, is what I am going to do.
We need to choose what we will do
In June 2016, I made a choice. I chose to go out of my way to let people who are different to me know that I am not a threat to them, that I care about them, and that they can be themselves around me.
And this choice increases in importance if I have theological or political points of disagreement.
No, it is not easy to walk a path that balances integrity with compassion, but that is what I believe we are all called to do as Christians. And we are called to do it, particularly when – not despite when, particularly when – we see people doing things or holding views that we think may be misguided in one way or another.
This does not in any way mean we should diminish our passion for what is right – for seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness.
We don’t need to go far into the debate about gay marriage before we come across questions around the authority and meaning of scripture, role models, the family, the body, society’s understanding of love and faithfulness, and the meaning of male and female.
It is absolutely right that we care about these matters.
However, if you want to be someone who speaks into these issues in a way that balances integrity and compassion, I would challenge you to consider three questions.
Question one: Are you speaking hope?
A message of hope will always convey truth; a message of truth, will not necessarily convey hope. But hope needs to be our priority. When people truly grasp the hope we have in Jesus, they change. In contrast, when they feel threatened or criticised without the prospect of hope, they tend to dig their heels in. Wherever we have the possibility of bringing hope to people, that is what we need to do.
Question two: Have you wept?
If you have a message that conveys a challenge, that needs to speak of righteousness in the ears of our listeners more than it needs to speak about hope, have you wept over the reasons for why you have a message? Jeremiah had many messages of judgement that called people to repentance, but he was a prophet of tears. Jesus had many hard words for Jerusalem, but he also wept over that city. Paul wrote of the many people who live as enemies of Christ, yet he did so with tears. If we have a message of challenge, we must weep over that message.
Question three: Who do you go to first?
If we have a message more of challenge than hope, and we have wept over it, have we considered very carefully who needs to hear that message first? Because it should be directed first towards the one with the plank in their eye, not the one with a speck.
So those are my challenges.
Whatever you think of what I’ve said, I would ask you to go away with this last thought over and above all the others that I have shared so far, knowing that I offer it as who loves the law and finds treasures in the Old Testament scriptures.
The fruit of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, patient endurance, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, does not come from theology, from scripture, from law, from orthodoxy, from tradition, from self-discipline, from the people around us or from ourselves. It comes from the Holy Spirit – who is a person, who is alive, who thinks, who feels, who listens, who speaks, who responds, who laughs and who grieves. If we want to live a holy and compassionate life, that brings transformation into this world, we need the Holy Spirit to live in us. There is no substitute.