I was actually thinking about deleting this blog this week, but I wanted to put this somewhere so I guess the deleting will have to wait at least a bit…
TL;DR: I dunno, I guess the last paragraph? Most of which I didn’t actually write?
I debated whether or not I wanted to post this for quite a while. In some ways I wrote more for my own processing than for others. A lot of people have said a lot of things already; I don’t want to regurgitate what’s already been said (and likely more eloquently), yet I want to say something. Then again, there’s nothing new under the sun…
I see three main issues portrayed: 1) guns, 2) terrorism under the name of Islam, 3) prejudice against LGBT+ people under the name of religion. It’s a false trichotomy to portray the tragedy as a consequence of only one or another of these things, but because I’m a good Presbyterian and an IS(N?)TJ, lists are how I understand the world. Other than mentioning them above, I’m not going to spend any time discussing the first two items. They’re barrels of monkeys that merit entire posts of their own, but ignoring them completely would be a glaring omission. And so I’m choosing to stop here, except to say, be good to each other, folks.
49 people were murdered on Sunday. That’s only 8 people fewer than were in my graduating class in high school. 4 fewer than can be on an NFL team’s active roster. Each of those people had a story, and many of those people’s stories happened to include identifying as part of the LGBT community.
Almost half (48%) of people who identify as LGB in the US also identify as Christian, according to a 2015 Pew survey (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/chapter-4-the-shifting-religious-identity-of-demographic-groups/#religious-composition-by-sexual-orientation). Although this is substantially less than the straight or overall populations, which usually poll around 70%, it also appears to be substantially more than the Jesus-vs.-The-Gays scenario that the media/popular culture, and some Christian groups, would have us believe. These 48% are our brothers and sisters. And, though perhaps not theologically, so are the other 52%.
A 2013 Pew survey (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/06/13/a-survey-of-lgbt-americans/#religion; the 2015 survey may also include this question, but I’m having trouble navigating their website…) asked about how people perceived religions’ (un)friendliness towards LGBT people. Not surprisingly, the Church did not fare well. This likely explains at least some of the ~20% difference between the religious composition of the general population and the LGB community.
As Rachel Held Evans wrote on her Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/rachelheldevans.page/posts/10153956026774442), “Many [Christian] leaders have publicly grieved the massacre and called for Christians to ‘simply love’ the LGBT community in this hour of need…which is good; that’s the right thing to do. But what I’m hearing from my Christian LGBT friends in particular is that these calls to grieve and love ring a bit hollow when coming from pastors and church leaders who have never spoken out about hate and violence directed against LGBT people before or who have spent years perpetuating the very misinformation, stereotypes, and theology that hurt LGBT people every day.”
Sentiment matters. 49 people died violently in one night; that shakes our worldview, our framework of security, our ideal of freedom of religion, belief, and expression. And yet, around 11,000 people ages 15-34, the age group most affected by the shooting, commit suicide in the US every year (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_02.pdf). Being LGBT has been shown repeatedly to increase the risk of suicide attempts drastically: anywhere from 2 to 4 times greater (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss60e0606.pdf). Taking the conservative estimate of doubling the rate, and assuming that between 3 and 10% of the population identifies as LGBT (from the 2013 Pew survey; we’ll take the average, 6.5%, since more younger people identify as LGBT), that rounds out to be around 1,400 lives lost every year in the young LGBT community. This is not to trivialize the loss of 49 people in one day—indeed, this shocks and horrifies us for good reason—but to point out an ongoing problem. Is this the fault of the Church? Of culture? Of being LGBT? No, no, and no. Suicide is sometimes conceptualized as a blameless tragedy, in that it takes a complex collection of events and actions and environments and genetics and thoughts and feelings to proceed. But it can be stopped. And for those of us who aren’t doctors/social workers/counselors /public health advocates, one of the most important roles we have in preventing injury or death, whether self-inflicted and externally perpetrated, is how we treat other people, implicitly and explicitly.
Sentiment matters. The motives of the shooter are yet to be uncovered, and it’s likely we’ll never fully untangle them. Although a mass-murderer isn’t created by culture alone, it would seem that culture can have a normalizing role in prejudice and hatred, hatred that can, it seems, infect even those it affects. Throwaway derogatory comments can seem harmless in the moment; indeed, perhaps they are—in the moment. But the prevailing atmosphere may have greater effect than we realize. The same way “rape culture” is impugned for normalizing the boys-will-be-boys attitude that seems to have led to the highly-criticized sentence in the recent Stanford case, perhaps prejudice, bigotry, and even violence against groups with whom we disagree, dislike, or merely see as different from ourselves is normalized through our everyday attitudes, words, and actions.
If we claim to belong to the Church, we are held to the highest standard in this regard—even if we think the other party is wrong. Just as our love for someone does not excuse us from confronting tough problems, personally wrestling with a theological or moral issue cannot excuse us from loving, fully and not hollowly, those with whom we disagree. As Julie Rodgers wrote on her blog this week (http://julie-rodgers.com/?p=16473), “You do not have to support same-sex marriage to fight for safety and protection for human beings made in the image of God. Your solidarity will not be taken as theological agreement, and it’s hard for me to understand how grieving the death of 50 beautiful people can feel complicated for a Christian. It’s always right to grieve with those who are grieving.”
And likewise, the Lieutenant Governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints—a bastion of modern conservatism and orthodoxy if there ever was one—said this at a vigil on Monday (I highly encourage reading the entire speech; besides being rhetorically interesting, the words need to be heard https://www.ksl.com/index.php?sid=40209267&nid=148&title=lt-gov-cox-speaks-at-vigil-for-orlando-my-heart-has-changed): “How did you feel when you heard that 49 people had been gunned down by a self-proclaimed terrorist? That’s the easy question. Here is the hard one: Did that feeling change when you found out the shooting was at a gay bar at 2 a.m. in the morning? If that feeling changed, then we are doing something wrong.”
The shooting in Orlando is not a philosophical conundrum for politicians and pastors and pundits to toss around like a football. Nor is it a stone to hurl at people with whom you disagree(—and it is largely on this point that I hesitated to post this: in some ways, it seems to waver between a reflection, an appeal, and a bludgeon). It is a human tragedy. In light of everything that is being done and said, remember that we are people talking to and about and arguing with and about other people. If you find yourself thinking angrily/bitterly/condescendingly/disgustedly to yourself, “The gays are [scornful descriptor],” remember that someone somewhere is probably thinking, “The Christians are [scornful descriptor]”—and vice versa. (…or if you’re thinking “The Muslims/atheists/Mexicans/gun owners/Democrats/Republicans/ whatever-group-that-isn’t-like-me are [scornful descriptor].” We’re all someone else to someone else, and whenever we point a finger there are three pointing back at ourselves.) Remember that on the other side of your thought or word or action—negative or positive—there is another person, receiving, listening, or perhaps just observing.