It was two years ago today, June 12, 2016, that our nation witnessed a mass-killing at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida with 49 people killed and 53 others wounded. I was sickened by this news, but I also felt disheartened by the apathy and indifference of the majority of the American Christian church.
(Note: Part of what is written in this blog was from writings of mine during that time period.)
“People are suffering, and God’s people need to be there with them, loving them, and standing in the gap for them,” I thought. Wherever people are suffering, God’s people are called to stand by their side—in prayer and sacrificial loving actions.
After the Orlando shooting in the Pulse nightclub, there were statements found in newspaper articles and op-eds that referred to the nightclub as a form of “church” for the LGBT community. It was a form of 'church' because it offered this community a respite and safe harbor to be themselves. One particularly meaningful quote was by a gay man who regularly went to Pulse:
“While a lot of people turn to churches, LGBT communities are often forced to use nightclubs as our safe haven, and Pulse was mine. Although I had built armor to defend myself from the hatred that was spewed to me when I came out (including some from my own mother), the reality was that I still hated myself because of my identity as a gay man. It didn’t help that I had grown up in a church that had conditioned me to hate myself for loving other men.”
These sentiments are reflected in countless stories, and they cause me grief over my silence and lament for the Church that I love. The Church is supposed to be the place for everyone to hear the Good News, but sadly, it has turned many away because the love of most has grown cold.
Unfortunately, I have encountered, witnessed, and experienced similar stories. One statement I heard from a gay man, who has a great heart and loves God, was: “I would go to church, but I am not welcomed there.” While I found this disturbing, I also have to say that it is true.
As I continued my reflection of this tragedy in my time with God, I have felt a burning in my heart to speak up for the LGBTQ community and to challenge the assumptions, interpretations, and prejudices that have polluted our message.
For a while, I attempted to remain silent, preferring the status quo “peace” then to thrust myself into the fray. After all, I have personally witnessed the “bible slamming” that happens when someone speaks up from within the Christian community. However, the Pulse nightclub tragedy was a turning point in my life.
How could I remain silent? The Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu wrote, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
As I continued to pray in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub tragedy, I was led to the story of Esther, who was a Jewish queen of the Persian king Ahasuerus. She was out of place and living between two different worlds—of the Jews and the Persians. Her uncle Mordecai informed Esther of a decree that would exterminate the Jews. Esther was reluctant to speak because of her fear of the King, but Mordecai replied to her:
“Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:13-14).
I believe I was led to this passage because it was time for me to speak ”for such a time as this.” If I did not speak, then I am complicit in shutting the “door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces” (Matthew 23:13).
The church is quick to recite John 3:16, but neglects to understand the fantastic teaching found in the next verse: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” This verse is further illuminated in John 12:32 when Jesus says: “And I when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Notice that the message of God’s son is not condemnation, but acceptance for everyone! The Church, which bears the name of Christ, must share in dispensing the incredible grace and unconditional love that He demonstrated in His life, teachings, and death.
In our acceptance of everyone, including the LGBTQI community, we must work together to strive toward holiness. We must remember that holiness is not made possible by works, but by faith alone (Romans 3:28-30). Paul states in Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
Our faith calls us to accept His grace, which then unleashes the creative and regeneration works of the Holy Spirit in making us a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). If Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), then should we not trust Him, not only for ourselves but also for others, to finish that which He has started (Philippians 1:6)?
If we ere, let us always do so in being too loving and too gracious. I have never read a story in the Bible where anyone was condemned by God for loving or sharing too much.
Since that terrible day on June 12, 2016, I have come to trust more and more in God's amazing grace, not just for me, but for everyone! I have come to understand that there are many more questions then answers on this side of eternity. But, I am comforted in knowing that God is big enough to handle them all and His love is strong enough to calm us in the midst of the unknown. As the old song goes, "My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name."
We must remember these wise words: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, love.”
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Dr. Rob Weinstein is the Founding/Senior Pastor of Bethany Grace Community Church in Bridgeton, NJ. He is also a Professor of Business Studies/Academic Director/Chair of Human Resource Management Studies. He is the Founder of the M25 Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness and food insecurity in Cumberland County, NJ.
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