Carol writes this from within the Mennonite Brethren Church but her words are true for Mennonite Church Canada and beyond!
Written by Carol Penner
When I heard yesterday that 50 people had been killed and dozens injured at a LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, I was numb. As I have been numb when mass shootings happen in a school or a movie theatre or wherever. It’s too horrific to absorb, people going about their normal business, suddenly confronted with terror. Living bodies gunned down and left lifeless, families devastated, an avalanche of grief just starting to roar down.
Omar Mateen pulled the trigger, but his hatred towards a certain group is a collective problem, a collective responsibility. Like a canary in the mine, this shooting reveals in a striking way the deadly force that is pent up in our society against LGTBQ people.
In a similar way, when Charles Roberts targeted female schoolgirls in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania in 2006, and when Marc Lepine targeted feminists in Montreal in 1989, it wasn’t just a random shooting. It was about sexism, about hatred of women as women. Sexism that is learned and tolerated in our society.
In this week’s tragedy the person with a gun was not Christian. But that does not exonerate Christians from responsibility, because churches are part of the problem. Historically, and up to this day in North America, churches have been headquarters central of hatred against LGBTQ people. This has included exclusion, shaming, bullying, and standing by silently when violence is done by Christian people. It has included finding biblical reasons for exclusion, shaming, bullying and standing by silently when violence is done. It has even included political lobbying against LGBTQ people having legal human rights.
Everyone is created in God’s image. Every one. Every one worthy of love and respect and inclusion. How are we being loving if we tell people it’s a sin to be who they are? Some churches are more nuanced, they believe that God created people gay or lesbian, it’s only a sin if they act on who they are. The church gives lip service to love, it says “We love everyone. You just have to change who you are in order to be part of our community. You have to give up your identity. Or you have to be quiet about your identity and try to pass as straight.” Ask any GLBTQ person, does that feel like love? Churches are part of the homophobia problem.
What do we do with the Bible? We can admit that there are parts of the Bible that are sexist, racist, homophobic. The Holy Spirit has always had to work through people, and sometimes we haven’t heard clearly what God is saying. But the Holy Spirit is still speaking to us. Just as we rejected slavery and the silencing of women, both of which are condoned by some scripture, we can reject homophobia.
I have been on a personal journey addressing my own homophobia. Because I am straight, I didn’t have to think about this very deeply for a long time. I am thankful for my gay, lesbian and transgender friends and family who have prompted me to start (emphasis on start) to look at homophobia in my own life and in the church. Or should that be anti-gay attitudes. I’m not even sure about the right terms to use.
And it’s hard for me to talk about this because many people I love and respect (including people in my church and my conference leaders) think that it’s a sin to be GLBTQ. It’s easier to be quiet, and not get into conflict about this with them. But my fear of conflict is not as great as my fear for the safety of GLBTQ people I love, and that is why I am speaking out.
What I do know is that today my heart goes out to every GLTBQ person who is afraid, who is mourning, who is wondering, “Am I next?” Because GLBTQ people are the target of hate crimes. We focus today on the single shooter killing a group of people, but the more common profile of hate crime is a group of people sexually assaulting and/or killing one person. And that happens with terrifying regularity everywhere, all the time. It doesn’t even make the news.
And so it’s important for churches, all churches, to speak against homophobia. To stand in solidarity with GLBTQ people in the wake of this violence. Will we?
Love, Carol Penner, Lendrum MB Church, Edmonton