Perhaps the most gut-wrenching stage in the sadly predictable grief cycle following atrocities such as the one in Orlando just over a week ago, where a gunman opened fire inside a gay nightclub killing 49 and wounding 50+ more, is the part when we acknowledge that it takes such an awful event to shine a light on the conditions and dynamics that make such tragedies possible.
And even more, when we acknowledge the untold (at least to some) stories of the victims and their communities, which are so often minority and marginalized groups.
Speaking squarely from my position of privilege many times over (male, white, cisgender, straight, educated – just to name a few), here we are over a week removed from the shooting and so many are waking up to the reality, depth and very real consequences of homophobia and the history of violence endured by the LGBTQ community. With it having been “Latinx night” at Pulse, we must lift up the Latin LGBTQ community in particular, whose cultural situation leaves them vulnerable to perhaps even greater threat and harm.
Those of the victims and their communities are always the voices we need to hear, and yet so often and with cruel consistency, even in tragedy these voices are quickly drowned out. The conversation moves to the realm of politics and other 30,000 foot views, no doubt important if they lead to substantive changes in policy. But changes in policy do not necessarily mean changes in hearts and minds and spirits — what Christians call repentance. For that to happen, we have to hear each other’s stories.
Over the past week I’ve been touched by the heartfelt and often confessional reflections of my straight friends and colleagues. I even offered a very abbreviated reflection of my own to my own congregation. But the reactions and responses that have been most powerful — and most important — are those coming from within the LGBTQ community. As a person of faith, I have been especially impacted by these voices coming from within the church.
I’ve read testimonies describing gay bars and clubs as “sanctuaries,” where so many queer youth discover a community and themselves for the first time. The community that took them in when they were cast off by their family and church.
“Gay bars are therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them; vacations for people who can’t on vacation; homes for folk without families; sanctuaries against aggression,” writes Richard Kim in The Nation.
Quinn Caldwell, a UCC pastor in Syracuse, N.Y., writing for the his denomination’s daily devotional, pushes the sanctuary image even further, reminding us that all sanctuaries risk defilement, calling people of faith to resilience:
“Here’s a true thing: every sanctuary will be invaded, by madness or death or slow decay, sooner or later. Even the Temple in Jerusalem fell. Even the body of God was penetrated. But here’s what Christians believe: that body is still our refuge and our might. That the lord of the dance(hall) wouldn’t stay dead. That his pulse wouldn’t stop pulsing. That they couldn’t take our Sanctuary away.”
Mark Jordan, a theologian at Harvard Divinity School, writes powerfully in Religion and Politics about our need for the biblical tradition of lament in times such as these, and how this tradition has becomes woven into the queer experience:
“Lamentation is a forgotten rite deep in our religious traditions. It is often associated with repentance. … We could certainly benefit from a little national repentance. But we need even more to kneel down beside the reality of the mounting losses. The politics we most require in the wake of Orlando is a politics of tears shed over what we have destroyed and can never ourselves restore.”
These and other voices, for me, speak to the power of the queer experience to communicate the gospel, which of course happens always and only at the margins. And for so many faithful queer Christians, while they may stand squarely within the institution today, the church has more often been a place to seek sanctuary from, not within.
We within the church must hear and account for this.
If these stories are unknown to a majority of Christians in America — actually, let me be more specific: if these stories are unknown to a majority of people in my congregation or yours, the fault does not lie with the LGBTQ community for not speaking loudly enough to catch our attention. It lies with straight Christians for not listening for and to them.
It also lies with those of us who would count ourselves as allies, but have failed to open adequate space for these testimonies to be heard.
I want to do that now.
In addition to the three cited above, here is just a small sampling of the many, many voices from the LGBTQ community that have impacted me over the past week, particularly those spoken from within the church. Of course, this is does not let the rest of us off the hook; there is work for us to do. But much of this work must begin in opening space for other voices to be heard. At stake is nothing less than the gospel being proclaimed and heard, and the Kingdom of God growing within and among us.
A special thanks to all the friends and colleagues that helped me put this list together. It may be that this list can be added to on the different social media platforms in which this will be posted. I hope these voices are as transformative for you as they have been for me.
Vincent Cervantes is a theologian, speaker, writer and doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California offering a queer latino theological response on Religious Dispatches.
Emily C. Heath, a UCC pastor in Exeter, N.H., in a sermon preached for her congregation this past Sunday. Emily’s Facebook page is also an excellent resource. I thank her for opening my eyes to the importance of amplifying LGBTQ voices.
Peter Anthony Mena, a professor of Christian history at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Okla., considers in Feminist Studies in Religion how all of our “talking” about the inclusion and valuing of life in the church contributes to the “topography of terror” upon which these atrocities are committed.
The Alliance of Baptists provides a collection of worship resources to consider for use in lifting up the LGBTQ community in worship.
Novelist Justin Torres offers an extended peak inside Latin night at a queer club and how safe spaces “transform the body” in the Washington Post.
Sara Habib, a freelance writer and photographer, offers a queer Muslim perspective in The Guardian.
Poet Christopher Soto (aka Loma), offers a heartbreaking poem reflecting on Orlando and other violence against the LGBTQ community for Literary Hub.
Isa Noyola, a translatina activist and national leader in the LGBTQ immigrant rights movement, further explains the need for focusing on queer voices in an interview for Democracy Now.