One of my roommates in college was gay. He confided in me about his sexual preference, knowing I’d respect his confidence. Back then, gay people were openly ridiculed and rejected and attacked.
I wish I could say this was no longer true, but obviously I can’t. We’ve come a long way, but what happened in Orlando and the reaction to it provide harsh reminders of how people hate those who are different from them in some way.
Still so much hatred.
I’m the associate minister at an open and affirming UCC church. We accept everyone just as they are. I’ve heard many stories about how members of my church family have been treated horrifically by their families, by their former “Christian” churches, and by co-workers because of their sexual orientation.
Their openness touches me. Their courage inspires me. Their stories remind me how I enjoy a sort of “straight” privilege. Nobody has ever threatened me because I was holding a girl’s hand, or refused to rent me an apartment because I was dating a woman. Nobody has ever refused to bake me a cake because I’m straight.
I have never had to worry that my sexual identity was going to get me killed.
One thing about the reaction to Orlando troubles me greatly. People who have said so many hateful and harmful things about LBGT people are now trying to distance themselves from what happened. They’re trying to frame it as merely another instance of extremism by different people from a different country and a different religion.
Nothing could be further from the truth here.
So many self-styled “Christians” have done so many hateful and hurtful things to the LGBT community. It’s tiring to have to remind people of the way so many “Christian” parents have disowned their children simply for being gay, or how many “Christian” churches have invited gay people through their front doors only to attack them from the pulpit, or how many “Christian” evangelists have blamed all of the country’s ills on gay people being treated as equally beloved children of God.
Sorry. No matter where we are in the spectrum of things, none of us can take ourselves completely off the hook for what happened in Orlando. We all contribute our part. None of these horrible things happens in a vacuum.
We’re the ones who create the hot bed in which hatred grows and spreads and eventually strikes out. Or we encourage it with a shrug and indifference. Or we speak out for love and justice, which can pull hatred up by the roots for a while. And we keep at it, responding to hatred with love over and over.
This is on each of us. Are we going to encourage it, hide from it, or push back against it?
And those who like to think they’re totally different from the person who pulled the trigger in Orlando need to remember that our attitudes matter just as much as our actions. Jesus said as much all the time. We’ve seen it play out so many times.
One year ago this week, a young white man walked into an historically black church in Charleston, S.C., participated in a Bible study, and killed nine of the African-American church members. The white man had gotten swept up in the deep current of racial hatred in our country, a current created by the words and attitudes of others.
What we say and how we treat others affects everyone and everything around us. That’s one of the basic tenets of religion – love one another, treat others the way you want to be treated. Do it because how you live has such a big impact on everyone else.
What we say and how we say it create the atmosphere in which we live. Just as each exhaled breath puts something into the air, so does each word.
Hateful attitudes are like an electrical charge that gets sent into the atmosphere. The charge grows and solidifies and forms a lightning bolt that hits some target and causes great harm and destruction.
These bolts never come out of the blue. They come out of us.
So does love. The only way to dissipate hatred is by giving all people the same unconditional and unlimited love that God has for each of us. As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
None of these horrific acts is isolated from us. They happen in a world that we fill each day with either a little more love or a little more hate or a little more indifference. Each of us must chose.
Hatred or love? Violence or peace? Holy wars or holiness? Being silent or speaking up? Loving everyone or no one at all?