A lot of things happened on June 12. Here are two:
50 people died, and more than 50 people were wounded, at Latin Night at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
I was ordained as clergy in the United Church of Christ.
For the rest of my ministry, I will associate these two events.
In the Isaiah reading, God speaks through the prophet, including
my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.
In the 1 Corinthians reading, the apostle writes:
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
And in the reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus says:
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
I chose these three because they speak deeply to me of what it means to be Christian.
Isaiah teaches me that none are permanently outcasts: that God gathers even those – perhaps especially those – rejected by society.
The 1 Corinthians reading teaches me that ministry is not restricted to clergy, or even to leadership in the church: all Christians are called as part of the body of Christ.
And the reading from John teaches me that Christians are not merely gathered: we’re also sent.
After the shooting in Orlando, I read of several preachers who thanked God for the shooter. Other people were praising the shooter for killing “the right people.”
There are many churches, many preachers, who condemn people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. It seems like a majority because they are the loudest voices, and because the media pit Christianity and homosexuality against each other as if they were unified, irreconcilable camps. But moderate and progressive churches and pastors bear part of the burden here, too: our response to the hatred and condemnation pales in comparison.
I don’t know why it’s so much more difficult to reach out in love than to lash out in hate. I’ve noticed it in myself. But we have to overcome our resistance to being explicitly, openly, actively loving of other people.
The answer to “You cannot be gay and Christian” is not “You can be gay and Christian.” At first, they may look like they balance. But the first is active denial, and the second is passive acceptance. The answer to “You cannot be gay and Christian” is “Be gay and Christian.” That sounds awkward, doesn’t it? But that’s what we need to tell gay people: “Be your fabulous gay self and be Christian.” “Be your fabulous lesbian self and be Christian.” “Be your authentic transgender self and be Christian.” “Be your asexual self and be Christian.”
The answer to “You cannot come to our church if you’re homosexual” is “come to our church if you’re homosexual.” The answer to “You are condemned to Hell if you’re transgender” is “You are part of God’s family if you’re transgender.”
And the answer to people being shut out of churches is not hanging a sign saying “all are welcome here.” It’s going out to meet people where they are.
Yesterday was Pride Sunday in Chicago, and instead of leading worship at my church, I got my authentic transgender self – along with another church member – over to the train station where people were heading down to the Pride parade. There I wore my clergy collar and my blue, pink, and white transgender flag stole, and I blessed 30 people, prayed with them, and anointed them for the important work they were doing by participating in this act of honoring queer lives.
Will it grow my church? Maybe. But that’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it in response to all the explicit condemnation of people who are just looking for a safe place to live their authentic lives.
If a person were being mugged in the street, would a proportionate response be to not participate in the mugging?
If a person were being set on fire, would a proportionate response be to not pour gasoline on the person?
Passively not participating in abuse is not proportionate to committing abuse: we have to be just as active in our love as others are in their hate.
We need to actively counter hate against immigrants.
We need to actively counter hate against other religions.
We need to actively counter hate against people based on race.
We need to actively counter stigma against aging, disability, mental illness, and receiving public aid.
Worshiping in the pews on Sunday morning is not the end of being a Christian. We have to go out and be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Welcome to the church.
Now get out!
Cindi Knox is pastor of St. John’s United Church of Christ in Evanston Illinois. She lives in Joliet with her wife, Mary, and two cats named Eva and Zsa Zsa. Her sermons and occasional theological rants are at revcindi.com.
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