The undisturbed surface of the communion wine forms concentric circles when hit by a single tear. The symbol for the blood of Jesus Christ himself – blood that was given in an act of radical love for the everlasting unity between us and God – trembles with shock on this Sunday morning. It wasn’t the only tear.
Making sense of the senseless?
We are at a Metropolitan Community Church. A congregation with a specific outreach to the LGBT community. Most people in the room identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
The younger ones in the church, those who believed that winning the right to marry ended a decades old gay civil right movement, are shocked into helpless rage and sickening grief. Their tears flow bitterly and with the sudden fear of a child that understands for the first time that it is not loved by everyone.
Then, there are the older and old congregants who have been through so much more than the young ones can imagine. Seasoned warriors who have been thrown into jail for dancing with someone of the same sex. Who, during the AIDS crisis, had to take care of the bodies of their dear friends themselves because even hospitals would turn them away. They shed tears, too. These tears however are strangely different. There is a certain resignation in them, almost a routine. Witnessing another vicious crime against their siblings opens old wounds, triggers old memories and reminds them what being victimized feels like. It is a familiar feeling to all of them. They begin to warn the younger ones once again: “That is why we tell you: Always be aware of who is around you.” What sounded like unnecessary paranoia from days long past becomes sudden truth and the best piece of advice they can give.
More than victims
How does a whole congregation of LGBT people react to the hate crime in Orlando? How do people who fiercely believe in God’s love and forgiveness for every single human being reconcile their beliefs with the feelings they surely have for the man who murdered their siblings?
LGBT Christians always dance on the line between the worlds. As a part of the LGBT community they are misunderstood for supporting a system that is seemingly against them. As a part of the Body of Christ they are confronted with hatred and cast out of many major denominations. So how do they position themselves on a Sunday like this?
“Lord,” they pray in the old words of Francis of Assisi. “Make us an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy. Lord, grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console. To be understood as to understand. To be loved as to love. Amen.”
Standing in the blood of their siblings they ask for forgiveness for the shooter and beg God to show them how to love more radically, more inclusively. No, these people are not victims. If anything, they are Warriors of Love.
Proud and unbroken
As we drive home we pass a huge flag outside a restaurant. Today we find it on half-mast. The eyes of my wife fill with tears. She feels recognized in her pain and helplessness. She feels that the country mourns with our community. She knows that her country is despite everything not a homophobic country. She realizes that there is no room for fear and despair but instead for unashamed pride. She grabs my hand. Her voice is full of love when she says:
“I’d rather be shot for holding your hand than not holding your hand at all.”
“A simple lay person armed with scripture is greater than the mightiest pope without it.”
How highly controversial! Scripture alone is enough. Scripture is self-authenticating, clear, its own interpreter, and sufficient as the final authority of Christian beliefs. The idea is that whoever bases their faith on scripture, whoever seeks guidance and answers in scripture, doesn’t need anything or anyone else and will never be disappointed.
This concept of scripture alone or sola scriptura was introduced by the same man who said those words in the beginning of this article: Martin Luther, the German reformer who saw so many flaws in the Catholic Church of the 15th century that he simply had to speak against it. His idea that scripture alone stands in the center of an individual’s striving for and learning about God was eagerly adopted by many and eventually also by the younger evangelical denominations in the United States. To this day it is a key principal of many conservative Baptist and Lutheran churches and all those who call themselves “bible-believing”. I firmly believe that indeed, the bible is God’s love letter to us, his children and all the guidance and nudges we need to come closer to this love are right there in scripture. So yes, I call myself bible-believing.
Wait. How can a progressive Christian who is living in a same-sex marriage be bible-believing? How can someone like me adopt the same term as conservative Christians? Do I believe that my sexuality is wrong, that my wife is an abomination? Of course not. Then why does my hand not tremble when I write: “I believe in the bible.”?