I don’t go to clubs these days. Not because there’s anything wrong with them, but because they’re loud and require staying up late. They’re also crowded, and I don’t like crowds. And yet there was a time when I sought that crowd, when that crowd made me feel protected. I’m talking about the days right after I came out, when gay bars and clubs were the only havens in which I could freely get to know myself.
Some imagine gay clubs and bars to be dens of iniquity, temples of debauchery where drugs and promiscuity destroy lives. The truth is, you don’t really find much more of that there than you do at places where straight young people party. Young people make dumb mistakes regardless of sexual orientation; vice is found everywhere. But so is harmless, cathartic fun, and it is this kind of outlet most people seek when they go to dance clubs.
The shooting in Orlando this weekend hits close to home because I can easily put myself in the victims’ shoes. I’ve never been to Pulse, but I feel like I have. In my memory I see Nation in Washington, D.C. I see Splash in New York City. I see myself 16 years ago: receiving a hand stamp and walking into the only place where I could go up to someone I liked, chat him up and get his number. I never did because, well, shyness. But that’s beside the point. Those were places where I could do that, places where I wasn’t afraid of being bashed, where I wasn’t afraid of being insulted. Trite as the words have become, these were safe spaces—they were, in an unexpected way, sanctuaries from a hostile world.
For LGBT people who don’t feel safe in the streets, who don’t feel loved at church, who don’t even feel welcomed at home, the bar or club becomes a refuge. So as I read about the 22- and 23-year-olds who died Saturday night, I can’t help but think of the times I was them, and didn’t die—the times when being attacked was the furthest thing from my mind. It doesn’t take much for me to imagine the shock they must have felt as they were murdered in the one place where they thought they’d be OK.
Across social media and in private conversations there's a shared sentiment among my gay Christian friends: dismay at the lack of reaction from our straight siblings in Christ. I hear of friends asking if their churches will hold prayer services or vigils, only to be met with silence or tepid interest. I hear of friends whose pastors or whose families’ pastors didn’t even acknowledge the tragedy at the Sunday service. "The blood of Abel still cries out," a friend told us. "These people were no different. I just want their lives to be acknowledged in a sacred way."
The LGBT community has been turning bars into places of mourning since the days of the AIDS epidemic. Thirty years is 30 years too long. What we need now is Church. We need churches to be the sanctuaries of love and healing they are meant to be. We need to hear words that soothe, words that remind us that we are God’s beloved children. We need a reminder that we, too, bear His image.
The sermon at our church this Sunday (you can listen to it here) was about salvation. Our pastor highlighted the Latin root of the word, reminding us that as Christians our call is not to save the world, but to be a salve. And boy, does the world need a salve. The LGBT community needs a salve.
I’m not asking Christians to condemn the attack or the attacker’s background. I’m not asking for calls of vengeance or restitution. What I want is for my siblings in Christ to heed the greatest commandment our Lord gave: love. Let’s not let arguments over sexual orientation, terrorism or gun control draw our attention away from our heavenly calling. Let’s show the world that we are His disciples by loving generously—by offering the healing salve we’ve been so reluctant to administer to the LGBT community.
I pray today for the restitution of sanctuaries. I pray for the Father’s will to be done, and for His kingdom to come. I pray for the gay, lesbian, trans, and bi people who now believe there is nowhere they can be safe. I pray and yearn for our churches to be the Christian spaces, the houses of salve-ation the Lord wants them to be.
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