As the news about the mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando came upon me yesterday, I found myself caught short. In a nation where these things seem to happen with great regularity, it is easy, eventually, to fail to see the death of 5 or 10 or even 50 people as anything other than “everyday life.” For this sin of complacency, I continually ask God for forgiveness. Still, there was something about the events in Pulse that made this one feel different. My response wasn’t quite as visceral as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and yet there were some stark similarities for me.
I came to understand this feeling deep within me with the help of a post my mother would later write on her Facebook feed. My mother’s brother was a gay man who contract HIV in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. He lived for probably twenty years with the disease when most others died within months. As a result, my childhood is in many ways defined by the ongoing struggle in the gay community to find voice as well as safety. I grew up on the periphery of the gay culture of the 80s and 90s, and I can still vividly recall overhearing stories that the grownups would tell of harassment, hatred, and even violence. I remember how taken aback we all were when my uncle, who was fairly apolitical when it came to gay rights, focusing his attention instead on those marginalized because of HIV/AIDS, showed up a family holiday wearing a shirt like this one.
I may not have understood it at the time, but these stories have framed the way in which I have experienced the ongoing struggle for equal rights in the LGBT community. With those sorts of memories in the foundation of my life experience, perhaps it is no wonder that I can see the tie between the innocent slaughter of children at elementary school and the intentional killing of such a vulnerable group of people, targeted in a soft location, with few exits, by a man who was radicalized by Islam in much the way many have been radicalized against the LGBT community by Christianity. Like those children in Sandy Hook, these beloved children of God at Pulse were sitting ducks. In the midst of my reeling over the appalling details, I posted a short prayer. It was all that I could muster:
That we might someday figure out how to respect the dignity of every human being; we pray to the Lord.
Many preachers came to the news of Pulse too late for it to inform their sermons yesterday. I do not begrudge them not dealing with it in the homiletical exercise on short notice: the implications are too dicey to be handled with haste. This Sunday, however, after a week of reflection, with the 24 hour news cycles repeating the story again and again and again, it would seem wise, perhaps, to engage with the portion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians appointed for Proper 7C. In it, we read Paul’s famous words about our common humanity.
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
As followers of Jesus, our task is to make these words of Paul a reality by living in such a way that declares that in Christ, there is no gay or straight, no black or white, no HIV+ or HIV-, but rather a common humanity, made holy and indivisible through the saving power of the incarnation. In light of our common humanity, we show respect for the dignity of every human being: gay, straight, Muslim, Christian, male, female, black, white, ignorant, and learned. Or, more simply, as Jesus put it, quoting Leviticus 19, as Christians, we are called, above all to “love your neighbor as yourself.”