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A Response to Orlando


Jesus_Sketch I welcome this opportunity to respond to the tragic shooting in Orlando, Florida from our perspective as a Reconciling Congregation in our denomination, the United Methodist Church.  As a Reconciling Congregation, we stand in opposition to our denomination’s statement that, “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”  As a global and connectional denomination, we have less latitude for regional autonomy.  What we have is this means to say that we as a local church believe in the full participation of LGBTQI people in the life of the church.

My first response is to say that our perspective on events like this changes when they become more personal.  I have family in France and specifically a nephew who is a music aficionado who frequented the Bataclan Theater in Paris; one can imagine how I felt hearing about the mass shooting there.  Likewise, at least two people in our congregation made similar calls on Sunday morning.  Knowing the life story of persons gives perspective; ultimately ideas cannot and should not be separated from the lives of people.  This is true of anyone, the gay man, a Muslim, person’s who suffer from various disabilities including mental disabilities.  It is rash and usually insensitive to speak generally about a group of people, especially when we don’t know a person who is a part of that group.  And, as much as the Internet and social media provide an opportunity to reach out to people who are different than we are, they also allow us to hide in our lifestyle enclaves where our opinions are cemented rather than challenged and transformed.

The second thing I would like to point out is that the reasons for any tragedy like this are complex.  It is a temptation to identify a cause; it helps us feel like we have more control of the situation.  However, it isn’t that simple.  Any of these mass shootings is connected to ideology, hate, mental illness, the experience of boys and young men in our culture and, yes, guns too (this list isn’t complete either).  To identify a single cause or to deny any other contributor is narrow minded and usually self serving.  Likewise, vitriolic blaming simply foments more hate.

In regard specifically to the relationship of this incident to our views on homosexuality, I will say that I see this event more as a hate crime than a terrorist attack.  I believe that Omar Meteen was influenced by his background and could have felt sympathy for ISIS, but it wasn’t ISIS that initiated the attack.  The story is still unfolding, now we hear that Metten had been at the Pulse numerous times; was he merely scouting out the place or was he dealing with his own sexual identity?  How many times does one need to go to a place to know the floor plan?  I don’t want for focus on ISIS to deflect the fact that this was an act of hate that lives well within our own culture.  It is too easy to point the finger offshore at ISIS than to reflect on our own culture.  And in spite of the progress we have made our culture is still wrestling with homophobia.

I was very proud of our bishop in the Los Angeles area, Bishop Minerva Carcano who in response to this tragedy wrote this:  “Is it possible that we United Methodists with such a negative attitude and position against LGBTQI persons contribute to such a crime?  When we say that those who are of a homosexual gender identity are living lives that are incompatible with Christian teaching, that they are not to be included in our ordained leadership, and that they are not important enough for us to invest resources of the Church in advocating for their well-being, in essence when we say that our LGBTQI brothers and sisters are not worthy of the fullness of life that Christ offers us all, are we not contributing to the kind of thinking that promotes doing harm to these our brothers and sisters, our children, the sacred children of God?  It is harder to look at ourselves than it is to blame others; harder but more potentially transformative.”  And the answer to Bishop Carcano’s question, in my mind is yes.  And to anyone who speaks ill of LGBTQI persons, who disparages and dehumanizes them, or anyone, we are part of the problem.

Somebody will be reading this, I am quite sure and say, “But what about the Bible?!”  I assure you we take the Bible very seriously, but not literally.  I will also say that I feel the way I do not in spite of the Bible, but because of it.  I would remind also that the Word of God is not the Bible; it is Jesus Christ who is the Word of God, and that’s biblical.  I would ask us all, who would Jesus be with now?  How would Jesus view this kind of hate?  We view this as our challenge and we offer it to all.

Pastor JimJames M. Clarke, pastor

Cedar Cross United Methodist Church

Mill Creek, Washington

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