“I hate the man who did this!”
Those words still haunt me. My daughter spoke them early in the morning as we watched the chaos of the Pulse shooting unfold on the local news station.
I am haunted by her words because I knew that we would have to move her past hate. As followers of Jesus we aren’t allowed to hate even evil men who do evil things. The words ha
unt me because it was such a natural reaction for her. She simply hated.
Most of all, her words haunted me because I was feeling the same hate. I also hated this man. I have urged people to love their enemies as I believe it is the highest good and yet I was seething on my couch with hatred for a man who had done horrendous things.
So we began the long journey of learning not to hate. We prayed. We cried. We preached. We served. We questioned our theology.
We have spent a lot of time reflecting as a family over the last year on how we welcome strangers, spend time with those not like us, and love our enemies. It has been hard.
A Deeper Pain
While my family experienced the pain and difficulty of this tragedy, we know there is a deeper pain and a more difficult path.
Our friends in the LGBTQ community experienced this deeper pain. Families of the slain experienced this deeper pain. The survivors of the shooting experienced this deeper pain.
While our city mourned, people in this community were hurt in ways that I will never understand. In this act of terror, a community that has been cast aside and faced real hate in our nation’s past was reminded of their rejection throughout history. For this community, Pulse did not happen in a vacuum. Pulse was a reminder of centuries old hate and marginalization.
While I struggled with loving my enemy and being a dad, the LGBTQ community faced the reality that some view them as less than human. This is a deeper a pain. A more profound hurt to walk through.
Where Does the Church Go From Here
A year after this tragedy the response of the church should be the same as it was the day it happened. We ought to be a people who love.
To love ostracized communities well, we must fight the urge to invite them into our spaces. This is a move of power and security. This calls hurting people to our space where we are the host, we are the ones with power, and we feel secure.
The work of the church – the people who follow Jesus together – is to be a people who are sent and remain present.
In the wake of tragedies and long work of reconciliation, the church must be sent and enter into spaces of pain and fear. We do this not as conquerers but as fellow humans. We do this as people not with answers to speak but ears to listen. We enter into these spaces and submit to the story of those who are marginalized, cast out, and hurting. We are sent not to coerce people to a worldview but to love people so that we might become brothers and sisters.
There is a temptation to be sent into these spaces once or twice and then never return. This often causes more harm and more pain.
We cannot simply be sent. We must also be present. As we enter into the spaces and lives of our LGBTQ friends and neighbors, we must remain there. The act of being sent into this community must become a new rhythm for our life together. The LGBTQ community consists of people who are made in the image of God. These people are stories worth exploring and knowing. As image bearing stories, these friends and neighbors have something to teach all of us about what God is doing in the world.
So we must be sent into spaces of pain and fear and we must remain present. As guests in these spaces we submit to the stories we hear and we must seek to know the other and allow ourselves to be known. In doing this space is opened for the Kingdom to be manifest and all of us will be continually transformed into the likeness of Jesus.
May we be a people who love the way Jesus has loved us. May we be sent to communities who are often cast aside and frequently experience hate. May we remain present with these image bearing people as we hear their stories. And in being present, may space be opened for the Kingdom to be experienced.