by Mike Denton
I woke up early Sunday morning. The sun comes up early this time of year and I tend to rise with it. I treasure the time. This is my time to think and pray and take a few deep breaths. I’m a Christian minister in the United Church of Christ. I work on the regional level and am usually in a different church every Sunday morning. I was reveling in the fact that, this particular morning, there was nowhere I had to be.
I was getting ready for the day taking a look at the calendar on my phone when the first news alert came:
“Gunman kills 20 at gay nightclub in Orlando.”
My whole body deflated. I covered my eyes. I cursed out of anger and anguish. As I went through a mental list of everyone I might know who could potentially be there, I was also certain of two things.
- This was a hate crime.
- The shooter was a Christian.
In those early moments I never imagined that the attacker was anything but Christian. This election season is the most toxic in my lifetime and I could completely imagine some Christian all self-righteously pumped up on a misguided sense of moral purity that had been backed up by a pulpit provided theological justification for hate and politically justified desire to make America great again seeking to exterminate those subhumans they had been taught were unworthy of life. I could imagine the self-righteous victory celebration in some churches. I could imagine the sickening suggestion that this was God’s will. I could imagine the quiet smirks and shrugs that would be exchanged by too many.
In that moment, I was certain the shooter was a Christian because I remember learning “Hate the sin but love the sinner” and how impossible that really was. I never heard it from the pulpit. I never heard it in Sunday School. It was not something I was taught in any formal way in the church but it was a long time before I heard it challenged. The silence was enabling and empowering of the idea. By not teaching directly against it, the idea was enabled and I integrated the idea into my faith. It truly seemed like a compassionate response regardless of its dehumanizing reality. I was taught to hate through pity.
I was certain the shooter was Christian because of everything I’ve been hearing on the news about what ‘Christians think” about queer people. The number of Christians who justify punishment of queer folks through the denial of their civil rights is sickening. The number of Christians that publicly suggested it was okay to beat or even shoot trans folks using the bathroom is horrifying. The number of Christians who have tossed their children out of their homes and on to the streets because of who they love has created a quiet, intimate refugee crisis being lived out on streets and in homeless shelters.
I was certain the shooter was Christian. Regardless of the significant transformations and recognitions that have been happening within the church regarding the inclusion of LGBTQ folks, it’s still not the dominant narrative. It was only a matter of time until a Christian did something like this.
I was certain the shooter was Christian. In those first, early moments on that Sunday morning, there was simply not enough to make me think otherwise.
Articles of Faith is a regular column featuring the opinions and views of local clergy and congregants belonging to a variety of faiths.
Featured image: cc licensed photo courtesy of Fibonacci Blue/ via Flickr