“I am so sick of this! I can’t believe people say those kinds of things!”
My fourteen year old son burst through the door, visibly agitated. We could barely discern exactly what he was trying to communicate. But it was certainly urgent, and it appeared to have something to do with social media.
“Ugh, more teen drama?” “What great injustice happened at the theater today?” I thought. My mind raced through a litany of some of the usual topics of protest and peevishness.
Turns out it was none of those. It was actually something pretty serious.
My son came home angry today. I don’t think I blame him.
He was reacting to a post he saw on social media. It was apparently a reaction to a Gay Pride Parade. The post had something to do with expressing “Straight Pride” and said some pretty ugly things about the inferiority of gay people because their relationships can’t produce children. I’m sure the person didn’t realize that it was also hurtful to heterosexual couples who can’t biologically have children for all kinds of reasons, but that’s just another layer of the rudeness. The person also had posted this just hours before the horrific shooting in Orlando took place. A shooting that targeted a gay nightclub and killed fifty people, injuring over fifty more. My son read the post after the shooting, so he thought they were connected. He had responded with a comment, expressing that it was very hurtful and poorly timed, considering the events of the day.
As my wife and I tried to engage him, our first effort was to encourage him not to “hook into” the provocative post, something we try to reinforce in our home.
“It never does any good to try to argue on….”
Our son interrupted, angrily shouting, “Fifty people died! Fifty! Their families lives are destroyed! I can’t believe that person posted that today!”
He wasn’t mad at us, but he was mad and we were there. He said he needed to head up to his room and work this out and then would come downstairs. My wife stepped in and told him it was okay to be angry about this, to want to stand up for those who were picked on, and that it was okay to even cry about it.
After he headed upstairs, though, she said something quite profound that really hit me. She said that engaging in an argumentative way online never works, never helps, but consoling and comforting people does. My son was hurt and outraged not only at the tragedy in Orlando, but because he has friends who are gay, and he saw how they were particularly hurt and scared by the shooting. He says he has seen the way they already have to live in fear and a level of isolation. This kind of event hits them harder. He had a personal buy-in to this. It was no abstract ‘cause’. I admired his empathy, and encouraged him with the words of my wife,
“Comfort those hurting, that is more powerful and effective than getting angry and argumentative.”
I think those words helped my son. He worked it out with the friend he had the online dispute with. He made peace. I’m really proud of him for that. One thing that is much more important than winning online disputes is friendship.
But there is a part of me that still thinks he was right to be angry. There is a part of me that thinks I should be more angry. There’s a part of me that thinks there is some righteous anger that is called for in a situation like this. But it has to be focused not towards tearing anyone down, but towards uncompromisingly standing up for those hurt.
Here it is: I’m tired of using double-speak as a Christian. I really am. This tragedy in Orlando broke something open in me. I realized my own layers of response as I heard the news come in. I had to look honestly at my own inner noise about speaking out in solidarity with the victims. I had to deal with the walls built from being in Christian circles so afraid of ever appearing to ‘compromise the faith’ – as if the very core of our belief and call to relationship with the living God could be narrowed down to a series of moral codes. It realized that if I am honest, I am less afraid of compromising the uncompromising love and sacrifice that Christ exemplified than I am of being perceived as “too liberal” or “condoning sin” even as I preach that the only sin to be focused on and repented of is our own.
The fact that I even had a pause before saying anything because the target was a gay nightclub, the fact that I felt I had to measure what to say out of fear of being labeled or written off, the fact that the response would in any way need to be different than if the shooting targeted any other group, or was not targeted at all, is sad. Just sad. It is sad that I let fear rule the clear word that should be spoken today, from a pastor especially. And, yeah, it’s more than ‘thoughts and prayers’. It has to be a word of true care, which says that I recognize, as a Christian, that people who identify as LGBT face a particular struggle, particular discrimination and challenges that I do not have to face. So it’s my job to listen and learn.
Beyond this, it has to translate to working to have a greater understanding and compassion for groups (in this case the LGBT community) who are targeted, who are discriminated against, who do have to live in fear, still in America, in 2016. It shouldn’t take a shooting to break that open. The shooting could have happened anywhere for any reason. Even if, for some reason, we find out in the coming weeks that the shooting in Orlando wasn’t a direct attack on the LGBT community, but just a crowded ‘soft target’, I don’t that think matters. Because, no matter what, it is that community that is feeling the hurt in an even more acute way today, and will continue to in the coming weeks, months, years, at the memory of this terrible event.
So, as a Christian, as a pastor, I think the only response is to see this as an opportunity and call to reach out and care. It’s not a time for argument or politics – that doesn’t work anyway. But it might be a time to examine why there are blocks and barriers in showing care and love, and to become angry at those walls that exist within us. And beyond this, to let that energy be turned into comfort and consolation for the wounded, in whatever way, even small, that it looks like in our local communities. I admit, I don’t even know what that looks like yet for me, but I have to take the first steps.
To be continued.
Here is a link to a gofundme dedicated to helping the victims of the Orlando shooting:
A comprehensive study on violence against LGBT persons (Human Rights Coalition)