Speaking Tentatively After Orlando

Is there anything to be said by Christians like me in this moment?

Early Sunday morning, as I was editing my sermon, I saw the news from Orlando. By the time our service began there was still a lot of confusion about the extent of the tragedy, but it seemed likely that the nightclub had been targeted for violence because it was known as a safe and welcoming place for the gay community. I said as much before the sermon, asking our church to remember that – regardless of what warped theology was given a microphone later in the week – there was nothing of God’s heart in these murders. I also asked the church to remember our Christian responsibility to speak up anytime LGBTQ people are slandered or maligned in our presence, to use any influence we have to create safety for those with good reasons to wonder if such safe places exist for them.

And that’s all I said- all I knew to say in that moment.

Yet with a few days having passed, with the killer’s hatred toward gay people becoming increasingly clear, with the slain men’s and women’s names and stories being voiced, I need to say just a little more. I might be wrong about this; maybe quiet listening and lamenting is a more faithful posture in this moment. But as a straight white man who pastors in a church and denomination which hold a traditional Christian position about human sexuality within a church (“side b” in the language from the Gay Christian Network) and who holds such a position* myself, I’ve come to believe that the onus is on me to renounce clearly the evil that took place on Sunday morning. I know many LGBTQ Christians will find anything short of a shift away from the traditional Christian belief to fall very short of a meaningful repudiation and, though I sorely wish this wasn’t the case, I accept it as part of this particular tragedy along with the countless less visible tragedies inflicted upon LGBTQ bodies by churches over the centuries.

Those of us pastors and congregations who are unable to step away from the historic and global churches’ teachings on sexuality find ourselves in a complicated moment in this country. There are people I care about who didn’t believe they could be at our church and I’ve worked with them to find a congregation that preaches Jesus and holds the “side a” position. It’s painful and complicated. But the complexity cannot keep us from speaking with great clarity about God’s love for LGBTQ people. It cannot keep us from publicly lamenting the great evil that was done to particular LGBTQ people on Sunday morning and, by devastating extension, to communities of gay people around the world. It cannot keep us from doggedly pushing for legislation that will make gun violence against all vulnerable people less likely. In cannot keep us from confronting fellow-Christians whose faux-outrage about gender-inclusive bathrooms and civil rights legislation makes this country less safe for LGBTQ people. And the complexity must not keep us from confessing and repenting – time and time and time again – for the many great and small sins that we’ve committed against people who are lovingly created in the image of God.

*I don’t mean to make this sound simple. It’s not. I don’t know how to talk about sexuality without talking about God, bodies, hospitality, vocation, culture, etc. And I still have much to learn.

Header Image: Community Vigil for the Victims of the Orlando Shooting (Governor Tom Wolf).


“As a result, wars are fed, not persons.”

Whereas forms of aid and development projects are obstructed by involved and incomprehensible political decisions, skewed ideological visions and impenetrable customs barriers, weaponry is not. It makes no difference where arms come from; they circulate with brazen and virtually absolute freedom in many parts of the world. As a result, wars are fed, not persons. In some cases, hunger itself is used as a weapon of war. The death count multiplies because the number of people dying of hunger and thirst is added to that of battlefield casualties and the civilian victims of conflicts and attacks. We are fully aware of this, yet we allow our conscience to be anesthetized. We become desensitized. Force then becomes our one way of acting, and power becomes our only goal. Those who are most vulnerable not only suffer the effects of war but also see obstacles placed in the way of help.

Pope Francis speaking yesterday at the United Nations Food Program in Rome. What is true on a global scale is also true in our city.

Plundered Bodies

Ida B. Wells and the Incarnation as Theological Exemplar and Rationale for Racial Justice

The following is a paper I wrote for a recent theology class. The themes in the paper are resonant to much of what I post about here, so it’s possible a few readers may be interested in what I explored in these pages. I welcome your feedback and suggestions; these are themes I expect to return to regularly.

At 2:30 A.M. On March 9, 1892, three Black men were dragged from their jail cells in Memphis, Tennessee by “seventy five men wearing Black masks.”[i] Tommie Moss, Will Steward, and Calvin McDowell, targeted for their resistance to mob violence against Moss’ grocery store, struggled against the vigilantes as they were led to the railroad. Along they way they were shot and mutilated before arriving at the scene of their lynching, an event that one newspaper described as having been “done decently and in order… with due regard to the fact people were asleep.”[ii]

Ida B. Wells was the publisher of Free Speech, a Memphis newspaper that focused on Black life in the city. She was away when her friend Tommie Moss was lynched. After an initial response in her paper in which she urged her peers to “leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property,[iii] she followed up with an even more direct editorial on May 24th.  “Nobody in this section of the country believes the old thread bare lie that Negro men rape White women. If Southern White men are not careful, they will over-reach themselves and public sentiment will have a reaction; a conclusion will then be reached which will be very damaging to the moral reputation of their women.”[iv] Wells was correct that public sentiment toward the lynching of Black bodies would eventually shift, though at this point she couldn’t have imagined how long it would take or what a pivotal role she would play. She also didn’t foresee that this editorial, with her indictment of White fear, would provoke serious enough threats in Memphis that she would need to flee for the relative safety of Chicago where she would commence her anti-lynching campaign in earnest.

Any reckoning of Wells’ life and impact must consider many things: her gender and race; her move from Memphis to Chicago at a time when many African Americans were doing the same; her varied and influential roles as a publisher, editor, writer, and activist; and her relationships – sometimes friendly, often not – with influential leaders in the civil rights and suffragist movements. But Wells was also a self-consciously Christian person and it is this aspect of her life in which this paper is most interested. Despite regular, sometimes life-threatening, opposition exacerbated by her race and gender, Wells was singularly focused on raising the public’s awareness about the tragic injustice of lynching. What role did her Christian faith play in her courageous activism? Continue reading “Plundered Bodies”

“In Chicago, homicide rates correspond with segregation”

Whether exacerbated by gangs or guns, though, Chicago’s killings are happening on familiar turf: Its poor, extremely segregated neighborhoods on the South and West Sides. And many say that is Chicago’s real violence issue.

“Where do gangs come from? They tend to take root in the very same neighborhoods that drive these other problems,” said Robert J. Sampson, a professor at Harvard and the author of “Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect.” “You can’t divorce the gang problem from the problem of deep concentrations of poverty.”

“What predicts violent crime rates is concentrated poverty and neighborhood disadvantage, and what determines concentrated poverty is high levels of black segregation combined with high levels of black poverty,” said Douglas S. Massey, a sociology professor at Princeton University.

In Chicago, homicide rates correspond with segregation. While many areas have few or no killings, the South and West Sides are on par with the world’s most dangerous countries, like Brazil and Venezuela, and have been for many years.

The linkage of segregation, poverty and crime exists in New York City as well. Homicides occur at higher rates in parts of Brooklyn, the Bronx and Harlem, and many other neighborhoods are virtually free of killings.

But segregation in New York is nothing like in Chicago: The perfectly isolated neighborhood – where every man, woman and child is the same race – is rare in New York. Less than one percent of the population lives in such areas, and most of them are white. In Chicago, 12 percent of the black population is in a census block group that is 100 percent black.

Racially segregated minority neighborhoods have a long history of multiple adversities, such as poverty, joblessness, environmental toxins and inadequate housing, Professor Sampson said. In these places, people tend to be more cynical about the law and distrust police, “heightening the risk that conflictual encounters will erupt in violence.”

“The major underlying causes of crime are similar across cities, but the intensity of the connection between social ills and violence seems to be more persistent in Chicago,” Professor Sampson said. “You don’t get that kind of extensive social and economic segregation in many other cities.”

– From a recent Times article, “Chicago’s Murder Problem.”