I had some really rich conversations this weekend with very thoughtful, compassionate conservative evangelicals at our annual United Methodist gathering in Louisiana. And then the Orlando shooting happened. Since I speak evangelical, I wanted to offer some suggestions to my people about ways to respond and not respond to the tragedy.
1. Don’t be defensive
There are a lot of hurt people on the Internet right now and some of them are probably saying things that feel very unfair to you. Most people in the queer community have dealt with emotional and physical abuse all of their lives so from their perspective, a massacre at a gay nightclub is part of a lifetime of oppression that also includes getting bullied in middle school and being rejected by their churches. Part of how you can show grace for people who have been oppressed all their lives is not to get defensive even if you feel unfairly blamed for a violent act you had nothing to do with.
2. Don’t try to control the narrative
I’ve seen some conservatives say things like “This was an attack on all Americans” or “Sexuality has nothing to do with this.” It’s very hurtful to queer people when you talk that way. When a gay club is targeted for a massacre, sexuality has everything to do with it. You’re not allowed to own the victimhood for this tragedy as simply a fellow American. You will never experience the complete devastation that queer people in our country are going through right now in the middle of their Pride season. Whatever you believe about sexuality, it’s insulting and inhumane to try to erase the queer identity of the victims.
3. Please don’t argue about LGBTQ topics for a while
Can you please take a break from arguing about whether or not homosexuality is a sin, where transgender people should use the bathroom, or other culture war topics? Silence does not signify that you don’t still have strong opinions; it simply shows respect. How many people’s minds have you honestly seen changed through all the hours of social media jousting? If someone tries to bait you into arguing (which will definitely happen, possibly a lot), then just say you’re choosing not to engage in conversation on this topic for a while. Your willingness not to be argumentative right now will be a powerful witness that shows the strength of your discipline and honor.4. Take the opportunity to reflect and repent
I’m not saying it’s your fault what Omar Mateen did. But I’m sure you’ve contributed, as I have, in some way to the un-Christlike harm that has been done to the queer community over the years. Regardless of what you believe about sexuality, few conservative evangelicals with integrity would dispute the fact that the American church has horribly betrayed Christ in the way we have talked about and treated the queer community. Hundreds of thousands of people in our culture have been lost to the gospel because of the way the American church has fetishized the gay issue. I’m sure we have different understandings of the exact nature of our sin. I believe the idolatry of the heteronormative nuclear family is a sin and that creating a unnecessary stumbling block to the gospel through the church’s obsession with gayness is a sin. However differently you understand our sin, “if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
5. Find a way to show authentic love for the queer community
The best Christian response to the tragedy right now is to find a way to show unconditional love to the queer community. If you can’t say something loving without slapping a bunch of qualifications on it, then don’t say anything at all. It doesn’t mean that you have renounced your opposition to the gay lifestyle if you go to a Pride parade or a candlelight vigil, or if you put something rainbow-colored on Facebook or wear something rainbow-colored to work. If someone you know is gay, you can make a point to check up on them and make sure they’re doing okay. Try not to be overly contrived and sappy about it. Just say something like “I know it’s been a hard week, and I wanted to make sure you’re all right.” Your ability to show love without putting an asterisk or a “but” on it is the best witness you can provide right now.