I knew the comment was coming. I was bracing for it. My heart sank when I first heard that the shooter was Muslim and it sank again when I found out he was gay. Not because it would make it any more or less terrible otherwise, but because these simple demographic facts would allow a certain kind of Christian to write in my comment section: “We’re expected to take responsibility because a GAY MUSLIM killed people? We’re not gay, we’re not Muslims. We don’t accept responsibility when gays gun down their own kind.”
I suspect it’s a question on the minds of many other Christians who aren’t crass enough to say it aloud like that. Why should Christians take responsibility for the actions of a gay Muslim? I can only imagine what they’re saying on Fox News now. The demographics of the Orlando nightclub shooter are a dream come true for people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity because it shows that the only thing more inherently evil than a Muslim is a gay Muslim. Guns don’t kill people. Islam plus the gay lifestyle make people into crazy terrorists. So the most logical solution to the Orlando shooting is to close the borders to Muslims and repeal gay marriage.
In any case, I decided I should respond to this question since it has come up in a less crass form in our United Methodist conversation. Why is this our problem as Christians? The first answer I would give to that question is that mature Christians throughout history have always responded to evil deeds they witness by reflecting on their own sin and examining how they were implicated in the evil.
This was a major theme in the writings of the Desert Fathers, the fourth century founders of Christian monasticism. The Desert Fathers were always doing penance for other peoples’ sins, because they understood that sin always happens in community and thus always involves some degree of collective responsibility. The more spiritually mature that Christians grow, the higher their standards are for the love they expect themselves to show others. Mature Christians are inherently going to search for their own complicity in other peoples’ sin as a matter of principle.
With regard to the specific circumstances of queer identity, Christians are responsible for creating the closet where queer people hide to the degree that we attack queer identity with our theology and thus validate violence against queer people. As the culture wars have raged over the past three decades, many evangelical churches have held sermon series against homosexuality, which always makes me scratch my head about their discipleship priorities, independent of our theological disagreement. Every time those sermons have been preached, closeted queer people were in the congregation as well as teenage boys who would use this theology as ammunition for torturing their gay classmates in the locker room at school the next week.
Maybe your church didn’t have a sermon series like this, but every queer Christian I’ve met has sat through a sermon in which their identity was eviscerated. To be fair, many traditionalists have dialed back the rhetorical violence in how they express their stance in recent years, but that shift has been quite recent and only in response to tremendous social pressure.
So if a gay man hates himself because of theology that tells him he’s an abomination and he does something horrible as a result of this self-hatred, it is reasonable to expect any religion that shares similar theology to reexamine the grave potential consequences of that theology.
Is it moral to create a culture where queer people are expected to marry straight and then blame them for getting divorced when they are unable to consummate their straight marriages with healthy sexual intimacy?
Is it moral to create a culture where queer people are kept in the closet which results in a much more promiscuous sexuality and traumatized mental health than a culture where queer people can live openly in lifelong covenantal relationships with one another?
Is it moral to tell queer people they are only acceptable to God if they spend their lives alone because to tell them otherwise would require overly complicating your scriptural hermeneutics?
The cost of the closet ought to raise the bar on the burden of proof on Christian teaching against homosexuality. There are two direct prohibitions in Leviticus; Paul mentions it negatively but incidentally in Romans 1 while making a completely different overall point; 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 have a couple of Greek words that might refer to homosexuality and might refer to the temple prostitution. That’s it. It’s dishonest to claim that the heterosexual norm in Jesus’ teachings on divorce and in the creation story are prescriptive with regard to the gendering of marriage.
When facing the scriptural evidence objectively, the case for taking a stance against homosexuality seems too weak to justify the grave social consequences that result. The only direct prohibition occurs amidst prohibitions against shellfish and mixed-fiber garments. We are not applying the same exegetical standards to the homosexuality question that we do for other issues that don’t have the same social consequences. The traditionalists claim that the queer-inclusive side is “arguing from silence” because there aren’t positive examples of open homosexuality in scripture.
But the agony of a closeted double life is not silent. The homelessness of queer youth kicked out of their homes is not silent. The suicide rate among the queer community is not silent. All of these devastating realities are a direct result of anti-gay theology. So the burden is on the traditionalist side to answer whether maintaining their stance is worth the consequences that directly result from it.
Before Jesus heals a man with a withered hand in a synagogue in Mark 3, he asks the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” It’s crucial to notice how he frames this question. He’s not disputing whether or not the Bible prohibits doing work on the Sabbath. For Jesus, this isn’t about what the Bible says. This is about the common decency of doing good rather than harm and saving life rather than killing.
So we should frame our ethical questions today the same way Jesus framed his ethical question. How does it do good or do harm to ratify covenantal lifelong commitments among queer people? Does it save life or kill? The burden is on traditionalists to answer why their stance does good and saves life and why alternative interpretations do harm and kill.
So are Christians in denominations that call homosexuality a sin responsible for the rampage of a closeted gay Muslim? Not directly. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t our problem. Omar Mateen’s actions are the fruit of the closet. If our theology helps to build the closet, then we participate in producing that toxic fruit.
If traditionalists have built a closet for queer people off of weak biblical evidence due to reactionary zeal against the sexual revolution that made anti-gayness a tribal identity marker for evangelicalism, then God will hold them accountable on the day of judgment. Jesus makes it clear that those who put stumbling blocks in the way of the gospel are worse off than people who put millstones around their necks and throw themselves in the sea. You do not fear God if you’re entirely unworried about creating unnecessary stumbling blocks that alienate thousands of people from the gospel.
I can’t understand the traditionalist position because the ethical system I see in Jesus and the apostle Paul is based upon spiritual fruit rather than moral legalism. Does open, legitimized queer identity produce better or worse spiritual fruit than closeted, illicit queer identity? That’s the question Christians must ponder in the wake of Omar Mateen’s tragic deed.