I will try to keep this short. I’ve read here that this is not the time for straight white people to write pieces about Sunday’s mass murder in Orlando. I’ve also been told that LGBTQ allies need to speak out. I think that both pieces of advice are sound, and I want to respect them both.
Much of the religious reaction to the Orlando mass murder speaks in terms of prayer, and love. That’s good, for a start. It just can’t end there. A friend put it to me this way. He believes in prayer. If his kid falls off the roof, my friend will pray. But he’ll call 911 first. I think the same way. If my kid has fallen off the roof (or is playing on the roof, or is climbing up a ladder to the roof) and all I do is pray and love, there’s something seriously wrong with me. Ditto if that’s my reaction to your kid on the roof. Or anyone’s kid.
The LGBTQ community is in danger. It is the target of more hate crime in the U.S. than any other community we can identify. If those of us who call ourselves religious offer this community nothing more than prayer and professions of love, then there’s something seriously wrong with us.
The terrible truth is that there are terrible things said about same-sex sex in my Jewish holy scripture. Christianity adopted my holy scripture as its own, and in some respects added on its own condemnation to what it found in the Old Testament. Islam also borrowed stories it found in the Bible to develop its own condemnation of gays and lesbians.
(Because the Muslim community is also under threat, it’s important to stress that Islam is not the uniformly homophobic, gay-bashing religion you may have heard described. Yes, there are Muslims who seek to persecute LGBTQ folk. But in Islam, there is also a solid basis for respect and acceptance of diversity—including sexual diversity. I will write about this more if there’s interest.)
Put aside my conviction that Bible verses have been mistranslated to provide a certain condemnation of LGBTQ folk that’s simply not there in the original languages. Put aside that most of Judaism and significant portions of Christianity are today LGBTQ-affirming. It remains true that my religious tradition has a history of condemnation of LGBTQ folk that has led to persecution, violence and death. The question is, what do religious people like me intend to do about this?
I received the leaflet shown above from a church group while I was watching the Spokane Pride parade last Saturday. A good portion of the parade consisted of church groups marching in support of our LGBTQ neighbors. My friend drove his motorcycle in the parade with a rainbow-clad Jesus in the sidecar. But the apology set forth in the leaflet was something new in my experience.
The truth is, religious communities have more to offer than prayer and love. There’s a third thing. In Judaism, this third thing is called teshuvah. Christians sometimes call this thing penance. I don’t know Islam very well, but the concept of tawba in Islam seems to correspond to penance and teshuvah: we acknowledge that we have done wrong. We apologize. We determine not to repeat the wrong. And we try to make amends.
I don’t see Judaism offering its apology for the wrong it has done to LGBTQ folk. Maybe it’s happened, but I’ve never seen it. Why not? Why have I never received a leaflet like the one shown above before last Saturday? Do we imagine that the correct response to centuries of religious anti-LGBTQ persecution is for some of us to tone down and eventually stop engaging in the persecution? Since when is this enough? What system of justice looks at a wrongdoer who ceases doing wrong, and fails to ask something from the wrongdoer in the way of compensation, or restitution, or remediation?
What amends do we make to the people we’ve wronged with our historic condemnation of same-sex sex? First and foremost, it is our responsibility to shut down the condemnation from our fellow co-religionists. No one is in a better position than we are to do this. I’m not saying here how we do this. I’d prefer gentle persuasion, but my patience is limited, because our friends are in danger.
I’d love to conclude with a plea, that those of us who identify with religion ACT in a way that embodies the best principles of that religion. But I don’t think this is a time to promote religion. Instead, I’ll say that a kid has fallen off the roof. It’s my kid. It’s your kid. What are we going to do?