Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) — the largest Protestant domination in the United States. Following this weekend’s shooting in Orlando, Moore took to TIME Magazine to ask, “Can We Still Weep Together After Orlando?”
Noting how past tragedies have brought the country together, Moore bemoaned that “it seems now, though, that there’s rarely a time of grieving together.” He blamed social media for the pace of the conversations and the “divisions” that quickly form. “We become more concerned about protecting ourselves from one another’s political pronouncements than we do with mourning with those who mourn.”
“How then do we weep with those who weep?” he asked, before answering his own question:
Let’s call our congregations to pray together. Let’s realize that, in this case, our gay and lesbian neighbors are likely quite scared. Who wouldn’t be? Demonstrate the sacrificial love of Jesus to them. We don’t have to agree on the meaning of marriage and sexuality to love one another and to see the murderous sin of terrorism. Let’s also pray for our leaders who have challenging decisions to make in the midst of crisis. Let’s mobilize our congregations and others to give blood for the victims. Let’s call for governing authorities to do their primary duty of keeping its people safe from evildoers.
Here’s a different answer to Moore’s question: on your own.
Know Your Audience
Moore isn’t wrong; the LGBT community is scared. But as terrified as we might be from the destruction wrought on our brothers and sisters in Orlando, we’re still just as terrified of Moore and those who follow the anti-LGBT beliefs espoused by the SBC and plenty of other Christian denominations.
I’ve met Dr. Moore before. He’s an articulate leader, and he’s welcomed me hospitably to his organization’s events. Knowing full well that this gay progressive atheist disagrees with just about everything he believes and promotes, he greets me by name, shaking my hand, and offering to make sure I feel comfortable at the event.
But the truth is, I never actually feel comfortable at an ERLC event. How can I in a space where I am surrounded by people who doubt the legitimacy of my identity and who openly promote the notion that I should be treated as a second-class citizen?
I’ve sat in the room when Moore told a room full of SBC pastors to discourage their congregations from attending loved ones’ same-sex weddings, because all witnesses to a marriage ceremony are condoning that union — and same-sex weddings are not to be condoned.
Moore once answered a direct question from me in which he disavowed the idea that a person can change their sexual orientation, but proceeded to add, “The idea that one is simply the sum of one’s sexual identity is something that is psychologically harmful ultimately.” I then watched him gleefully interview several “former homosexuals” about how their faith saved them from the sin of their desire.
And in nearly the same breath, I heard Moore explain that parents should not kick their children out of the house for being gay, but wedding vendors should be able to kick same-sex couples out of their store. “If the government can pave over religious consciences — the deepest part of what motivates people — then the government can do anything,” he said.
Moore is right, of course, that tragedies like the Orlando shooting are reasons for everybody across the planet to grieve and to try to reconcile how such evil can even exist in humanity. He is wrong, however, to assume that everybody would want to grieve together. Just like the sensational violence ISIS uses doesn’t excuse other forms of oppression, this one violent incident was not severe enough to ignore or somehow reconcile other ongoing abuses. Why should he be trusted to provide comfort to the gay community when he has a reputation for doing just the opposite?
Meet Them Where They Are
To be fair to Moore, he’s not the only one touting this approach this week. Stories about otherwise anti-LGBT people and organizations offering to help are continuing to pop up. One Southern Baptist church near the Pulse nightclub encouraged members to donate blood. A Chick-fil-A in Orlando delivered sandwiches and iced tea to a blood drive supporting victims — despite traditionally being closed on Sundays.
Conversely, plenty of prominent anti-LGBT conservatives are bending over backwards to reconcile the condemnations they regularly promote with the sympathy they want to be seen expressing this week.
Princeton University law professor Robert George similarly suggested that any attempt to blame Christian homophobia for the Orlando shooting is “outrageous and defamatory,” but forgivable given the circumstances. “It is certainly not a time for people on either, or any, side of a moral or political dispute to attempt to score points or advance an agenda,” he said.
In a way that Moore probably didn’t intend, these conservatives are proving his point. Less than a day after news of the shooting broke, they were already focused on defending themselves and their own positions. Sympathy, then, serves as their weapon to continue their role as abusers.
Put Others’ Needs Before Your Own
One religious leader, however, actually demonstrated that there is another option. Bishop Robert Lynch, who serves the Catholic diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida, didn’t try to reconcile the beliefs his Church espouses. He took responsibility:
It is religion, including our own, that targets, mostly verbally, and often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.
Those women and men who were mowed down Sunday were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that.
Even before I knew who perpetrated the mass murders at Pulse, I knew that somewhere in the story there would be a search for religion as motivation. While deranged people do senseless things, all of us observe and judge and act from some kind of religious background. Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop, too.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has dedicated millions of dollars to opposing LGBT equality over the years. Bishop Lynch may be the first actively serving member of that organization to admit that these efforts may have had consequences for LGBT people.
Seek First To Understand
The LGBT community will not heal quickly from the Orlando shooting, and will be scarred for quite some time thereafter. Moore concluded his piece saying, “We can remind ourselves and our neighbors that this is not the way it is supposed to be.” If people who share Moore’s beliefs reach out to their LGBT neighbors now or in the future, they should consider that what they want us to feel might not be the same as what we actually hear.
If you want us to feel love, then do not tell us our sexuality is wrong or that the only way to be right is to be celibate. What we hear is actually that we are unworthy of love.
If you want us to feel equal, then do not try to justify refusing us jobs, housing, or goods and services in the name of your religious beliefs. What we hear is that we deserve to be treated as second-class citizens.
If you want us to feel community, then do not tell us that you cannot condone our marriages. What we hear is that our families are not welcome to share a neighborhood with yours.
If you want us to feel dignity, then do not tell us that we cannot be transgender or try to tell us what bathrooms we can or cannot use. What we hear is that you aren’t actually interested or invested in understanding who we are or supporting our wellness.
If you want us to feel safe, then do not accuse us of politicizing this tragedy by broaching the issue of new gun violence prevention measures. What we hear is that we should just ignore the one thing that has ever been proven to reduce gun violence and permanently accept the fear that this shooting has instilled in us.
And if you want us to feel hope, do not encourage us to demonize Islam or pass the blame onto terrorism. What we hear is that the only way to heal as victims is to victimize others — that the only way to respond to intolerance is with more intolerance.
There may come a day when we can weep together. In the meantime, sympathy without affirmation rings hollow; it is unworthy of our gratitude.