I had almost stopped being afraid. Almost. You see, for a little over seven years, I was a marked man. I was serving on the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Human Sexuality Studies Task Force, a group whose mission was to write a Social Teaching Statement that specifically addressed homosexuality and to craft recommendations regarding inclusion of non-celibate LGBTQ people into the ministry of the ELCA. I was the only “out,” ordained gay male on the Task Force, a fact that was well disseminated in social and print media. As a result, hate mail and death threats – sometimes veiled and sometimes direct – became the norm of my life. One such threat recommended that I wear a bullet-proof vest underneath my robes onSundays because surely someone would come after me with a gun. Then oneday I received a letter from the FBI informing me that an agent had been assigned to my “case” because I had been identified by the FBI as a possible target of a hate crime. During those years I was definitely, palpably afraid.
From the pulpit or at the altar, every time I heard the outside doors open and close, I wondered if this was “it,” if someone might be coming in not to worship but coming in to shoot. But those days are past and gone. In 2009, the Social Statement on sexuality was ratified by the ELCA in a two-thirds vote and the subsequent resolution that opened up the ministerial roster to non-celibate LGBTQ people was passed. And with all of this came an immense personal relief. I was safe. Sort of. Ever since, thouigh, I’ve still wondered now and again when the day might be that someone would come into St. Paul with a grudge and gun and start shooting at any and all. But the active, gut-churning fear had, by and large, almost disappeared. Now, however, in the wake of Orlando, that visceral fear has returned, and rightfully so. The New York Times reported this past week, LGBTQ people are much more likely to be targeted for violence than any other minority group. The result is that with so many in the LGBTQ community, I’ve come to the place of being afraid again – this time afraid not only for myself as a gay public person, but fear for all LGBTQ people and their allies, including all those who attend services at the St. Paul Lutheran and Roman Catholic Community of Faith. We are a publically “out” place for LGBTQ people, their families, their friends, and their allies – we are a people who have established St. Paul as a “safe” place for those who have experienced spiritual violence in other church communities as a result of their sexual and/or gender identity. But now I wonder . . .
Is St. Paul still a “safe” place? We will do everything in our power to make sure that the St. Paul Lutheran and Roman Catholic Community of Faith remains a house of prayer for all people, and especially for LGBTQ people who have been singled out for “un-welcome” in religious communities for so many centuries, up until this very day. But will we be safe from flying bullets? Not as long as assault weapons continue to be readily available in this country. Not a one of us, LGBTQ or not, will be safe anywhere outside our homes until our law makers begin seriously to consider ways to get assault weapons off the streets and out of the hands of those who intend harm.
What then shall we do in the meantime? Fear is an inevitable response, and some degree of fear is appropriate; it keeps us vigilant. My prayer is that fear, however, not paralyze us; that fear not keep us away from gay gathering places; that fear not keep us away from St. Paul. If anything, my hope is that fear will revitalize us, that fear will move us to gather pridefully together in public spaces, that fear will move us to appropriate anger. My hope and prayer is that appropriate anger will drive us from our closets and out into the open to work for an end to a homophobia born of ignorance and/or self-loathing, to work for an end to gun violence, to work for an end to any and every form of extremism that drives people to hatred and murder.
Pridefest is this weekend in Denver. The St. Paul Lutheran and Roman Catholic Community of faith will have a booth at Pridefest Saturday and Sunday. We will not be deterred by fear and hatred! And the doors will be open as usual for our liturgies on Saturday and Sunday! We will pray for the dead of Orlando, and on Sunday we will sing in defiance of those who would bring harm. We will sing of God, our Mighty Fortress, and we will leave St. Paul to go out into the world singing, “We Shall Overcome.”
Boldly we will sing alongside those other minorities who have struggled against hatred and violence before, “We are not afraid, we are not afraid, we are not afraid today. Oh, deep in our hearts, we do believe, we are not afraid today.” And I for one, will cheerfully and hopefully join the thousands at Pridefest who will say with our presence that though there is truly something of which to be afraid, we will not let it overcome us. We will not be driven back into the closet of illusory safety. The St. Paul Lutheran and Roman Catholic Community of Faith will continue to be a “House of Prayer for All People.” All are welcome to this community where we work hard to be and to remain a spiritually safe place for LGBTQ folks. Here you will be affirmed and here your gifts and talents will be valued and employed. We will not be paralyzed by fear, and here we will pray that today, at least, we will not be afraid.<hr>