A small gap, poised to shift, turns deadly. A fault line holds the potential of an earthquake— a catastrophe waiting to happen. Life near a geological fault requires a suspension of belief that the potential will come to pass.
We live with fault lines in our faith and our church policies. There is a rupture, often invisible, between our “Biblical” beliefs and human beings in need of love and acceptance. This part we refuse to deal with, the gap growing ever more unstable. Things shift and push out like hatred and violence. Last year’s event in Colorado Springs where a young man walked into a gay bar on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance and opened fire, illustrates the hatred some hold toward those they do not understand. Club Q was one of the only places where LGBTQIA+ folks felt safe in a city known for its conservatism. We cannot know the inner workings in the mind of the shooter but we can safely say this hate crime comes as a result of the language of othering and exclusion which the church and society as a whole have endorsed and perpetrated.
Again, in late March of this year prominent Christians including Marjorie Taylor-Greene, Josh Hawley, and Franklin Graham suggested that the shooting at Covenant School in Nashville was driven by the shooter’s identity as a transgender person. (1) This kind of rhetoric only results in greater fear and hatred of the “other”. While lawmakers could be concentrating on greater controls on guns to save lives, they are instead actively restricting the lives and freedoms of LGBTQIA+ persons.
Earthquakes happen “when rigidity and frictional forces completely force all movements in the crust to stop, stress builds up in the rocks, leading to a build-up of potential energy in the crust. When this potential energy exceeds a threshold level, the energy is released in the form of a sudden movement of these rocks, which is usually concentrated along a specific plane on the Earth’s crust, namely the faults.”(2)
Our beliefs, often highly rigid, when met with changes in culture and new awareness, cause a build up of stress. We live with a cognitive dissonance between our firmly-held views and coming to terms with how we have harmed and excluded those made in the image of God. If you grew up in the evangelical church like I did, you were likely marinated in teachings that condemned, marginalized, and demonized those with differing values and lifestyles. We were not taught to love all. You may have noticed over the years though how our understanding of the Bible has gotten in the way of listening to and loving people well. The words of Scripture have been used to justify a flat earth, slavery, patriarchy, and hatred —our interpretations have been proven faulty. Many of us choose to ignore our past and current mistakes— the cracks that are showing.
Most of the time we refuse to look at the fault until we feel the earth shifting beneath us. Often it isn’t until our child, our friend, or our brother identifies as queer, that we even consider the presence of this fault.
A crack was exposed and an eruption of hatred spilled out toward a young girl in Regina, Saskatchewan recently. According to the CBC, fifteen-year-old Sierra Dickson was welcome to serve in the kid’s club ministry at The Evangelical Free Church Regina yesterday, but today she cannot because someone in leadership objected to her rainbow stickers and all they represent. She has been denied her place in the Body of Christ, her value has been questioned, and she has been told that who she is, is inherently evil. The Dickson family has felt the shifting of the ground beneath them and now the chasm between them and the church seems beyond repair.
Churches and denominations everywhere are having to decide where they land in regard to gender and sexuality, and our posture toward LGBTQIA+ communities. In the middle of last year for instance, the Christian Reform Church took a rigid stance against inclusion. (3) The cracks are showing and something must change if we are to avoid further calamity.
In her recent New York Times column, Tish Harrison Warren, says pluralism matters but then proceeds to assert that religious liberty trumps human rights if you happen to identify as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. The message is you are not equal – you are allowed your civil liberties but outside of the public square, we wash our hands of you. She is willing to offer government sanctioned rights, but withholds the offer of love and full inclusion into a faith community.
The Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, used to condemn those who identify as gay, is really about the inhospitality of the people of the city. They refused to welcome the stranger, the one with different views, perhaps different skin color, or language. This was why the city was destroyed. The fault line was their lack of welcome toward the ones who came looking for shelter. In Ezekiel we read, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” (16:49). In the Ancient Near East where these stories took place, in the harsh desert environment, hospitality of the traveler often meant the difference between life and death.
I wonder if we can see this today? Our lack of welcome for the LGBTQIA+ persons in our communities is our downfall, our dangerous fault line. Are we refusing hospitality to those who need it most, to those for whom it might be a matter of life or death?
If we look at Jesus, He consistently modeled a better way for us. He gravitated toward those on the margins, those who were rejected by the religious community, those deemed unclean, unworthy, and sinful. I have no doubt that if Jesus were to walk the earth today, He would be hanging around the ones we have shut out. He may have even been in Club Q that night with all those who thought they had found a safe space to be unapologetically themselves. You may not share my views of full inclusion and affirmation of our LGBTQIA+ siblings, but I hope you have not closed your mind to the possibility that we may have gotten it wrong. If you are in a space or listening to voices that promote hatred, would you question if this is the way of Jesus?
Sierra Dickson now suffers from the trauma of being told she is demonic along with a spiritual homelessness. What if the church had responded with love instead of rejection? What if the community rallied around this young girl, recognized her gifts, and found a way for her to remain in the body of believers as a fully equal member? I wonder if the future could look different —if we acknowledged where we have strayed from the message of love and work to repair the cracks and fissures in our communities.