I am sad. I am angry.
Fifty of my LGBT brothers and sisters were massacred in a senseless act of terrorism and hate in Orlando yesterday. During Pride. On "Loving Day," the anniversary of the ruling in Loving v Virginia that outlawed laws prohibiting interracial marriage and, I believe, paved the way for the ruling last June making marriage equality the law of the land in all 50 states.
As President Obama said, “The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub. It is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds and to advocate for their civil rights. So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country.”
He is right. It was more than a bar. I remember the first time I walked into a gay bar. It was Menage, in Columbia, SC. It was the first time I felt truly safe, truly free to be who I am. It was a refuge.
Yesterday, a terrorist violated that refuge.
There are different theories about why he did it. Some want to credit radical Islam. Others say he was "disgusted" seeing two men kissing. But the root in these are the same. Hate. I have heard the same kinds of hate from close family members. I have witnessed it when being told I am condemned to hell, or when I was shot at while outside a gay bar.
And we are witnessing it now, when in the wake of the ruling granting marriage equality, more than 200 anti-LGBT bills have been filed, many seeking to allow people to discriminate against people like me because of "sincerely held religious beliefs." (Funny, my Jesus said to love everyone, even your enemy. ) Others seek to ban trans* people from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Because the Stanford rapist was trans*...oh wait, no he wasn't. And the monster yesterday who slaughtered 50 innocent people was trans*...oh wait, no he wasn't. He was a straight, wife-beating, unstable guy who had been investigated by the FBI and was STILL allowed to buy an assault rifle.
But it is easier to hate gays or Muslims than to do something about our gun culture. It is easier to have potty police than to do something about rape culture. It is easier to blame the other than to confront the hate in our own society and do something about it.
We need to confront the hate in our society. And yes, that includes the hate of radical Islam. But it also include the hate of radical right-wing Christianity. Did you take a look at the Twitterverse yesterday. People were PRAISING him. For finally wiping the disgusting gays off the map. For killing someone "other than innocents." For doing what both hate-filled imams and hate-filled pastors have advocated. Event the Lt. Governor of Texas yesterday tweeted after the attacks that "you reap what you sow." Blaming the victims.
I think a place for us to start is on our own churches, with our own language. So I want to share a piece I wrote just over a month ago that I have shared with no one but my pastor in Maryland. I wrote it in response to the potty laws, and I think it is applicable even today. Because if our goal is to be more Christ-like, more made in the image of our Creator, we must see God as someone big enough to love all of creation and rid ourselves from the hate that I am sure breaks God's heart as well.
Towards a Radical Inclusiveness
By Digger Diplomat
I have been thinking a lot about pronouns lately.
Much of it stems from the recent debate over bathrooms and who gets to serve as the potty police. I am not transgender, and yet the debate is personal to me.
Among my people, I am considered a “Two-Spirit,” or someone who possesses both a male and a female spirit. This has always fit with how I feel myself, neither really male nor really female, but both. I am very comfortable in my own skin.
But there are those who are not comfortable with me. These are the ones who have called me “sir” since long before I cut my hair short. Some quickly apologize. Some laugh nervously. Some snicker. Because I feel like I am both, it has never bothered me, except on the rare occasions when the person seemed hostile.
I fear those occasions are increasing. I see more and more reports of attacks on trans* people. And these attacks aren’t limited to trans* people. There are all sorts of gender non-conforming people being accosted in restrooms even if they are using the restroom that corresponds with the sex to which they were assigned at birth.
One such person is a friend of mine who is a sergeant in the Marine Corps. She is part of the elite group of Marines who guard our embassies. And she has been thrown out of the women’s bathroom because she looks too much like a boy. A nice thank you for your service.
A recent piece by UCC minister Emily Heath describes a similar struggle. She too is female but gender non-conforming. She jokes with her wife that if she isn’t back from a public restroom in five minutes, to come looking for her. It is becoming less of a joke.
I fear it is a matter of time before I am accosted as well.
I wonder if this whole issues gives us an opportunity as progressive Christians to examine the language we use.
Because language matters.
When we refer to gender rather than sex and then insist on gender being binary, we negate the lives of those who live along the spectrum of gender. And we negate the lives of those assigned a sex at birth that doesn’t correspond with their identity, or those who fall into the at least three categories of intersex, meaning those with biological traits of both sexes. These folks too have typically been assigned a sex at birth, often surgically, and often incorrectly.
Likewise, when we refer to God as He, we negate the lives of women and their connectedness to the Creator. In my own church, and other UCC’s I have attended, we have struggled to find more inclusive ways to refer to God, whether calling God both father and mother, or changing the words to the doxology to refer to Creator, Christ and Holy Ghost rather than Father, Son and Holy Ghost. And often, we have shunned the use of pronouns.
What if we didn’t?
Many in the transgender and gender non-conforming community have sought a third way through the use of “they” as a singular pronoun. I know there are those who reject the use of “they” in the singular. I confess to being something of a grammar nerd myself. And yet we have a history of using the pronoun “they” when the sex of the person about whom we are speaking is not known. As I saw in a recent discussion of the matter, two wait staff noticed a customer left behind a coat. “I wonder if they know they left it?” “Let’s put it in the lost and found in case they return.”
See, we’ve been using it all along.
What if we used it for God?
What if instead of tying ourselves in knots trying to avoid using “He,” or at least using “He” and “She” together, we defaulted to “they?”
We’d be doing a number of things.
First, we would be referring to God in the way that They referred to themselves. In the plural.
Remember in Genesis 1:26, God says: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
And too in Genesis 3:22: “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:”
If God, in referring to Self, says “us,” perhaps we should be saying “They.”
But using “They” would accomplish more than that. It would be a recognition of the radical inclusiveness that is God. The God that created all things, including all sexes and all genders.
It would mean that our understanding of God is limited by our understanding of ourselves, but that we recognize that God is not limited. Often, we are neither male nor female. Neither then is God. We were created in God’s image, male and female, because God’s image is male and female.
And by using “They,” we not only recognize the abundance that is God, but we welcome all of the abundance that is God’s Creation into the arms of our Creator and Their Church.
Maybe this is a little thing. Maybe it won't change the hate that fills people's hearts. But what if it does? What if one little change would help people see that we are all part of God, part of creation, that we, male, female, and in between, that we, gay, straight and in between, were all created in God's image and are loved by our Creator. Maybe then we could love each other.