Every Sunday in our worship service as we speak our covenant we pledge to “meet hate with reconciling love.” Depending on our social location, we experience these things differently. Our sexuality, gender, race, economic status, educational status, immigration status, even the zip code we live in determines how we are perceived by the world and how we experience the world around us. Anything beyond the straight, cis-gendered, white identity is perceived and treated as a threat to the mythical image of “normal,” fueling marginalization and condemnation. For too many, within our church and throughout our community, these experiences are met with violent words and actions.
Over the last three weeks our church Facebook page has been flooded with such hate. It is ugly, vitriolic, mean, and hurtful. It seems to revolve around our stance as a “open and affirming“ congregation that proclaims the truth of God’s?inclusive love, explicitly welcoming LGBTQIA+ siblings.?You may have seen some of those Facebook comments. Our Facebook page administrators try to handle the trolling comments before too many people see them.
You may have experienced such attacks in your personal life– online and in person. You may have witnessed others being hurt and dehumanized by such attacks. We know that some of us have had such encounters with random hate while we have held our Common Good Vigils.?When any of this happens, please know we are here for each other. We are surrounding you with love and prayer. Reach out to us if you are hurting because of such attacks. We can listen to one another’s pain.
We are a congregation that welcomes and celebrates LGBTQIA+ people, and that lives that out at every level of our life together. We take such living in God’s kin-dom as Gospel (good news) and as faithful to the Way of Jesus.?Sometimes in a supportive faith community and in progressive bubbles we can forget just how radical this is. The church has not just historic but ongoing exclusion and oppression for LGBTQIA+ people. Even within the United Church of Christ only 1/3 of congregations identify as Open and Affirming. Most churches are still vicious when it comes to anything but cis gender, heterosexual expressions of identity, love, and connection, and sexuality. Over these last weeks we have been reminded of how vital it is for our church to declare belovedness for folks who are being condemned “in the name of god.”
In the case of our FB page or wherever else it might show up in our on-line presence, we commit to continued vigilance. So throughout these last weeks we your pastors, as well as other FB page administrators, have been deleting ugly comments from our Facebook page. We have been watching for any attacks that might come our way from other sources. This takes a toll on us, especially for queer folks that are admins. It calls to mind the line from the hymn “Bring Many Names” which recognizes the ache of endless care as God, wiser than despair, is “calmly piercing evil’s new disguises.”
But we are not God, and as we noted, unmasking evil is exhausting.?And even as we block, delete, or mute hateful comments, we affirm that we are called to meet hate with love. That can feel almost futile. It seems so much easier to simply attack.
But this is what we know. We must continue to be both committed in our stance for justice and compassionate in our responses, persistent in speaking truth and persistent in refusing to retaliate with hate. All spring we were reminded of the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ?“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that“ (from his book,?Strength to Love)
Our work as part of God’s beloved community is to create sanctuary in the face of such hatred. We must cultivate community practices that do not tolerate behaviors that violate our covenantal relationships, and that foster accountability among one another. We must do this not just with the explicit acts of vitriol but also when we see microaggressions and dismissive attitudes. Because we are a covenant community we are reminded we cannot do this alone. We are called into relationship — caring and praying for each other. We are doing this work together. When one gets tired or overwhelmed, others can come alongside with new energy and encouragement. We can turn to one another for support. And we are partnering with God, with the reminder that nothing can separate us from God’s love.
Please do not hesitate to reach out when you are hurt by hate. You do not need to be alone. We are here to support you and to remind you that you (and all of us) are a beloved child of God. And as we continue to learn, love is love.
May this Pride Month be a blessing for us all.
Pastor Amy is currently on vacation and will return July 6.