Blessed Are They…

Scripture: Selections from Matthew 5
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
June 19, 2016

As many of you know, I served a church in San Diego for over 18 years.  University Christian Church is located in Hillcrest, a predominantly gay and lesbian area of San Diego.  In our congregation, we had an unofficial group called Club 21. Club 21, made up of primarily gay, lesbian and straight allies (over the age of 21), would frequent the gay bar, Bourbon Street, on Friday evenings just a few blocks from the church.  Over the years, I attended many Friday evening Club 21gatherings – this was before I had children.  It was a relaxing and joyful time.  We would kick back with a cocktail, listen to the band, dance, talk theology, solve the world’s problems, and evangelize.  No, we did not hand out religious tracts, but we were proud of our Open and Affirming congregation and if it came up in conversation, we would tell them that there was a church that was as safe for them as the bar.  Gay bars are a place of safety for LGBTQ community – allowing persons to be who they are without threat of fear of violence from the world outside.  Gay bars are sanctuary for many.  Given that Christians do not have the best reputation among the LGBTQ community, patrons of Bourbon Street would look at us skeptically when we would tell them about our church.  But it was not uncommon that those we met on Friday night would make their way to University Christian Church on Sunday morning – just to see if we were truly as Open and Affirming as we claimed.  I heard many stories over the years at Bourbon Street and I did my fair share of pastoral counseling in that place with those who had been hurt and ostracized by the church.

I remember one young man, John, telling me that he grew up in the Southern Baptist Church.  He said that he had to sign a form, agreeing to a certain set of rules, to be a part of the youth group at the Southern Baptist Church.

  • Rule 1:  No drinking.  “No problem,” he said, sipping on his martini.  “I really don’t like the taste of alcohol.  I drink now to fit in.  But in high school, I had no problem signing an agreement saying I would not drink.”
  • Rule 2:  No smoking.  “I am singer,” he said.  “Smoking would just ruin my vocal chords.”
  • Rule 3:  No dancing.  “If you’ve noticed, I haven’t been out on the dance floor yet.  I have two left feet.  I prefer not to dance.”
  • Rule 4: When the youth group goes to the beach, the boys and girls will be separated.  The boys will be on one side and the girls on the other.  At that point, he said, to the leaders, “Sign me up.  Sign me up.”

Of course, when the church found out that he was gay, they kicked him out.  At that point, he figured that if the church did not accept him, then neither did God.  So, he gave up on a relationship with God, too.  I shared with him that I believe God loves and accepts him just as he is.  He could hardly believe there was such a thing as an “Open and Affirming” church.  His eyes lit up as we talked – and I was blessed to witness the beginning of hope and healing from years of religious abuse.  Over the years, there were many, many spiritual conversations that took place on the holy ground of Bourbon Street.

I imagine there have been many holy conversations in bars over the years.    From Jesus who was called a wine bibber and a glutton – hanging out with the marginalized in society, comparing the Kingdom of God to a party with dancing, singing and celebration to Stonewall Inn where drag queens put their foot down, their magnificent 6 inch heels down and said we will not be targets any longer to places like Bourbon Street in San Diego, or VIP in Riverside or Menagerie which I have not visited (but if anyone wants to start a Club 21 at RUCC, I am game – besides I think it would be a great symbol of the resurrection to take a church field trip to a gay bar in the Inland Empire).  Yes, many holy conversations take place in bars.  I wonder what holy conversations were taking place last Sunday at Pulse before the gunfire began.

This horrific tragedy with 50 dead and 53 injured personally knocked the wind out of me this week.  It hit too close to home.  And I have clung to Jesus’ words from Matthew 5 this week – “Blessed are those who mourn.”  I mourn the loss of 50 lives.  Each one numbered has a name, a face, a history.  Each one numbered had hopes and aspirations.  Each one numbered made a difference in the lives of family and friends.  Each one numbered did not know that whatever laughter came out of the evening would be their last.  Yes, I mourn the loss of all 50 lives and it has been important to me know their names and hear their stories.  

I mourn that our nation has experienced another mass shooting without a single piece of legislation passed since the last mass shooting.  How is gun control up for debate when Obama gives his 18th presidential address in response to yet, another mass shooting?  People have said, “Cain killed Abel with a rock.  This is a heart problem, not a gun problem.”  Why in the world are we giving people with a heart problem access to guns?  And by the way, who in the world needs an automatic assault rifle to defend home and family, anyway?  Why in the world are automatic assault weapons still legal to everyday citizens?

I mourn that islamophobic slurs have interrupted the blessed season of Ramadan.  Ramadan marks a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammed.  Ramadan is typically a period of peace and intense self-reflection. I mourn that the Muslim’s sacred month of Ramadan has been horrifically interrupted.  We know that such violence does not represent our Muslim neighbors and friends, fellow children of Abraham, any more than the actions of extremist Christians represent who we are. I recently heard an analogy that ISIS is to Islam as the KKK is to Christianity.  The KKK claims to be a “Christian” organization.  Modern Klan groups are careful to refer to their ritual as “cross lighting” rather than cross-burning and insist that their fires symbolize faith in Jesus.  Christians are as appalled to think of the KKK as a Christian group because the KKK message is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus.  Likewise, many Muslims are appalled to think of ISIS as a Muslim group; after all, the word Islam means peace.

I mourn that Pride month has been interrupted by this heinous homophobic mass murder. And deeply saddened (though grateful) to hear security stopped another potential tragedy at LA Pride the very same day as the Orlando incident.

I mourn the struggle that Muslim LGBTQ face who often label themselves as doubly marginalized.  It appears that Omar Mateen may very well have been one of those persons.

“Blessed are those who mourn.”  Yes, I have been in mourning this week – as many of you have been, too.  But fortunately, our God is a Stillspeaking God and God does not let grief have the final word.  Jesus goes on to say, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”  We do not grieve as people without hope for we are people of the resurrection.

We have discovered comfort and strength this week in the many, many prayer vigils around the world.  We have discovered comfort and hope this week in the many rainbow colors lighting up cities across the world — the White House in DC, the One World Trade Tower in New York, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Tel Aviv’s City Hall, the Sydney Harbor Bridge..  We have discovered comfort and hope in the many who have rushed in to help Orlando.  Friends of mine in Orlando spoke of standing in long lines to give blood on Sunday.  Two of my friends had waited for 5 hours, but they said they wouldn’t have been anywhere else. We have discovered comfort in the progress that we have made between the LGBTQ community and the police.  The police raided the Stonewall Inn a few decades ago.  Last week the police rushed to protect the patrons of Pulse.

We have found comfort and strength in this rare opportunity to advance needed change.  People are saying “Enough is enough.  Enough pain.  Enough despair.  Enough injustice.  Enough inaction.”  We find that people are ready to move from prayer to meaningful action, declaring that we must continue to fight against violence wherever it may occur be it against a mosque, a women’s reproductive health clinic, a concert hall, a movie theater, a Jewish community center, an elementary school, a stadium, a café, a church service or a gay night club.    People are moving from prayer to meaningful action.

We have discovered comfort and strength in standing united together in love rather than fleeing in fear. There have been many resurrection stories that we have risen from the ashes of Orlando.  I heard one story about a grandmother of one of the victims, Luis.  She took the 1 hour 15 minute flight to Orlando to be with her grieving family. Word got out to the passengers that she was on the flight.  The flight attendant passed out paper as people wrote page after page after page expressing condolences, peace, love, and support.  As the passengers deplaned each showed a sign of sympathy to the grandmother – a word of love, a hug, tears. We have discovered comfort in standing united together in love rather than fleeing in fear.

We have discovered comfort and strength in the ultimate goodness of humanity.  We will change the world – and it will take every single unique, beautiful one of us.  We have come a long way, but we are not finished, yet.  Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will find comfort.”  May God continue to lead us from grief to comfort, from despair to hope, violence to peace, from death to new life, from injustice to justice, from weeping to dancing.  Let us stand in solidarity with the patrons of Pulse and dance the dark night away!