A turning point
When it comes to turning points in history, a few come to mind for me: The assassination of John F. Kennedy; the first humans on the Moon; the fall of the Berlin Wall; the invention of the Internet; and 9/11. You may have a similar list.
And now there is Orlando, 2016. The terrible massacre of 49 people because they were gay is proving to be a turning point for many people.
Will it be a turning point for many Christians?
For an answer, I turned to my friend James Toews, pastor of Neighbourhood Mennonite Brethren Church in Nanaimo, B.C.
Toews was a good person to ask. He has faced a couple of turning points on this issue in his own life.
Four years ago a close relative came out as gay, an experience that was, he said, “a big shift. This wasn’t an issue — it was a real person.”
Then two years ago, the local LGBTQ community and some evangelical churches in Nanaimo got into a nasty fight over whether a Christian group that was anti-gay-marriage could use public facilities for a conference.
Alarmed by the bitterness that was dividing the city, Toews reached out to a leader in the LGBTQ community to try to build bridges — an act that continues as friendship between the two to this day.
As to whether the massacre in Orlando is a turning point for churches, Toews said he thinks it is.
It has “made people who wanted to stay on the sidelines take some kind of a position, ready or not,” he said.
But, I wondered, won’t it just pass, like so many things in life do? Once a few sympathies are uttered and prayers said, won’t things go back to just the way they were for many?
“In my opinion, the tide on this issue is pretty inexorable,” he replied. “There will be holdouts and the fortress will be strengthened in some quarters . . . but I don’t see a swing back any time soon.”
One thing he hopes will happen is that the conversation so common in many church circles will move past the statement to “love the sinner, but hate the sin.”
That, he said, “is a theological statement I’ve come to hate and have concluded that it’s completely wrong. . . . Jesus loved sinners — period. Jesus went ballistic on those who drew lines to keep wounded and broken people from entering the kingdom. . . . It is a hateful and pernicious statement.”
And what about those who blame religion, and churches in particular, for creating the context for the killings? Toews doesn’t agree.
“There are a whole lot of factors in play,” he said. “I think the most direct responsibility are U.S. gun laws.”
That said, he added, “churches are responsible for more than enough bad stuff around this LGBTQ issue. The church does have a responsibility for not being as Jesus-like as they should be when relating to their gay and lesbian neighbors.”
Overall, his hope is that the killings will spark a deep and long-term conversation between the church and the LGBTQ community about the issues affecting each group and that bridges of understanding will be built.
Is the Orlando massacre a turning point for you? Will it change the conversation at your church? That’s a question we can all ask ourselves.
John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
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