In the Name of God
“In the name of God,” he said, as the CNN Sunday morning news anchor proclaimed 50 people dead.
I was in the midst of ironing my clothes while getting ready for the 25th anniversary celebration of Irvine United Congregational Church’s decision to become Orange County’s first open and affirming church. Affirming churches move through a formal educational and decision-making process to become intentionally welcoming to those who identify as gay or transgender. This was to be a morning of joyful remembrance with a beloved faith community.
But in another Orange County, on another coast, on this same morning, during the intersection of gay pride and a religious holy month, a fundamentalist radicalized terrorist slaughtered unsuspecting patrons at Pulse, a gay nightclub where young people danced to reggae on Latin night. I dropped my hot iron. While it burned straight through my Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes, I sat down and wept in response to surreal images revealing the deadliest mass murder in U.S. history.
Not only school children or unsuspecting families enjoying a movie or a marathon, but now gays have become the target of yet another mass shooting by an unstable, homophobic young man who much too easily purchased automatic assault weapons only two days prior. Evidently, his jihadist terrorist leanings were imported, but his homophobia was homegrown, tied to fundamentalist religious beliefs. Terror works to instill fear in the heart of a nation. And, like African Americans, who while recalling stories of so many lynchings and church burnings, continue to live with entrenched racism, gays also carry a shared archetypal memory of assaults on their community. June 1969 marked the beginning of the gay rights movement when police stormed the Stonewall Inn nightclub in New York City. Even now, in mid-western and southern states a palpable fear persists.
In more progressive towns like Laguna Beach, while the fear may be repressed, it is never forgotten. It reverberates through generations. My gay father felt it in 1950’s Texas as do I more than 60 years later. It’s a deep down rumbling feeling like Californians experience while waiting for the next big one; an awareness that at any moment, given one’s non-conforming sexual or gender orientation, a hate crime or some form of institutionalized discrimination is possible. The national news of late has been filled with bathroom rhetoric, instilling anxiety in both transgender and cisgender school children and their parents. And another form of psychological terrorism happens in each new election year cycle when LGBTQ folks become whipping posts for party platforms. Conservative political and fundamentalist religious ideology continue to fuel beliefs which lead to discrimination and hate crimes.
When a church or a pastor officially welcomes LGBTQ folks it is a courageous choice often met with ostracism by more conservative believers. Laguna Beach is a town with many churches, but only four of those are affirming congregations: Neighborhood Congregational, St. Mary’s Episcopal, Unitarian Universalist, and The United Methodist Church. Typically, based on a literal interpretation of scripture, evangelical Christian churches and schools do not affirm LGBTQ folks. In fact, several evangelical, Protestant churches in Orange County have withdrawn from their denominations in the last decade to join off-the-grid, extremely fundamentalist denominations based in African countries like Uganda.
Thus, bars and beaches are the new church for gays. Palm Springs the latest pilgrimage point. It is not surprising that Laguna’s LGBTQ community gathered Sunday night at, Main Street, the town’s only remaining gay bar for a candle light vigil organized by Laguna residents and Human Rights Campaign leaders Diana Navarre and Jeff Brumett. Straight allies also turned out in force: Laguna Mayor Steve Dicterow; two supportive on-duty Laguna Beach police officers; Jason Feddy, a member of Laguna’s Jewish and inter-faith community; and Rabbi Peter Levi of the Anti-Defamation League, who spoke to those gathered in mourning. It was a sacred moment full of love and light.
On the second worst day in the history of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, I prayed in a church and a bar in a country where whether straight or gay, adult or child, fundamentalist, progressive or agnostic, Republican, Democrat, or Green, any of us might be taken down while running a marathon, enjoying the arts, learning in school, singing in worship or simply dancing.
In the name of God, in the pursuit of love, unity and justice how then might we respond to such endemic violence?
Michele McCormick is a practicing psychologist, writer and Laguna Beach resident who writes about her adopted hometown with a psychological twist and a dose of inspiration. She can be reached at [email protected]
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