By Sean Langdon
“…I’m so sorry to learn of the Colorado Springs shooting. There are just no words anymore…”
This was the text I received on Sunday Morning from our Mission Center President Kim Naten. You see, I was at the Beyond Horizons Retreat at Lewis River Campground where cell reception is spotty. So, I had not yet heard the news about the mass shooting at Club Q, a queer nightclub, in Colorado Springs. This was another targeted attack on the LGBTQIA+ community and furthermore, it took place on the weekend preceding Transgender Day of Remembrance (November 20). On this day, we “honor the memory of the transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence.” (https://www.glaad.org/tdor) This attack happened in what should have been a safe space for the community.
Let’s back up for a moment though. This past weekend, 18 of us gathered for our inaugural Beyond Horizons Retreat. This retreat had been delayed three times already due to COVID-19. While present together at the retreat we lived the theme of “Chosen Family: A Place at the Table” through storytelling, laughter, and moments of blessing. We decorated pride cookies and shared in a Friendsgiving meal together. Then just before our closing Communion Service, I received the news about the mass shooting.
The Beyond Horizons Retreat was a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community as well as the allies who journey alongside us. It was an example of what our sanctuaries should be, both the physical sanctuaries in our congregation buildings as well as the sanctuary that is created through mutual respecting relationships. Those who attended were free to be themselves and express that in the way that was natural and authentic for them. What a gift that was and could continue to be.
In times like this, I am reminded of the need for our congregations and new expressions of community to continue the work towards being open and affirming welcoming communities. It is not enough to just be “nice and kind” people anymore. We must continue the work to look within and confront our biases and allow the Holy Spirit to shape us as we live into new ways of going beyond the horizon to which we are sent. And while this work is important for us to do for all marginalized communities, the LGBTQIA+ community has been specifically targeted by those claiming to represent Christ.
Currently, Salem and Crystal Springs Congregations are the only congregations who have done the work with Harmony to become an official Welcoming & Affirming Congregation in our mission center. Harmony is the non-profit organization that, “provides advocacy, education, and resources for Queer voices in Community of Christ with a shared vision of full participation.” To learn more about their “Welcoming & Affirming Congregation” program, click here: https://www.harmony.lgbt/waprogram.html. I encourage your community to consider participating in this program.
There have been many times over the past few days that I have found myself in tears. Knowing that you are part of a community targeted by others, is an exhausting place to be in. Knowing that some want you dead just because of who you are, is an exhausting place to be in. And, if I’m being honest, being a full-time minister in a religion that is expressed in ways that fuels murderers to commit their heinous acts, is an exhausting place to be in.
I am grateful to have been raised in, serve in, and be a member of, a denomination that I believe does not express Christianity in that way, but this doesn’t mean that we don’t still have a lot of work to do. I invite… no, I plead… to our members, friends, congregations, and new expressions of community to explore ways that ensure that our communities are safe spaces for all marginalized communities. And to not only provide safe space but to also actively participate in helping transform our schools, places of employment, and neighborhoods into being more welcoming and inclusive as well. Some of our lives depend on it. The lives of people you love depend on it. Maybe even more so than you realize. If you need a face to put to this reality, use mine.
We cannot continue to sing “For everyone born, a place at the table.” or “may our hearts and minds be opened, fling the church doors open wide. May there be room enough for everyone inside. For in God there is a welcome, in God we all belong. May that welcome be our song.” unless we are willing to do the work to make these hymns a reality in our Community of Christ spaces. We have come far. Let’s continue going the distance.
A note from Sean: I know that reading the word “queer” in a positive way might be new for some as it is a term that historically has been used to oppress those in the LGBTQIA+ community. Even I have struggled with claiming this term for myself. To do so, is new for me. I think this note from Harmony might be helpful: “The term Queer is being reclaimed by some who identify as LGBTQ+ and is used as an umbrella term for the LGBTQ+ community. We use the phrase “Queer voices” to describe all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI), who have the courage to use their voice to speak for justice for the marginalized in the Queer community.”