I got to thinking about “safe places” this past week. There are those of us who take safety for granted, living lives with low risk. Those who live in gated communities or who send their children to upper-class or private schools, seek safety in their lives. Sometimes these safe places are intruded upon. Gated communities are not entirely impervious to theft and violence. Upper class schools have been in the news lately where young women have been violated and abused. We all seek safe places.
We believed our schools were safe; then came the shooting at Sandy Hook. We believed our churches were safe; then came the shooting at Emmanuel AME Church. We believed our work places were safe; then came the shooting in San Bernardino. We all seek safe places.
We seek safe places in our homes, in our churches, and in our places of employment, and sometimes we take these safe places for granted. Even Disney World is supposed to be a safe place for a child. Over the last week I learned something new about safe places. Our sisters and brothers who are counted among the LGBT community seek places to gather for safety. Not necessarily from gun violence, but from those of us in the more mainstream community, usually of white privilege and traditional family structure, who may not understand those different from us. Pulse nightclub in Orlando was one of those safe places. I should say, with the perseverance of those who are a part of that community, Pulse nightclub will be a safe place again. We all seek safe places.
When our safe places are violated, especially by the terror of a mass shooting, it is paralyzing, confusing, disorienting, shocking, scary. Therefore, I as the rector and pastoral leader of St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, declare this parish a safe place for all who come seeking the knowledge and love of our Lord Jesus Christ who did not passively tolerate those different from him, but embraced them. People of various backgrounds, races, and nationalities are counted among this congregation. This is a safe place for you. Members of the LGBTQ community and their parents and loved ones are counted among this congregation. This is a safe place for you.
In the words of my friend and Dean of our Cathedral, Barkley Thompson, “This is, I believe, part of our collective challenge. We in the United States have striven to become a tolerant society. But mere tolerance doesn’t breed familiarity, and without familiarity there is little chance for understanding. Tolerance is a passive virtue. It says, in essence, “I can abide your presence in proximity to me, but I do not want to know you. I have plumbed the depths of the Gospels, and nowhere do I find Jesus exhibiting tolerance. Rather, Jesus embraces. Embrace is an active virtue, the preeminent Gospel virtue. Again and again, Jesus embraces the one who is outcast, who exists on the margins, who is maligned. Through his embrace, which comes in the forms both of physical contact and words of acceptance, Jesus declares that, in God, there are no outcasts, there are no margins, and woe be it to anyone who maligns any one of God’s blessed and beloved children.”
In light of the horrific murders this past weekend in Orlando, we are asked by our Bishop for our continued prayers for the repose of the dead and strength and comfort for their families and friends, and for healing for those wounded in the shooting. He asks us also to pray for the first responders and for the medical professionals in Orlando, for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and for wisdom to confront violence and hate with love.