SAFE PLACES AND LOVE
In the early hours of June the 12th, at a dance club in Orlando, Florida, USA, a man walked in and began terrorising those there, in the end killing 49 and wounding 53 before being killed himself. The event is beyond tragic and, as frequently happens, has become a vehicle for people to become bitterly divided, pontificating on why these things happen: It’s Islam! It’s guns! It’s gays! The irony, of course, is that in clinging to absolutes and using them as weapons against others who may disagree, the hatred that was the catalyst for Omar Mateen going to that club is allowed to spread beyond its blood soaked walls into a world which should be striving for peace. Shame on us all for allowing this.
But I want to address a different point. I want us to reflect on the young people who went to that club that evening. In one sense they were just ordinary folk doing what so many of us love doing: going out with friends, having a few drinks, dancing. Though the music may have changed over the years, these young people were doing nothing different from what young people have done for generations.
But, of course, these young people were different. These young people make up part of a group with some rather alarming statistics: 90% of them have suffered intense bullying; 64% of them feel unsafe in ordinary, everyday environments; and saddest of all, they commit suicide at a rate 4 times higher than the average.
And so, given this, these people went to Pulse that evening because it was a place where they felt accepted and - perhaps most importantly - safe. A place where so many of the horrible things that happened to them on a daily basis, things against which they had had to struggle their whole lives were not allowed to hurt them, were far away, not permitted to penetrate the warm haze of friendship, acceptance and love.
And it is specifically into this safe place that the hatred burst in, shattering in just a few moments the safety and security that we all should be able to enjoy. This is, of course, the diabolical nature of terrorism: it not only brings death and suffering, but also forces us to feel unsafe in places where we should be able to know that we belong, places of friendship, acceptance and love.
Our churches, obviously, should be such places. Since we profess to follow the Prince of Peace, whose vision of the Kingdom of God is far more expansive than we sometimes want to make it, it goes without saying that the places where we call upon God’s name, where we seek to be closer to Jesus Christ, where the Body of Christ is made most visibly manifest, should be places of safety for everyone. Our community, mirroring our Head, should be all about unity and not division, truth and not falsehood, charity and not selfishness, acceptance and not judgement. It is the responsibility of our entire community - not just mine - to stand up to any acts of bullying, slander or abuse that we may find in our midst. Such things have no place in a Christian community, and if we allow them to happen without challenging them, we, too, share in the guilt of the terrorists of the world who would rob decent people of their safety and security.
The Diocese in Europe has published a lengthy protocol surrounding just this issue, and a copy of it is available online at http://europe.anglican.org/downloads/safeguarding/december-2015-web-project/web-safeguarding-protocol.pdf. Too often safeguarding is regarded as a policy which only deals with children, but this is not the case, as, in addition to children, of course, we need to make sure that our churches are safe places for all people. But this issue, of course, goes beyond any protocol; this issue is something that we Christians should make a part of our lives by being compassionate, kind, and caring. We all must be ever-diligent about taking our Gospel call seriously, and standing up to hatred wherever we may find it — without polemics, without judgement, without a wilful lack of understanding. Only then can we assure that our community will be a safe haven for all people, and will mirror the loving vision of Our Saviour. May God inspire us all to be mindful of our need to not only have a home of faith for ourselves, but provide one for everyone: a place of friendship, acceptance and love.