Culture At Large

When the nightclub is a sanctuary

Jes Kast

It has been a difficult 11 days. Many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community are hurting and lamenting the act of hate that occurred in the early hours of June 12, when a gunman opened fire at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., leaving 49 dead. At the invitation of the New York City mayor’s office, I helped lead a city-wide vigil last week for those who were murdered. We gathered in front of the historic Stonewall Inn, which has served as a refuge, a sanctuary, for LGBTQ persons for years.

A sanctuary is a place where one goes for comfort and safety. For Christians, we often think of the sanctuary as a place where the body of Christ comes to gather to worship and pray. Christians, however, do not monopolize sanctuaries. Broadly speaking, places where safety and refuge are provided are sanctuaries. The Psalmist says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Anywhere one goes has the opportunity to be a sanctuary, a place of refuge. God is all around us. God is in the church sanctuary. God is in the sanctuary of nature. God is in the sanctuary of a gay nightclub.

A nightclub can become a sanctuary when a sanctuary hasn’t welcomed you.

For many LGBTQ persons, a nightclub is just that, a sanctuary. It is a place where we go for safety, for refuge and for connection. People often speak of dancing late into the night as transcendent. These are all familiar words that one might use to describe the experience of finding sanctuary in a church building. Yet that isn’t always the experience for church-visiting LGBTQ persons. When people are not welcomed into a Christian house of worship because of whom they love or how they understand their gender, they look elsewhere. A nightclub can become a sanctuary when a sanctuary hasn’t welcomed you. As Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Huffington Post’s executive editor of global spirituality and religion, wrote last week, “Nightclubs have always been sacred spaces for queer people, places to gather and glitter.”

How can Christian places of worship also be such places of sanctuary?

  • Express love to your LGBTQ kindred. Mourn with those who mourn. Reach out and see how others are doing. That kindness will go a long way.
  • Reflect on ways your congregation ensures a welcome to all people to worship and pray.
  • If you are clergy or a faith leader, ensure that you preach and pray for those affected by the shooting. Find other ways to acknowledge the pain. At my church last Sunday, we lit 49 candles in our sanctuary to remember the dead.

People are dying because of hate crimes. This must cause the church alarm. We are people of Gospel hope. What is the good word we are called to offer in the name of Jesus? We must work to create different kinds of safe sanctuaries for all the children of God. Let's work to ensure our church sanctuaries are places where all are welcome. Let’s pray for peace and work for healing. Grieve with those who are grieving, for there will be time later for difficult discussions if they are needed. But first make a safe space for the hurting. Offer a compassionate hand of welcome in the name of the Gospel hope of Jesus.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, The Church, News & Politics, North America