When the nightclub is a sanctuary

Jes Kast

Jes Kast
June 22, 2016

For many LGBTQ persons, a nightclub can become a sanctuary when a sanctuary hasn’t welcomed them.

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June 22, 2016

There is a deep irony here. There have been a lot of pieces reflecting on the word play of "sanctuary" with the Pulse shooting and church. We are riffing on lots of high voltage church imagery here. Church is not just sanctuary, it is also temple where the bush burns with the consuming fire of God but is not consumed. Annie Dillard gets at this in her famous quote.

Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”

—Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 40-41.

To what degree was the nightclub a safe place for the shooter clearly tormented by his inner conflict? What kind of temple did it represent to him and how did this contribute to his actions?

I wonder how we will handle the sanctuary meme as we continue to process this entire episode theologically?

June 23, 2016

I have very mixed feelings about this piece. On the one hand, I really do think this is a very important introspective opportunity for the church. The way that we project our love toward the LBGTQ community is important in whether and how we secure a meaningful opportunity to point toward the one Sanctuary--the Lord of the Sabbath--that really makes any church building worth inhabiting in the first place. On the other hand, we have to be wary of letting the word "sanctuary" be redefined in the process.

For my part, after reading this piece, I found myself reflecting on the way English translations of the Bible use the word "sanctuary." I think of how God mandated in the OT law the establishment of certain cities of sanctuary--places where someone who was guilty of manslaughter (but not murder) could flee and fall under protection from the vengeance of an inflamed next-of-kin--but who presumably would not be able thereby to escape the just punishment of the law for manslaughter according to the circumstances of the offense.

There's a helpful article here: http://www.gotquestions.org/cities-of-refuge.html

I'm still wrestling with the application of that concept, but I think it's rich with implication for how even the most conservative of Christian congregations ought to act toward members of the LGBTQ community. Our churches ought to be places where even the most unrepentant of sinners--of any stripe--feel safe from the hands of those who would do them harm. Being something OTHER than a sinner (regardless of the sin) must never ever be perceived as a prerequisite to participating in the life of the church. But that kind of sanctuary attitude wouldn't include erecting stumbling blocks on the road to new life for sinners either--that is, it would zealously protect, even at cost of members' own comfort and security if necessary, but it would not condone. Those who fled to the church for sanctuary would find compassion and comfort, but not unchallenging acceptance of a sinful lifestyle.

And this is where I suspect the church has to be different than a nightclub, where it's a secular "sin" to speak of any kind of moral contravention to the LGBTQ lifestyle. The sanctuary the church provides (or ought to provide) is more like the sanctuary cities of the OT--a place of safety pending trial (in this case, eternal trial), but not a place of open affirmation for a lifestyle that persists in distancing those who seek sanctuary from the One who alone provides it.

Electric Beaver
June 23, 2016

If we are to accept this new definition of 'sanctuary', it means that anywhere we flee from our sin to avoid acknowledging our actions as sin is a 'sanctuary'. Whether it is the arms of a prostitute, or the bed of an adulterer, an 'anger management' group, a bar where no one asks if you've had enough, anywhere that we are told, "It's okay. Don't worry, be safe."
The dilemma the churches face is accepting and loving all who enter, gay, straight, or other, whilst at the same time not ignoring the sin. We can say, "Love the sinner. Hate the sin." But the LGBTQ+ people feel and believe that their behavior is who they ARE. Therefore, hating their behavior is hating THEM. This may not be true, but their perception of it says they are hated because of what they do.
The dilemma for the LGBTQ+ people is the church is asking them to forgo their desires and live chaste lives because to do otherwise is living in sin. This seems to be a steep price for them. I have no idea how a person would do this, it seems an intractable problem. But Jesus has promised that He will provide a means of escape, of dealing with the problems we face. By-the-Way: the church holds the same standard for heterosexual adulterers, for thieves, for liars, for people consumed by anger - give up your sinful behavior and live a life worthy of the price paid for you which is the death on the cross by Jesus Christ.
The church, the body of believers in Jesus Christ, is not a sanctuary in the sense that here you may live as you wish and be safe. The church is a sanctuary for those who come to Jesus, and become free from the wages of sin and death.

Doug Vande Griend
June 23, 2016

I think this article forces a word and definition on two things are are just not the same -- perhaps, I suppose, to poke at the church for not being welcoming enough to LGBTQI+ people?

Following the pattern of the word/definition presented in this article, casinos are a sanctuary for some, as are hookah smoking houses, as are non-gay bars (hence the TV show Friends), as are baseball fields (I had that sense in the many years I played and coached), as are bingo houses, as sometimes are restaurants and even bordellos. The list could go on. I don't find anything particularly "churchish" about an LGBTQI+ nightclub, at least compared to many other places were people get together and do certain things they enjoy and/or want to do (whether good or bad).

Of course, it would always be a tragic and outrageous if someone decided to kill those gathered at any gathering place, as was the case here. But when the author says,

"People are dying because of hate crimes. This must cause the church alarm."

I would say I agree but that is nothing new, and that "hate crimes" have existed for a very, very long time -- and characterizes most crimes, including those not so labelled -- even when the phrase "hate crime" wasn't yet invented as a crime category.

June 23, 2016

Does the challenge change if sanctuary isn't a building just like church isn't a place you go to but a gathering of people in Christ's name. Is there any home where sinners are specifically I welcomed and unsafe?

Manuel Gonzalez
June 23, 2016

There are two things wrong with this piece one the narrative of that this was a hate crime against the LGBT. I see it as an act of Radical Islamic Terrorism and 49 Americans were killed for having the freedom to express themselves. I also find it hard to believe that a club can be a sanctuary being that it is a hub for many things not safe. But that being said I was totally moved by this incident and upset and perplexed on how many People blame Christians and Republicans for fueling this hate and not ISIS.

Jim Dekker
June 23, 2016

Thanks for the heartfelt, pastoral reflection. Not all pastors think or act pastorally in relation to such incidents. Thanks, too, for the stimulating and challenging comments.

In reading this column and earlier when I read Paul B. Rauschenbuch's Huffington Post piece, I thought of these lines in Kris kristofferson's old song "To Beat the Devil": "I left my pride and stepped inside a bar. / Actually, I guess you'd could call it a Tavern."

I don't know for sure, but Kristofferson, son of a Lutheran pastor, is no dummy and I suspect he was knowingly playing on the shared etymological rootage of tavern and tabernacle. Bars are sanctuaries, not just to drunks. Some bartenders become virtual secular priests and pastors for regulars or "chaplains" for the occasional visitor.

In any case, I'm wondering if churches can be welcome, safe AND challenging places for sinners of all sorts as Tabernacle sanctuaries. Right now, I think most churches I know well don't have any gays because the atmosphere and customs breathe judgmentalism and not challenging, gentle Grace, whether the gays are celibate, chaste within a committed relationship, or promiscuous and adulterous.

I also have known at least a dozen former leading married church members who for years led secret heterosexual lives promiscuously, adulterously and in some cases, bi-sexually who were welcomed--until their secret lives were exposed. (Whether they felt welcomed in those years, I don't know, because their secret sexual lives clearly expressed some kind of deep dissatisfaction with their own lives and persons.) Of the several still living of those people whom I still know and contact occasionally, they remain unfulfilled, unhappy, virtually lost spiritually and I don't know how to help them.

I do know churches that welcome LGBTQ but with no challenge. I do know gay Christian couples who won't return to the churches of their youth because they've tried being active members before finding their spouses, but the atmosphere was difficult, if not always, by any means, poisonous. Most such people I know are members in LGBT-friendly congregations. And I guess that's a fair bit better than only going to a tavern for sanctuary, but hardly perfect.

Sandra Mackin
June 24, 2016

I was gratified to read that the consensus is to love the sinner because we have all sinned but not to acknowledge acceptance of the sin. The Anglican Church has accepted the sin by allowing gay marriage into the church. Once we change the Word to suit us then that introduces a slippery slope. Before I left the Anglican Church I was at a Bible Study where people were saying we can not judge people and sometimes even adultery is okay. Slippery slope.

June 24, 2016

Very sorry to hear of the churches with which Mr. Decker is knowledgable. I have to wonder which churches they might be and where they are located. It might be a result of geographical location perhaps?

I can say that the CRC community with which I have been familiar seems to be vastly different if having a Christian school teacher, a church organist, even perhaps a pastor, and a choir director has been any indication. Now we didn't go window peeping and they didn't go parading their orientation so some of this is guesswork as I believe Mr. Decker' rather dogmatic statement that he knows churches that don't have any gay members.

I guess it was assumed that gay members in the churches with which I am familiar were accepted and accepted the challenges of the historic Christian Faith as directed by the Holy Spirit in the inspiration of Holy Scripture and "leading into all truth" for over two thousand years.

By the way, like Kris Kristofferson I have also stepped into a few taverns and the descriptive language I have heard there I have never heard in any church. Perhaps Mr. Decker might want to expand his experience.

Steven Koster
June 28, 2016

Sanctuary literally means Holy Place. Sanctuaries are refuges only because God, our refuge and our rock, is already there. It's falling into the welcoming, loving embrace of a merciful God and the embrace of a community of forgiven sinners that make it a refuge, because nothing separates from the love of God. Yet God is just, and his holiness makes demands on us. Nobody is unchanged as they become more holy.

Drawing parallels of worship sanctuaries and other venues is valid, because it all belongs to the Lord. We can glorify God (or not) everywhere. And the Club certainly can be a social refuge, a bittersweet contrast to the hostile unwelcome some sinners face in churches at the hands of other sinners, as if we need to patrol God's boundaries for him.

But I get a little nervous to stretch all forms of celebration to be just as valid as genuine worship to the Triune God. All celebration might be grounded in our God-Imaging, but some worship is misdirected, even idolatrous. But that's a theological point in the midst of a human tragedy.

This was an act of Terror and a Hate Crime. Many are wounded, in all senses of the term. How much more bitter is the church's unwelcome in a tragedy like this. How can we grieve together? How can we share the gospel together when hope is needed? So I agree with the advice: Welcome and grieve with those who are grieving, for there will be time later for difficult discussions if they are needed. First make a safe space for the wounded. Conversations about the demands of holiness can come after the safety and welcome of mercy.

May we make our congregations a safe place to grieve for the imperfect and wounded, building welcome and relationship before moving to attempting to correct others' flaws.

July 8, 2016

Thank you for this heartfelt article. I agree that the night club or bar is a sanctuary for the gay community....I can say this from experience. I lived as a lesbian and experienced the clubs being my "church". (www.myjesusmylord.com here is my testimony of coming to Jesus if you care to look at it)

We as the church have been given a commission by our Lord to "go" into all the world and preach the Good News. Sadly, we have laid down our great commission and we have gotten comfortable in our "sanctuaries" ...we have condemned the lost to hell and we don't have a heart to reach this community....BUT....God does have the heart!!!!!! And as we look to Him to change OUR hearts towards this people group we are going to see many gays and lesbians repent and come to know the Lord...let our prayer be....Lord break our hearts for what breaks Yours....let us remember that Jesus went and ate with tax collectors and sinners while the Pharisees had no tolerance for them and didn't have the heart to reach them at all...after all ...they were SINNERS!!!!!! Let us remind ourselves of the cross of Jesus Christ and remember that it was OUR sin that put Him to death....He will REVIVE the church to GO and to reach out to a community that is heading toward the cliff without hope.......

The Holy Spirit brought a team of us together to go to the gay community (at the gay pride parade in St Pete, FL on 6/25/16) to reach out to them with signs that said ...NEED PRAYER? and FREE HUGS .........you would not have believed the response we got from the gay community!!!!!!....we came to them in love and many many gays hugged us and got prayer from us...and yes ...they knew we were the "church"....we wore shirts that said ...JESUS IS ENOUGH and JESUS HEALS...so they knew as we hugged them WHO we represented....we did not condemn them...they have already gotten that message LOUD AND CLEAR ........its time for a new message from the church........THE GOSPEL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

God loves gay people......God loves all people.....Lord... help us to love this community of broken people with Your Power and Your Love and bring the "Sanctuary" of YOU to them......in Jesus Name

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