Friday, September 20, 2013

Groaning in Labor Pains: the String of Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes in Seattle

Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake. — Mark 13:35–37

by Sean R. Glenn

Sean R. Glenn
​Though a little over two months away, the Feast of Christ the King — and along with it, Advent — is barreling toward us. I have come to enjoy Advent because it gives liturgical communities pause to consider our own restlessness as we await the fleshy Incarnation of Christ. What kind of restlessness is this? I imagine it is a kind of restlessness known to early communities of Christ followers; a restlessness — or, as Paul aptly names it, συνωδίνει (sunodinei, labor pains) in Romans 8 — that might not be so different, despite the chasm of time separating the first century from now. To be sure, the modern world does plague us with its own unique challenges. Yet, there is a theme we can share with the expectation of occupied peoples of the first century; just as God’s logos became flesh and dwelt among us in a world of violence, so too do we continue to face the taxing burdens that the imagination of violence weighs upon us.

​Christ was incarnated into a world of violence. We, too, live amid the specter of violence; but, some of us more than others. While I have, for the time being, made Boston, Massachusetts my home, I am a native of the Pacific Northwest, and lived for four years in Seattle’s queer neighborhood, Capitol Hill. Capitol Hill was my first exposure to communities of queer folk, and I quickly made it a home not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually (Saint Mark’s Cathedral, the Seat of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, my eventual church home, resides on the northern end of Capitol Hill). I began the journey of adulthood there, and the neighborhood still tugs at my imagination every so often; a place of true character, vibrancy, and multidimensionality. 

​But lately, the news I hear coming from Seattle paints achanging picture. Many of my friends continue to work, live, and play on the Hill (though this is slowly changing), so naturally I receive a lot of information about what is going on back home through phone calls, emails, and social media. What has me the most worried is the string of anti-LGBT acts of violence that are on the rise. A local community blog, Capitol Hill Seattle, reports a small, but worrisome increase in violent crime on Capitol Hill, namely assaults involving firearms, supported by data from the Seattle Police Department from 2008–2012. As Daniel Hanks of Social Outreach Seattle states, “While crime may not be getting worse, it does seem to be getting more violent and involve weapons — guns in particular. That is what has prompted SOSea to say that violent crime is on the rise.” Myriad other sources demonstrate this trend, both in Seattle and across the nation, including two recent attacks within a month of each other.

​This is all the more troubling because it suggests that, while Washington joined the ranks of those states to legalize same-sex marriage in 2012, it would appear that our choice victories on the political stage have done little to quell hatred on the ground. Such victories, while not unimportant, might tempt us to lay down our guard a little too easily, prompting us to believe something is realized when it is, indeed, not; that our work is done. This is perhaps analogous to Paul’s concern regarding a kind of “realized eschatology” prevalent in some early first century churches (1 Thessalonians is a prime example). I have written elsewhere on the dangers of a realized eschatology, but in this instance I ask a practical question: is our work done? The answer is no. We may be tempted, in light of our recent victories, to ask “well, that’s over; what possible role would an organization like Integrity have in a region where the battle is won?” To such reasoning I humbly respond, “The battle is not won; keep awake.”

This is, I believe, a new chapter for organizations like Integrity in regions where many of the intra-ecclesial struggles are beginning to settle. The Seattle area is a region where many Episcopal churches do indeed embody a kind of incarnational radical love, striving to live into that final, but most important article of our baptismal covenant: that we “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” Although the presence of Integrity’s affirming work is still direly needed in areas where the imagination of the closet is still hegemonic, it is also necessary in areas where LGBT folk are already fully welcome to sit at Christ’s table. The work now is to look outwards. As we are nourished by the sacraments within the liturgy, we must turn beyond the narthex and seek to bear witness for, serve, and stand in solidarity with those communities we may not already see: queer people of color, trans* communities, those under the heel of poverty, and even those of us that are already recognized, even if only on paper.

Therefore, let us keep awake.

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