In a meadow there is a flock of many sheep, grazing. One day, while they are all together, the group is set upon by a wolf. Fifty sheep perish, fifty-three more are wounded, but every sheep in the flock saw the attack. Afterward, a lion emerges from its den nearby. He sees the sheep and recognizes the pain that they are experiencing, and is filled with compassion. The lion reaches out to them and says, “Let me stay among you. If you need it, my den is safe.” But the sheep back away from the lion, unsure and mistrusting of him and the safety it offers. “Please,” the lion motions again, “come with me for I can offer you safety.” And with each step the lion took toward the flock, the flock also stepped away from the lion.
“Yes,” one sheep finally offers, “you say it is safe, and indeed it may be. But You are still a lion, and that is still a den.”
This is not a perfect parable or analogy. There are logical/thematic flaws that keep it from being such. Where is the shepherd? But the imagery of the lion and the lamb, something so familiar to Christians and those who do not claim Christianity is important for me to reframe in this parable because, in my experience, we, as Christians, do not often see ourselves as the lion in need of laying down.
This weekend, a man walked into a gay nightclub in Orlando and murdered 50 people and hospitalized 53 more. You have seen it all over your Facebook and Twitter feeds and front pages. And, as people in constant pursuit of the heart of God do in times of crisis and tragedy, Christians everywhere pondered, “What do we do? How do I be Jesus here?”
And so we began to pray. Because we cannot fix brokenness and tragedy and loss, so all we can do is beg healing from the One who can.
But what I have seen and heard voiced, even more so than my fellow Christians posting about praying over this tragedy and the hurt that led up to it and the hurt that follows, is a need of those closer to it. Those in the flock.
And the amount of distrust is difficult, heart-wrenching, unsurprising, and legitimate. And it is time that we realize, family – we are the lion.
Hear me now: offering our churches and ourselves as refuges to our LGBTQ+ neighbors is not bad. It is right. But I have seen so many of my friends who are a part of that community lament and point out that while unity and coming together in loss is indeed important, it is difficult to feel that there is suddenly safety in the relationship between the church and them.
For so many, a church building is a den. And not just the building, but those who have inhabited it. A den in itself, unoccupied, is just a pit or a cave. It is what dwells there that instills dread.
Friends, even when we leave our own spaces and offer our presence and our resources to others, there is still a sense that, while we may mean well now, when there was peace in that meadow, while others were simply grazing, they also had to look over their shoulders.
It is vital to understand that what we wish to offer as a shelter, to so many is a den.
It is our responsibility to come out, and not to be surprised when the lambs shy away. As Christians, our responsibility is to hear why LGBTQ+ people are suspicious of us, and to affirm that these suspicions are valid and that we will commit ourselves to changing that, whatever it takes.
The lion must lie down and listen to why the lamb has been so afraid all this time.
It must give the space that the lamb asks for and resolve itself to developing trust on the lamb’s time.
Jesus came to change the world. He came to save it. And he did this meticulously and heretically, shifting the tone and understanding and words of a tradition to better reflect the heart of God, the heart that stood by the oppressed, marginalized, and hurting. Every time.
So may we continue to pray. May we continue to reach out and be in community with our neighbors. And may we be prepared and receptive to hearing that the mistrust between us is legitimate. May we have the bravery to better ourselves so as to better love others.
This is not a condemnation of our response (unless you’re Dan Patrick*), but a conviction that we must stop seeing ourselves as the ones who can offer safety and refuge if only people would come, but instead must reorient ourselves to be people whom others can feel truly, recklessly, unconditionally loved by.
May the lion lie down with the lamb and see that it is a lion. And may the lion deeply love the lamb. And, in its time, may the lamb feel the same.
May the flock prosper in peace.
* – I saw recently that Dan Patrick issued an explanation that his now infamously ill-timed post quoting Galatians 6:7 was in fact the result of an automated system in place that makes daily posts of scriptures. His legislative history, though, still indicates that, while his tweet may not have been a direct response to the Orlando murders, he still stands as an example of the point of this post. Even without the maliciousness of that tweet, LGBTQ+ people still have no reason to feel assured by his explanation. In another, frustratingly familiar and unsurprising vein, Donald Trump’s centering of self in the wake of the murders warrants intensive consideration and scrutiny. I make this footnote because, while the primary thrust of this post is not political in nature, it is also irresponsible for us who claim Christ to pretend that there is not a political element that bears addressing. This is part of meticulous and meaningful change.