How to Fight Hellfire

Category: Poetry

I wrote this post the day before Orlando. The day before a gunman walked into the Pulse nightclub and killed 50 beloved children of God.

 

I wrote it because the frenzied fear-mongering and homophobic hand-wringing has risen to such a level that I can write a stanza in a poem like

 

If they commit suicide

Well at least you know where they’re going

At least you can tell their family

At the funeral

That they got what they deserved

 

and no one bats an eye. And people think I’m being serious. And they don’t realize those words are satire. Because our ears are so used to hearing these types of things in the public discourse, day in and day out, that we’ve become desensitized to the evil and the hatred and the violence.

 

In my evangelical days, we used to speak of people having “a seared conscience.” Maybe this is what that really means. That our hearts don’t break anymore.

 

Until.

 

Until.

 

Until something tragic and unspeakable and horrific happens, and we remember that our words have impact that exists independently of our intentions. That our words can incite violence, and become woven into the fabric of a society that perpetuates violence.

 

And yet.

 

And yet.

 

And yet even still, there are some whose consciences are so seared that they cannot express grief for the victims without the caveat that they “disagree with their lifestyle.” Even still, cries of “love the sinner, hate the sin” escape lips that have been utterly silent until this moment. Even still, the self-appointed gatekeepers of orthodoxy take it upon themselves to remind us all that if these “sinners” did not get right with God before their bullet-ridden bodies hit the floor, they are still going to burn in hell forever. God plays no favorites, after all. We all get one chance. No more, no less.

 

I ache in parts of my soul I didn’t know existed.

 

The following are screenshots of things real-live actual people have said on my Facebook in the last 24 hours. Consider this a massive Trigger Warning. If you don’t have a strong stomach, or if you haven’t been super on top of your self-care game lately, I recommend skipping to the end.

 

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How long, O Lord?

 

Sometimes the weight of the hatred perpetuated by people in the name of God is too much to carry. Certainly no one can do it alone.

 

Yesterday, after church, I went to my favorite dive bar to sit for a while and think and grieve and be with friends.

 

And that’s when I saw him. On the corner, standing on his milk crate, with his megaphone and his signs reading REPENT OR PERISH or TURN OR BURN or something like that. I’d seen him before. He had been on that same street corner several weeks ago, and we had engaged him, me and several female friends who all had theology degrees, which had deeply scandalized and horrified him. Ken, was his name. And there he was again.

 

I could barely muster up the emotional energy to look his way, let alone speak to him. I drank my beer in the bar across the street from his post and talked with my friends about other things. Normally I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with a megaphoned misogynist about the original Greek. Today was not that day.

 

But when I left the bar, there were people standing next to Ken, silently holding makeshift cardboard signs that read, in large, sharpied letters:

 

THIS IS HATE

and

EAST NASHVILLE LOVES ALL

 

And maybe that is how you fight hellfire—not with more hellfire, but with embodied solidarity. With protests. With makeshift signage. With fierce compassion and bravery in the face of the depths of human ignorance and depravity.

 

And of course, with your feet. You have to do something.

 

Whether it’s putting your body in between a hateful street preacher and the rest of the world—or marching through the streets—or voting people into or out of office—or advocating for marginalized groups in your faith communities—you have to do something. “Prayers for Orlando” don’t cut it if you’re not following up your prayers with practical, tangible actions that will actually change the course of society.

 

And they certainly don’t cut it if, at the end of the day, it was your theology and your politics that contributed to this culture of violence in the first place.

 

 

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  • Shawn

    Well said, Emily. Glad I found your blog via a friends post about your video. Level-headedness is key, and I see that coming from you. I am glad that you will be deleting negative posts on Facebook. They have no place on blogs that support the LGBT family. The discussions that we have had to defend ourselves are no longer needed and are not fruitful with those that misuse Bible quotes; they are who they are in their own pitiful world. We are here. We are loved by our large group of family and friends. The hate and ignorance coming from the mouths of the confused are misleading and not from Main Street America. Their vileness under the disguise of truth only causes damage to those who seek God and his healing love. It is important for us to look around and see the real world in our own community and not the fake world of Facebook and the internet.

  • Oh my god, those facebook comments

  • I loved your poem and this post. Well said. And I am so sorry about those comments.

  • Christopher Bates

    You should come out with a line. Like shirts and snapbacks with your logo on it. I’d buy it.