The “Pulse” of Habakkuk and Death in the Christian Reformed Church

[On June 12, 2016, 49 people were murdered at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. This was a mass shooting fuelled by violent homophobia. Six years later the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church elevated the “traditional” view of sexuality and marriage to the level of confession. The hurt, anger and pain within the LGBTQ+ community in the CRC has been profound. When the Pulse Nightclub massacre happened, the Wine Before Breakfast community at the University of Toronto was about to launch our book, Habakkuk Before Breakfast: Liturgy, Lament and Hope. I had to change my sermon dramatically in light of what had happened in Orlando. In the shadow of the pastoral massacre that happened at the CRC synod this week, I find myself returning to that sermon. It is a hard sermon, and I do not offer it lightly, or as the final word on anything. But, in the spirit of Habakkuk, I share this with my LGBTQ+ siblings, and other allies.]

“There must be some way out of here.”

The line is from Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,”
but the sentiment is running through a large group
of LGBTQ+ members of the Christian Reformed Church,
and their allies.

There must be some way out of here,
some way out of the political machinations
of folks who call themselves “Abide,”
but offer no home to so many.

Some way out of this toxic atmosphere.

Some way out of the violence that has (again)
been poured out on the LGBTQ+ community.

How long shall we cry out for help?

How long must we cry out ‘violence,’
and you do not hear? (Hab. 1.2)

There must be some way out of here.

Scores have escaped,
while many remain, hoping against hope,
for an affirming church.

We’re surrounded by this violence,
hemmed in by this hatred

held captive by this fear.

Held captive in the Christian Reformed Church,
where today the blood splattered walls of the church cry out,
where there is weeping in the pews,
and imposed silence at Synod,
and all that is left is lament.

“Because of human bloodshed,
and violence to the earth,
to cities and all who live in them.” (Hab. 2.8,17)

From the blood of Abel
to the blood of yet another suicide,

the earth has cried out.

All of creation suffers from our violence,
all of creation joins the chorus of grief,
and all of creation bears witness against this violence.

Woe to you who heap up what is not your own. (Hab. 2.6)

Woe to you who heap up the bodies of LGBTQ+ folks,

sisters and brothers,
mothers and fathers,
lovers and friends.

Woe to you who get evil gain for your house,
setting your nest on high
to be safe from the reach of harm! 
(Hab. 2.9)

Woe to you who erect walls of division,
walls of self-protection,

walls of injustice.

Woe to you who build a town by bloodshed
and found a city on iniquity. (Hab. 2.12)

The blood of the LGBTQ+ community,
the blood and tears of the betrayed,

the blood left on the floor of Synod,
the blood of on the hands of this Synod.

Woe to you who make your neighbours drink the draft of your rage,
who pour out wrath until it leaves your victims naked and bloodied. (Hab. 2.18)

Woe to you who have turned your back on love,
and live out of a fear and hatred

that will inevitably rebound on you.

Woe to you who are seduced by idolatry. (cf., Hab. 2.18-19)

Woe to you who make a god out of your theology,
who bind the scriptures as you bind your people,
who sacrifice your children on the altar of your “orthodoxy.”

Woe, cries out the God of life.
Woe, echoes all of creation.
Woe, we shout or whisper or just moan, through our tears.

Habakkuk gives us the space for such grief.
Habakkuk gives us permission for such hurt and anger.
Habakkuk calls forth such lament.
Habakkuk authorizes such declarations of woe.

But Habakkuk does not leave us there.
Or better to say, God does not leave Habakkuk there.

Say it clear, say it loud,
there is still a vision for an appointed time. (cf., Hab. 2.2)

There is still a word of truth that breaks through the deceit,
there is still a word of hope that breaks through the despair,

there is still a path of life in the midst of death.

The proud are beset with spiritual injustice,
but “the righteous live by faith.” (Hab. 2.4)

The arrogant will not abide,
but “the righteous live by faith.”

Wealth is treacherous, (Hab. 2.5)
but “the righteous live by faith.”

The machinations of hate and fear are powerful,
but “the righteous live by faith.”

The death-dealing violence of homophobes is insatiable,
but “the righteous live by faith.”

Those who embrace a path of righteousness
in the face of violence,
those who choose a path of justice
in the face of injustice,
are those who choose
faithfulness over infidelity,
truthfulness over deceit,
love over hate,
the God of life over the idols of death.

To be faithful, sisters, brothers, siblings,
faithful to those who have been lost,
faithful to their memory,
faithful to our own pain,
faithful to a vision of life restored,
faithful to justice,
faithful to Jesus whose blood also cries out,
faithful to a resurrection hope,

we must go on standing, because we are not our own,
we must go on singing, even though it all looks grim,
we must sing in hope and in defiance,
we must sing for the living and the dead,
come on rise up, come on rise up!

His body trembling,
his lips quivering,
his step faltering,
Habakkuk ends his song with this:

though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult the God of my salvation;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights. (Hab. 3.17-19)

Can we join Habakkuk in that song post-Synod 2022?

Have we got it in us to sing
in the face of all that would render us silent?

Though the violence continues unabated,
and there seems to be no end in sight;
though homophobia continues to slaughter
God’s beloved children;
though we are so broken-hearted,
confused and angry;
can we still proclaim,

Christ has died,
Christ is risen,

Christ will come again?

Can we still pray,
your kingdom come,
your will be done?

Can we still sing,
taste and see the grace eternal,
taste and see that God is good?

Can we still sing, in the face of it all,
“it is well with my soul”?

Maybe you can and maybe you can’t.

And if you can’t believe,
if you can’t pray,

if you can’t sing,
then know this, my friends,
there are some faithful ones who can,
and they will believe,
they will pray,
and they will sing for you.

Maybe they can sing for me, too.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

One Response to “The “Pulse” of Habakkuk and Death in the Christian Reformed Church”

  1. Amy Bergsma

    Thank you for this. This Hope within a network of such hurt …Grieving is lament in Itself… this. This is hope when exhaustion hits hard…


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