Written by Connie Larkman
This has been a trying week for the Rev. Justo González, full of heartbreak and hope. The pastor of Pilgrim-St.Luke's and El Nuevo Camino United Church of Christ in Buffalo, the only gay Latino pastor in western New York is preparing for Pride Sunday in his congregation, after struggling with the unspeakable following the murders of 49 men and women in Orlando.
"This happened on Latino night, so it's a direct attack on who I am as a gay Latino male, who my community is, as people of color and gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender people of color," Gonzalez told an NPR reporter.
The mass murder at the Pulse nightclub is extremely personal to the pastor who now ministers in New York to a multi-cultural, multi-lingual community of faith. Not long ago, González had been part of that Orlando community, relocating to accept his ministry in Buffalo in 2013. He still has ties to Orlando, including continued participation with an organization known as the Gay Christian Network, a support group that reaches out to members of the broader LGBTQI community.
González continues that calling in Buffalo, leading a church that embraces all people. "Lord, you bring those that need to be here," is something he says and truly believes. His church, a hybrid congregation of an historic German church and a new-church plant in the same location, celebrates a bilingual worship service that honors several cultures.
"The sermon title is in five languages, French to honor our Congo people, Spanish, our significant second language, Portuguese for the Brazilian students at University of Buffalo and German as a nod to our historic roots, as a German Speaking church. We pray the Lord 's Prayer in the languages that our move our soul."
This first Latino pastor, first gay pastor in over 100 years in this church community preaches in English and Spanish simultaneously. He hopes to find the right words for Sunday.
"The essence and the core of my sermon this week is 'Kinky Boots,'" Gonzalez said. "The reason I am going that way is because of the power of the story – that we are asked to remain silent. To hide who we are. That often times that becomes abusive. The beauty of the story is once people learn that the same old standard is no longer being bought, something new has to happen. And we are the something new. The LBGTQI community, vocal Latinos and other people of color who are daring to push back against our culture and religious and theological systems that degrade us and tell us that we are an abomination. Not "man enough, or woman enough" because of who we love, when the reality is that all of us are created in the image of God. My image simply happens to be Latino, gay and Christian. Unless we stand up, we allow fear and intimation to lead us into darkness when the Christ of the resurrection has called us into light."
Today, as González prepares this week's sermon, working to combine the somber with the celebratory, he sees a little bit of light.
Senate Democrats, through a 15 hour filibuster, reached a compromise early Thursday with Republican Party leaders to allow votes on two proposed gun control amendments calling for tighter restrictions on background checks and a ban keeping people on the government's terrorist watch list from buying firearms.
I believe we are at a tipping point, with a lot of push back and anger at the ridiculousness of laws that do not allow common sense, reasonable gun control," González said. "I am pleased to see Democrats standing firm and pushing hard, and a few Republican senators are now having the conversation, looking to find middle ground."
"In the midst of all of this, I am pleased that our church has historically been at the forefront, calling for inclusion of all people and pushing against those (the radical right, the NRA) who would devalue human beings. I just think it's essential that people of faith and other communities hear men and women who will always stand on the side of justice, always stand on the side of human rights, and will oppose any instrument that can kill. We as a church and a nation cannot be held hostage to the National Rifle Association."
In the midst of this tragedy, Gonzalez hopes that by speaking out, others can find a safe and sacred space to honor who THEY are.