I want to say something about the killings at the gay nightclub in Orlando on June 12th - since overtaken in our attention by yet more horrors, but fresh in all our minds as I was writing this for the church magazine in the middle of June.
And I want to use the word "gay", which will stir a variety of reactions in Christians, because I think it's important for the Church, and for all people of faith, to hear that word, to acknowledge the reality of a gay community - some of whom are Christians - and to acknowledge also the reality of a history of prejudice, fear and hatred towards gay people, in which the Church has often played a less than honourable part.
Let me be honest: for a moment, I found it fractionally harder to feel for those killed and injured in Orlando than I would have done if the attack had been on a primary school or a concert hall. And then I realised - this is no different, these people no more deserve such a fate than I do.
In other words, I became aware of my own homophobia (however slight), and then I became aware of my human solidarity with these people - and that was the feeling I wanted to stay with. And I realised also that the compassionate love of God knows no boundaries at all, and that therefore - if I am a Christian - neither can mine. And further … we are called to something far more urgent and real than all our sterile arguments about issues like same-sex marriage. We are called to love one another; and if our love doesn't include LGBT people, then there's something wrong with it.
Of course, we can't avoid differences and disagreements, and we shouldn't pretend they don't exist. The same is true of our political views (Leave or Remain? Stick or Twist?). But we can come to see that learning how to accept one another in love - that is, to accept one another in the deepest, truest sense - is infinitely more important, more worthwhile, than continuing to build exclusion walls. Unfortunately, it is also more difficult, more costly, often more painful.
I suppose what happened in Orlando was so horrific that I was able to see those affected simply as human beings, rather than labelling them as "gay clubbers" or whatever. And many of you will know, from your own experience, that when you actually encounter someone of whom you theoretically disapprove - when you actually listen to their story, feel their joy and their pain - you find you can no longer stay with your easy dismissal of them. You begin to love them, to see them as God's beloved children.
This is what Jesus did, and I believe he calls us to do it too.
An afterthought (in the light of the murder of Jo Cox MP): when Jo's husband Brendan spoke of the need to "unite to fight against the hatred that killed her", it seems to me that this is exactly what we mean in the Baptism Service, when we say to the person being baptised, "Fight valiantly against sin, the world and the devil". We are called to a lifelong fight against everything that is evil - including our own prejudice, fear and hatred - and the only weapon we have is love.