I write in response to the mass shooting yesterday at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. Like many of you, I am sad, disgusted and weary. The role for people of faith at such a time is certainly to pray for God's peace, comfort and direction. It is also to act, remembering that Jesus' faith empowered him to speak boldly and act courageously in the face of what seemed unchanging social norms. He encouraged his disciples to do the same. That's us.
The shooting stands at the intersection of three topics that cry out for our action:
1) Gun Control. It is past time for our country to act on meaningful gun control. As soon as I finish this letter I will write to my congresspeople, both national and state, and let them know that I support strict gun control laws. Find the contact information for yours here.
Though I have long been convinced that our country needs to change laws on gun access in order to solve our national epidemic of mass shootings, I have not acted on that conviction. Why not? Partly because I wanted to avoid confrontation with loved ones who feel differently; partly because the thicket of gun control policies confuse me and make me feel stupid when I try to talk about it; partly because the gun lobby seems too powerful to stop; and partly because there are so many other issues to work on. I suppose I thought that if I could keep my family gun-free, privately lament the way killing machines seem so prevalent, and in my bubble avoid their presence, I would be safe.
I was wrong and I am sorry. Christians are never worried only about their own safety and frankly, no one is insulated. The gun laws in this country make unsafe conditions for everyone. The answer is not more guns. It's fewer and more restricted access. Obscenely powerful automatic weapons like the one used in Orlando should be outlawed for private use altogether. There is no need for a hunter or a person concerned with personal safety to have such weapons.
And regarding all gun ownership, stronger national gun control laws are essential to stopping such killings. The organization I have found to be the most reasonable and aligned with my values (and I hope God's values) on this is Everytown for Gun Safety. I have just joined the movement and donated. We can change this.
2) Public affirmation for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. Peace Lutheran Church has, for decades, been a place of worship for people of a variety of sexual orientations. It's one of the reasons I wanted to come here as a pastor. I think it's true - I hope it's true - that the way we enact our belief that all people are loved and worthy of love makes it easy to forget just how much hatred sill exists for people who are GLBTQ. Again, I live in a bubble of tolerance and naivete on this one.
The shooting is a reminder that hatred for GLBTQ people is out there, real and dangerous. The world is not safe for them. As someone who believes strongly that God made humanity with a variety of sexual orientations and all are equally beloved by God, I will say again and again, this hatred is not holy. It is not godly. It is not right.
3) Refusal to stereotype Muslims. The killer was an American-born Muslim. I am an American-born Christian, raised in the same religious tradition as Dylann Roof, who killed nine African-American worshipers last summer in a Charleston church. No one, to my knowledge, ever blamed Lutheran Christianity or me personally for his actions. Just like I found his racially-motivated murders appalling, millions of Muslims who stand for peace and love decry the actions of the killer in Orlando. Read examples here and here.
Sure, radical aberrations of Islam exist. So do radical aberrations of Christianity. Painting all Muslims with a wide brush destroys our ability to see nuance and variety within such an enormous religious tradition. At its heart, Islam - and the vast majority of American Muslims - is about peace. Somehow our society manages to distinguish between me and the KKK. The same is required for the way we talk about Muslims now.
There is so much more to say on all three of these topics, but I will leave this here. The world needs disciples of Jesus to point to light, truth, love and peace. I hope this letter stirs you to add your drop of those things to the ocean of need.
Faith in the living Jesus makes me believe that change in this world is possible. God's kingdom come.
Be at Peace,