It’s tempting to remain silent in in the wake of the violence in Orlando. It’s also wrong.
We need the kind of silence which makes room for prayer and grief. Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan was right to call for a moment of silence when the House opened its session on the day after the mass shooting.
Silence, though, can be a failure to demand change. We’ve had, and I’ve practiced, too much of that kind of silence. I think South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn and other members of the House were also right to clamor for an opportunity to vote on legislation which would restrict the availability of assault weapons. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said: “The moment of silence is an act of respect, and we supported that, but it is not a license to do nothing.”
Silence is necessary but not sufficient.
What follows is part of what I feel compelled to say.
LGBTQ people—all people—are God’s beloved children.
Because I met him through my daughter, I have a young gay friend who lives in Orlando. He goes to the Pulse club from time to time. When I think of the people who died in that massacre, I think of him: vibrant, bright, fun, and compassionate.
Everyone who died bore the image of the divine. God cherished them all and still does. They lived, and continue to live, in God’s vast heart of love.
God’s arms are open to Muslims and Buddhists, as well as to Methodists and Baptists—and to everyone else.
When followers of Jesus treat people scornfully, contemptuously, and harshly, we are not like Jesus. To treat people in those ways is often a sign that fear has a death grip on our hearts: fear of the other, of ambiguity, and of change.
Such fear generates religious rhetoric which traffics in doublespeak: “God’s love is unconditional with certain conditions. Grace welcomes all without exception, except in exceptional cases.” Such rhetoric serves as pious-sounding and insidious pseudo-justification for bigotry and prejudice.
Is it fear which causes so many Christians to oppose common-sense regulation of gun ownership? I can’t imagine that Jesus would own, much less use, an assault weapon or that he would consider it a good thing for his disciples to do so.
I am not a pacifist. Jesus was. The fact that I am not is a reflection of my lack of trust. I regretfully accept the need for an armed police force and for a well-trained and well-equipped military. The vulnerable need protection. Violence and injustice need to be restrained.
I know that people have the right to own weapons to protect themselves and their property. What’s more, I grew up around hunters who were responsible gun owners and users. I respect “second amendment rights.”
I don’t respect the use of “rights talk” to justify indiscriminate commerce in guns which puts them in the hands of people who could not pass thorough background checks. And, I don’t think homeowners and hunters should have military assault weapons.
In the New Testament, the Elder John says: “Perfect love casts out fear.” Fear is the opposite of love. Anger and hatred have their origins in fear.
We overcome our fears, not by waiting for our fearful feelings to subside or to change. Instead, we become more loving by summoning the self-discipline to act more lovingly. To paraphrase William James, we act our way into new ways of feeling, because we can’t always feel our way into new ways of acting. Some of us need to stop privileging our feelings and give priority instead to the teachings and practices of Jesus.
The ways of Jesus are the ways of welcome for people on the margins, of prayer and love for enemies, of forgiveness for those who wrong us, and of peacemaking in the face of alienation and division.
His ways are not, for the most part, the ways of our culture. More troublingly, they are often not the ways of Jesus’ own disciples. We need to say so, and we need to repent.