A Pastoral Letter on Orlando from Reverend Dr. Mark Boyea
As the events in Orlando occurred just a few hours before our worship service Sunday morning, and I had only heard the basic storyline to that point, there was no time to prepare any kind of reasonably thoughtful pastoral commentary. Allow me to do so now...
If you were going to intentionally devise a scene that encompassed as many of the most controversial issues in our society at this time as possible, you would struggle to match this one. It involves terrorism, guns, mental instability if not illness, and our treatment of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community. And as people of faith, we must concern ourselves with all of them.
What does that mean, though? What does it mean to respond faithfully to such an outrageous act? It means to respond with both head and heart; with spirit and science; with, in the language of the Bible and our tradition, faith and works. Yes, our hearts should go out to the families and friends of the victims, as well as to the city of Orlando. Yes, our spirits should be greatly saddened by this latest chapter of "humanity's inhumanity". Yes, with faith in God's ability to bring healing and comfort, we should pray for those whose lives have been altered forever by the killer's decision.
But as people of faith, none of that is enough.
It is not enough to pray, and call on others to pray, while at the same time turning a blind eye to the enormous body of scientific evidence which establishes that, as the noted physician and author, Atul Gawande, said in a recent commencement address, "More guns make us less, not more safe."
It is not enough to pray, and call on others to pray, while at the same time fighting to allow those on terrorism watch lists and domestic abusers to possess guns, as well as permit almost anyone to get their hands on an assault rifle, under the insistence that the Second Amendment is an absolute. If the First Amendment is not an absolute, how can the Second be?
No human right is absolute when it can potentially harm the innocent. Every one of the most recent perpetrators of mass shootings in this nation used an assault rifle.
It is not enough to pray, and call on others to pray, while at the same time consistently cutting or working to cut funding and services to those with mental illness, but decrying how our mental health system has failed us after every mass shooting.
It is not enough to pray, and call on others to pray, while at the same time condemning and entire religion - Islam - rather than engaging and working with those of that faith to negate its worst elements. Or for that matter, to work with all other faiths to negate all our worst elements. Yes, the Orlando killer was Muslim, and had pledged allegiance to several radical organizations. That is a serious concern. But far more acts of domestic terrorism have been carried out in this country by those who claim a Christian identity. Our faith tells us that the hate and warped religious sentiment which leads to these acts will not be overcome by bans, and walls and exclusion. It will be overcome by hospitality, establishing relationships, and standing together in denouncing any violence that claims any connection to God.
And perhaps, most of all, it is not enough to pray, and call on others to pray, while at the same time refusing to acknowledge the rights and humanity of the very people you want prayed for. Of all the troubling pieces connected to what happened in Orlando, none disturbs me more from a faith perspective than the repeated pleas for prayers for the victims and the LGBT community in general that have come from those who have done everything they could in the past to deny that same community equality before the law, and worse, denied their humanity and even their right to exist in the eyes of God. It is the height of spiritual hypocrisy...
So I hope that we will pray for the families and friends of the victims in Orlando. I hope we will pray for Orlando's LGBT community. And I hope we will pray for any family members and friends of the perpetrator who sincerely had no idea what was in his heart and mind, as we can never be absolutely certain what is going on in anyone else's heart or mind. Their sense of guilt must be overwhelming.
But I also hope that we will work. What that specifically means we must determine for ourselves according to the gifts God has given us. If we pick one of the aspects of this tragedy discussed above or one that isn't, then find one thing we can do about it, either individually or with others, it could make a difference. And that is enough for God - that we care, and we try. Because while some always gain more fame and glory, all great and needed change for humanity is largely a series of small steps taken by countless, unnamed people. What isn't enough for God is to say our prayers and have our moments of silence, and then go back to business as usual.