I learned about the Orlando massacre during the 11:00 service Sunday. Like you, I was shocked and angry. A 29-year-old man, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people and wounded at least 53 others at a gay nightclub in the worst mass shooting in American history.
Why did he do it? In one sense the answer is obvious: hatred and evil. The shooter made statements aligning himself with Islamic extremists, and he reportedly has a history of racism, bigotry, and homophobia. But whatever his motives, it appears certain that someone with the signs and symptoms of instability was able to acquire a weapon of mass destruction and carry out a nightmare.
Our hearts and our prayers go out to the families of the deceased, as well as to the wounded. We also want to show compassion and sympathy for our LGBT and Latino communities who share this grief very personally. An action like this causes deep fear and heartache that stretches far beyond Orlando. We all are freshly reminded of the reality that we live in a world where demented people can lash out at others for nothing more than being themselves. At the same time an event like this causes fear of retaliation among Muslims in our country. We need to be sensitive to the way tragedies like this cause segments of our population not to want to leave their residences or do anything to draw attention to themselves.
That is a further tragedy of Orlando.
Someone wrote on a blog: "Quit praying for us, Congress. Do something!" I agree. Our legislators' stock response to these tragedies feels hollow. Devoid of action, such words sound like an attempt to hide behind religious sentiment. And what action would that be? No, Congress can't eliminate bigotry or mental illness, but our political leaders can do something about the ease with which troubled people can carry out evil intent. Tangible steps can be taken to keep guns out of their hands! One blog even challenged people to vote in this upcoming election season based on candidates' views on gun law reforms.
As Americans, we love our freedoms, but we also have a history of recognizing when freedoms hinder our health and safety. We have laws to limit cigarette consumption, for example, as well as laws to require seat-belt use and motorcycle helmets. We can no longer simply trust that only responsible people will buy assault weapons. We can't continue doing (or not doing!) the same thing and expect different results.
I know this is getting political and I should try to be more polite. But I'm sick and tired of being polite. Our country needs to change on the issue of gun control. We must pray for peace, but to ignore a significant threat to that peace when it is within our power to do something is nothing more than spiritual claptrap.
I've waited to write this until I had a chance to learn more about what happened in Orlando and find resources to pass along. See what our United Methodist Church has to say here.
Study the issue of gun violence in our country and other countries. Notice the significantly lower rates of gun violence in the countries with stricter laws. Find out where our leaders stand.
Be devoted to showing compassion and understanding. Perfect love casts out fear. As an open community of Christians, let's promote the acceptance of all people and do our best to push back the influences of hate and discrimination. Let's find ways to stand with and for the LGBT, Latino, and Muslim people of our population. And, yes, let's pray. Let's pray for Orlando and all the many people deeply affected by what happened Sunday morning. But let us also pray for change - and for the change that God would have us make. Let's pray for our leaders and those running for office.
Interestingly, Jesus didn't just pray for peace. He prayed that we might know the things that make for peace. So let's pray ... and ...