Dear parishioners and friends,
I sat in my office weeping. I could barely move myself from the floor from which I fell to my knees upon learning that the death toll had raised from 20 to 50, and there were another 53 injured. In the next moment, I did the only thing I knew to do: go and be with the church. So, I went to be with those gathering to set-up worship, those who were preparing to greet members and guests, and I asked for a moment of prayer.
Early yesterday, at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, our country suffered the worst mass shooting in modern history. As we would learn Sunday morning, a domestic terrorist, claiming to act on behalf of ISIS/ISIL, committed this atrocity. This was a hate crime meant to violate and terrorize our LBGTQ+ family, parishioners, neighbors, and friends.
In the worship service yesterday, I had the sad responsibility of sharing the news of the shooting. For some, it was the first that they had heard of the tragedy and, subsequently, it was my pastoral duty to speak some personal understanding of what this means for us, First Christian Church, an Open and Affirming congregation. Because not all of you were present yesterday, I wish to reiterate and expand upon the thoughts I shared.
I have been told that, within the LBGTQ+ community, gay-friendly bars and nightclubs are historically a place of sanctuary. Providing affirmation, community, and freedom, at some times and in some places they are the only “safe space” to express what the heteronormative world takes for granted—one’s true self and one’s true self in love with a same-gender or transgender person. Therefore, violence targeting LBGTQ+ people in a gay-friendly bar or nightclub is especially egregious—a sacred space is as shattered and broken as the dead and wounded.
Therefore, we weep with those who weep; we mourn with those who mourn, for our beloved is hurting. In empathy our hearts are broken. But, eventually, we wipe away our tears, get up off our knees, and with love in our hearts we act with compassion. Seeking a more peaceful and just world we denounce hate and violence; and addressing this specific atrocity, we denounce hate and violence in a thoughtful manner so as to avoid inadvertently veering into another form of hate and violence, Islamophobia. Our actions may be as diverse as our convictions, but let us all renew our Christian pledge—May all we do and all we say be generated by and received as ‘love of neighbor.’
My parishioners and friends, there is much more I wish I could share with you. Please know that I love you, I am praying for you, and I am journeying together with you. We are imagining love and justice. And as always, I welcome the opportunity to visit with you on this subject or any other.
I will close by sharing the thoughts of our denominational leadership:
Our world continues to experience moments of deep hatred that manifests itself in the killing of others. Jesus spent his life on earth attempting to break down this kind of hatred of others because of differences and we must do the same. Jesus constantly spoke up for women, children, tax collectors, Samaritans, lepers and even gentiles like us. Let us in the moments following the mass murder of many in the LGBTQ community in Orlando Florida lift up prayers for the victims and their families but let us also do more and commit ourselves to words and actions that say NO to hate. It begins with the way we treat each other, particularly when we disagree with each other. As long as one person or group of people has to live in fear of being killed because of the way they believe or because of who they are then we all will live with the fear that someday we will be that group or person. May the God who taught us to love live through us!
Rev. Bill Spangler Dunning,
Christian Church in the Upper Midwest.
Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins,
General Minister and President,
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)