This past Sunday evening I was invited to attend and speak at a vigil in solidarity with the victims of the massacre in Orlando at the Pulse Nightclub in which forty-nine people were shot and killed, and fifty-three were wounded and taken to hospitals. This was the deadliest mass shooting in recent history in the U.S., but one of a long line of mass shootings in this country. All ages, nationalities, races, religions have been targeted at diverse locations, including schools, universities, diverse faith communities, shopping centers, marathons, holiday parties, movie theaters, shopping malls, military bases, Planned Parenthood clinics, immigration service centers, private businesses and homes. Sunday’s latest assault on human life took place in a night club frequented by gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer people and straight allies. It took place on the most popular “Latin Night” with approximately 90% of those killed of Hispanic descent.
Clergy from diverse faith communities, along with survivors of the shootings at the University of Arizona Nursing School and the Safeway shopping center, and 700 Tucsonans from all walks of life processed to the site of the vigil. It might have been a beautiful day in America if it hadn’t been a funeral procession, one in a long line of funeral processions for other victims of mass shootings, if it hadn’t targeted people who had already suffered violence at the hands of those who rail against “alternative lifestyles.”
Following are my words from that night, my first attempt to bring comfort and confront our wounding and complicity in the violence:
“In 1997, I stood by 45 caskets in the town of Acteal, Chiapas, where innocent men, women and children were attacked and slaughtered in a five-hour siege. Two hundred and fifty members of a group called the Abejas, who practiced active non-violence, and refused to be drawn into the violence between one side or the other of a conflict over indigenous rights were attacked as they fasted and prayed for peace, and 45 of them died that day. At the funeral mass, the Abejas spoke strongly about the need for forgiveness of the perpetrators, forgiveness, not forgetting, because when we forget, we continue to repeat the same patterns. Forgiveness with an active practice of non-violence, commitment to see justice served, and to model non-violent resolution.
At that mass the bishop read these words from the prophet Jeremiah: “This is what the Lord says: “A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” The weeping of parents, spouses, lovers, friends, and family over the senseless loss of their loved ones is timeless. As surely as Rachel wept, so God weeps for her children lost to needless violence.
It is easy in these times of great grief to look for scapegoats to carry the blame, to find evil in the “other.” It is easier to look outside for evil than to look inward. But tonight, as we hear the sounds of weeping all around us because of the massacre of 50 of God’s beloved children, we must also look in the mirror and examine our consciences for ways in which we are all complicit in this terrible suffering: for the times we stayed silent instead of speaking out against hate and fear-fill speech; for the times we turned away from fear and hatred of anyone who is different than the narrow interpretation of is “normal”; for the times we moved on after massacres . . .until the next one, until it came closer to us and ours.
I also must speak tonight against hurling the words of “crazy” and “Islamic Extremist” at the perpetrator. We are all a little crazy, and events like tonight awaken the crazies in all of us, but particularly in those with serious mental illness, who suffer extreme distress during these times. And when we focus only the killer as a “Muslim extremist” we fuel the fire of current efforts to scapegoat all Muslims in the U.S. and abroad. We make enemies where there are none and fuel the fires of hatred and fear.
We live in a culture of guns, in which the rhetoric of hatred and fear is used to shame and shun. The inevitable result is violence. Gathering to pray and grieve are essential for individual and communal healing. But prayers and support are not enough if we want to stop this useless violence. We must act – lobby for gun control that keeps weapons of destruction out of the hands of those with serious mental illnesses, criminal records, or terrorist leanings. We must educate and advocate, especially in our faith communities, and model radical respect and extravagant welcome of all God’s people. This is essential to building the kindom of God here on earth. Each of us is capable of, and called to speak and act to build a culture of peace – in our bodies, homes, faith communities, workplaces, governments, and world.
May we go forth from here “made new,” determined to do all that we can to stop the violence and build a world in which all worlds fit. Amen”
John Dorhauer, President and General Minister of the United Church of Christ had this to say about the shootings:
"The United Church of Christ mourns the tragic loss in the aftermath of what is now believed to be the largest mass shooting in the U.S. We are mindful of the many family members whose grief will be deep, and will linger for some time. We lift every one of them up in prayer.
While it is too soon to speak about motives, the United Church of Christ nonetheless calls upon all leaders of religious and political bodies to end the constant rhetoric that demonizes same gender loving people. Our speech has consequences, and this is not the first time violence has been directed at the LGBT community with very tragic consequences. It is long past the time that we end this, including tolerating what amounts to hate speech and homophobia masquerading as religion. It is also long past the time that America enacts sane gun control legislation. Our souls and spirits cannot abide for long when this kind of tragedy is commonplace; and when no substantive action is taken in response to these mass shootings. Our grief, all too real, is not assuaged by what can be the redemptive act of doing all we can to reduce the likelihood of it ever happening again."
May we find our way together toward a world in which hatred and fear are not channeled into shunning, shaming, and violence. May this most recent mass shooting galvanize our commitment to Be the Church we are called to be.
Peace on your way,