Friday, June 17, 2016

Thoughts on Orlando

Thoughts on Orlando

I have a confession to make. While many other pastors may wake up at 4:30am and shout, “This is the day that the Lord has made!”. I wake up and say “Is it morning already?” Sunday is the only day I set my alarm. Usually the kids wake me up at around 6am. Last Sunday, as I turned the alarm off on my cell phone I was greeted with a number of notifications on my cell phone that there was a shooting, and that there was 50 dead. As the day went on, I learned that the victims were people congregating at a night club that catered primarily to homosexual men, and that the killer was inspired by the evil vitriol from a group that calls themselves ISIS.
I know quite a few gay folks, and there are probably more LGBT folks that I know for whom I am unaware of their sexual orientation because not everyone puts who they are attracted to up on a billboard for everyone to read. I know fewer Muslim folks. I have spent the last several years in the Rockies and the Black Hills, where the Islamic faith has made few inroads.

My belief system leans toward the more conservative side of the Christian faith, at least for the denominations I represent. As I read Scripture, it says that the most biblical pattern for marriage is one man and one woman joining together for a lifetime of committed love. Having said that, I also believe that Scripture has a lot of things to say about God’s standards, and picking out one particular issue or group of people, labeling them, and then grouping them with a label such as “good people” or “bad people” is never helpful. My Bible says that we have all fallen short of the glory of God, and so I realize each person I know comes with challenges, quirks, sins, and strengths that are peculiar to them. If we are choosing to love our neighbor, and love our enemies, we should not lump them into categories. We should know them as people,

When I was a young assistant pastor, I had a man come to me for counseling. He had beat down the senior pastor’s door, and I think my boss was glad I could offer him some relief. I listened to him speak about his marriage and the problems in it. Many of the problems he labeled as demonically influenced, when to me it was clear he was using this as a way of not taking responsibility for his own actions. He described some scenes from a popular fiction book on the topic at the time. After trying to help him, rather unsuccessfully, I went to my supervisor. I labeled his theology by the book he read, saying I had a hard time with it. My supervisor corrected me forthrightly, “His beliefs (he named the person) are his beliefs. They are not beliefs of the title of the book.” I tried to protest, but he was right. I have not forgotten this lesson.

The shootings in Orlando continue to be used for all sorts of political and social agendas, both on the left and the right of the political spectrum. Some of this cannot be helped, because we are dealing with communities of people facing deadly violence. Maybe political action does need to be taken at some point in the future. 

Right now, though, it also helps to remember that each person involved is a person that God made and God loves. It helps to remember that acts of hate give us opportunity to be reminded to love one another as human beings.

God loves people in the LGBT community. So do I. I have former students in my youth group, friends, children of friends, and people I am related to who either experience same sex attraction, are in sexual relationships with persons of the same gender or both. And many of them are good people that I would trust to watch my kids or teach in our schools. I don’t think of them first as “gay”, I think of them first as Jenny or Jake or Gina. I think if shooters knew people’s names and stories they might be less likely to go on killing sprees, shooting nameless faces that fit a label. And, as I process through what happened, I think about specific people that if they lived in Orlando could have been in that club, and it breaks my heart that someone would want to hurt them because they disagree with one part of their life.

God also loves terrorists and Muslims. I don’t know a terrorist per se, but I do know kids and adults, some with profound mental health concerns, that I fear may hurt groups of people in violent outbursts. They don’t have the label “nut-job” or “potential shooter” to me. They have personal names as well. I seek to love them. I pray for them, their families, safety, I hope for them to get well.

I do know people with different religious beliefs and different national and ethnic backgrounds than myself. And I believe it is important to know those people for who they are, appreciate their gifts, and love them.

Get involved politically with issues brought up by the Orlando shooting if you must. But also, begin to respond to this terrible tragedy by also seeking to know a stranger, getting to know a neighbor, and loving those who are like you and are completely different than you as well. Perhaps if we knew each other more, and love each other more devotedly, it would be harder for these mass shootings to keep happening.

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