Dear people of Holy Nativity:
On Sunday mornings alone, I drive down to church with my radio off, in order to mentally review my sermon and otherwise prepare for worship. I had seen something about gunfire at a Florida nightspot when I first got up and glanced through internet headlines, but it wasn't until some of you saw more about the terrible unfolding story on your phones during our parish picnic that I began to learn what a horrifying massacre had taken place. Over the past two days, my own emotional rollercoaster has included shock, grief, anger, frustration, resolve ... and hope and faith, that with God's help, we can change the bloody narrative of death, bigotry and division of which this tragedy is only the latest manifestation.
Two Sundays ago, I was so heartened to see a sea of orange at Holy Nativity, as we marked Gun Violence Awareness Sunday. Two short weeks later, the time is upon us to move from awareness to action. We have much prayerful work ahead to heal divisions and ensure the safety of everyone in our nation: gay, lesbian, straight and transgender, black, white, and all colors, male and female, Christian, Muslim, and all faiths, persons with disabilities and those struggling with mental illness, immigrant and natural-born, young and old... But while we do this work of reconciling all of God's children, surely, surely we can find a way to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of those individuals at clear risk of perpetrating evil and violence in this broken land. May we find a way -- before another house of worship, school, nightclub, theater is targeted. Enough!!!
Bishop Clifton Daniel posted a letter this morning which is pasted below. At 6:30 this evening, I invite any of you who wish to join me at church or in spirit for a time of prayer together.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace...
Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania EPISCOPAL DIOCESE OF PENNSYLVANIA
3717 Chestnut Street, Suite 300, Philadelphia, PA 19104
(215) 627-6434 ∙ Fax: (267) 900-2928 ∙ www.diopa.org
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The mass murder in Orlando, FL this past Saturday was horrific, evil and a complete denial of all Christian beliefs, Christian values and an insult to civilized society. Our hearts can only go out in sympathy to the families of those killed or wounded; in thanksgiving for the bravery of the first responders; and in compassion for all who suffer in the city and community of Orlando as a result of these heinous acts.
Sadly, most of the glaring fault lines in present American culture were broached and exposed this tragic event: religious and racial prejudice are very much in play, LGBT victimization is evident, failure to enact effective gun control is a contributing factor as is a lack of community awareness and response to mental illness accompanied by a heightened fear of terrorism. Sadly, faithful and peaceful Muslims in American society will become more singled out and suspect. Racism will redound on members of communities in the US who "look foreign" even though the murderer was a natural-born American citizen - he is truly "one of us". The club where the shootings occurred was a "gay" establishment where a peaceful celebration of LGBT Pride Week was being held. The shooter used a military-type assault weapon, legally available to the general citizen. He was known by family and co-workers to have violent outbursts of anger for no apparent reason. Our national anxiety has been heightened and our fear level increased.
No doubt, in response to all of the above, some will call for exclusion and expulsion of Muslims, gays, people of color and immigrants to this country. There will be calls to build higher walls to keep "them" out and to dig deeper moats to create sharper divisions, all in a vain attempt to create a safe, secure and "pure" society. This is frightening in itself and smacks of neo-Nazism. Casting the "other" out is never an adequate response. To cast others out is the very source and violent outgrowth of the evil and violent actions of this past Saturday night in Orlando.
One answer does lie within the boundaries and grasp of reasonable precaution and positive action on the part of our government: stop the sale of assault weapons as a start toward ending the sale of all firearms in the US. Indeed, stopping the sale of all guns and handguns grows even more reasonable and attractive following the recent gun murders of children, blacks, gays and others in our midst. Enough is enough. How much longer can we bear to watch innocent people murdered; how much longer can we bear our share of the responsibility for letting these tragedies occur through the sale of guns?
We can let our fears paralyze us. But to give in to our fears is contrary to God's intent for human life. Any community built on the foundations of fear, exclusion or violence toward those different from "us" is a perversion of God's intention for human society.
The answer lies in building bridges connecting people, not walls dividing us. The answer lies in tolerance of difference, respect for individuals and honoring the dignity of every human being. The answer lies in seeking reconciliation rather than raining terror upon those with whom we differ. The answer lies in increasing hope through actively seeking understanding of one another and forgiveness. It's easy to demonize a neighbor and demonization ultimately leads to war. It's easy to be frightened and intolerant; fright and intolerance leads only to misery and brokenness. It's easy to deny another's dignity - and such judgment tears at the bond, which binds human to human.
Either we live according to our fears or we live according to the hope that lives within us, which we proclaim Sunday by Sunday in our Creeds and worship. Either we put our hope in our ability to demonize, exclude and kill or we put our hope in the love of Jesus, which binds all creation together and bids us love one another as he loves us. In the end, God's love will prevail because that divine love is the foundation of all that is. As Lin-Manuel Miranda said in his speech at the Tony Awards last night, "It's about Love. Love. Love. Love. Love."
Clifton Daniel, 3rd
Bishop, Diocese of Pennsylvania