On Sunday morning as we were celebrating our graduates and honoring our church school students and teachers for their fantastic accomplishments over the past year, other families were hearing the news that early in the morning a gunman had opened fire at a nightclub in Orlando--killing 49 people in the worst mass shooting in modern American history. The Pulse nightclub served primarily LGBTQ clientele, but not exclusively. Those who know it say that everyone was welcome there--men and women, gay and straight, young and older. It was for many a place of life--vibrant and joyful life. In fact, the club was established by a woman to honor and remember her brother who had died of AIDS. It was her way of keeping her brother alive by giving others a place of life and joy.
That this event happened during Pride month makes it all the more emotional. It could have happened here in Boston during Saturday's Pride Parade or in any of the clubs that people visited for celebration throughout the weekend. It is a tragic irony that it happened in Orlando, a city that Americans of every background associate with joy and celebration. In fact, there are even reports that the shooter had visited Disney World earlier that day. As the FBI investigates his religious, psychological, and social motivations and associations--he claimed inspiration by ISIS for this act of terror--we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that this was also a hate crime, directed against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. He went into a gay club for the sole purpose of killing gay people. In that, this crime is not all that different, except in scope, from last summer's horrific killing of African American parishioners at the Mother Emmanuel AEC Church in Charleston, SC by a white racist, whom the congregation invited in for their Bible study. The sad irony is that the one year anniversary of that tragedy is later this week.
The Charleston shooter identified as a Christian. The Orlando shooter identified as Muslim. I will leave to others to determine whether this act is appropriately called radical Islamic terrorism or something else. But what I do know is that I don't want my faith to be associated with the perverted beliefs of the racist murder in Charleston, just as countless faithful Muslims in this country and across the world are horrified that their faith is being perverted by terrorists who are consumed with murderous hate and rage. You may know that for the past 16 years St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in Boston has hosted Muslim prayers every Friday afternoon. As a diocesan community, we have come to see this sharing of sacred space as a manifestation of God's love and care for us all. It is only by coming together in faith and prayer across our traditions that we can defeat hate and religious extremism.
Last night, I started reading the biographies of those killed. They were real people with real lives and real loves. Sons and daughters, partners, parents and friends. I commend this link to you. See their pictures, and read their stories. It is a way to honor them as real people and not simply as statistics. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/ng-interactive/2016/jun/13/orlando-terror-attack-victims-pulse-nightclub?
A number of vigils and prayer services are being planned throughout Massachusetts. Here are details on some of them: http://www.diomass.org/diocesan-news/local-prayer-services-all-affected-orlando-shootings
I also commend to you a reflection by Bishop Alan Gates on Orlando and gun violence in America. It is here: http://www.diomass.org/diocesan-news/hard-work-be-done-letter-bishop-gates-following-orlando-shootings
Finally, I want to share a prayer which I composed on Sunday night, at the request of a friend. I invite you to pray it now.
Out of the darkness of our divided world we cry to you, O God. We pray for those who died--gay and straight, men and women, sons and daughters, partners, parents, and friends--a reflection of the human rainbow in all its magnificent colors. May they be united with you and all those whose names are written in the Book of Life. In your great love, O God, comfort those who mourn. Be with them in their sorrow, support them in their loneliness, strengthen them with courage. Break down every barrier between your people: where there is hatred, give love; where there is injury, grant pardon; where there is distrust, restore faith; where there is sorrow, renew hope; where there is darkness, let there be light. Grant us grace to contend against evil, and to make no peace with oppression, but to strive always for justice and peace. Turn our deep feeling now into determination, and our determination into deed, that a new world may arise among us where we all may live together as your children in the bonds of peace and love. Amen.