Prayers for Orlando: Statement from California bishop

Grieve. Show compassion. Be proud. Act.

Posted Jun 14, 2016

[Diocese of California] It was with great sadness yesterday morning that I learned of the massacre at Pulse night club in Orlando. Omar Mateen, the gunman, took the lives of 49 people and has wounded another 53. He is also dead now. As with attacks in this country in schools and theaters this deadly attack — in a place where people have gone expecting to be safe, to celebrate life itself — is especially grievous.

As the United Nations was developing its eight goals to eliminate extreme poverty, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, who succeeded Desmond Tutu as Archbishop of Capetown, suggested to me that there should be a ninth goal, one that is spiritual: the goal of reconciliation. He said that if humanity is not reconciled to one another, none of the other goals was possible. I think he was on to something, and over the intervening years I have come to believe that all the great spiritual goals, developed by the world’s religions, are essential for humanity to reach its pragmatic development goals. At the least, I think there are three other spiritual goals for humanity, whether working for climate justice, against terror, for LGBT* inclusion, or for an end to gun violence: forgiveness, compassion, and reverence.

While I have mostly engaged the spiritual goals in working to alter climate change, they are applicable for all situations. My diocese is centered in San Francisco, a long-time sanctuary for LGBT* people and really all people seeking to be themselves, encounter compassion, and give and receive respect. June is Pride month, a rainbow flag hangs from my office‘s building, many of my congregations have special services on Pride Sunday, and this attack has been a shock to many in the LGBT* community.

The LGBT* community is resilient, though. It has faced terror for decades, still faces terror today in many parts of our country, and faces legalized terror in numbers of countries around the world. The LGBT* community here is loved and should continue to be proud. Being out, acting up, and refusing to be or go back into the closet is an act of courage (another spiritual quality) and defiance against hatred and terror.

Whether the attack in Orlando was an organized international terror attack, a lone person exercising fanaticism, or simply someone so hate-filled that two men kissing led him to shoot wildly in a crowded night club, all of us impacted — all who seek sanctuary and who have known it defiled — must show reverence for human life, compassion to the grieving, forgiveness (even if time is necessary), and work for reconciliation of our differences and hatreds.

In my tradition, we believe that in his resurrection Jesus defeated death and ended the power of death. Jesus also commanded Christians to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. My thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost someone close to them, as are the thoughts and prayers of spiritual leaders, politicians, and every day people from around the world. We must also extend our thoughts and prayers into advocacy.

In the United States we have the privilege of choosing our government officials — and this year is an election year. I pray that thoughts and prayers will change us, change our behaviors and prompt us to contact our elected officials and demand better gun restrictions from universal background checks to closing gun show and online sales loopholes to limiting access to assault rifles and high-volume magazines.

Finally, it is necessary to say that at this moment we must avoid all semblance of blame for whole populations and religions for this act of terror and hate. A hymn that has become emblematic of my leadership in this diocese contains the line “Old, aching God, grey with endless care, calmly piercing evil’s new disguises.”*

It should be unthinkable that in this land of freedom, a country that has distinguished itself again and again by being a beacon of hope for people under the yoke of tyranny, a land that has struggled to be free of the terror of prejudice and fear, that a person aspiring to the highest position in the United States could trade in rank prejudice and slander under the guise of protecting us, yet rather than unthinkable such hate-mongering is supported by some of the electorate, and not clearly opposed by all our legislators. We must clearly say that such hate-mongering is wrong.*

I grieve with the people of Orlando, and I grieve with the LGBT* people of my diocese — whether they are Christians or Episcopalians or not. I pray that we show one another compassion and care in our grief. I am proud of the LGBT* people who continue to stand in defiance of fear tactics and hate, and I look forward to celebrating Pride in San Francisco later this month. Finally I pray that this mass shooting motivate us all to act for better, common sense, gun laws in our country.