It has been a difficult 24-plus hours.
I was at church, setting up and getting ready for worship when I heard the news about what had happened in Orlando at the Pulse Nightclub. It was probably 7:30am. The first report said 20 were dead. The next report said 50. It was also reported that the nightclub was primarily a gay nightclub. The first reports also stated it was a terrorist attack. At church we prayed for the victims and families and first-responders during our communion prayer. I then spent most of Sunday afternoon flipping the channels between CNN, FOX, and MSNBC. The gay nightclub was now the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States and the worse terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11. I tweeted, “My heart breaks for the LBGTQ community today. I pray for mercy & grace & healing.” Earlier in the morning I sent a message to a gay friend letting him know I was praying for him and the LBGTQ community.
As the afternoon and evening progressed I noticed a trend on my FB. Many people were saying, “Praying for Orlando” and “Standing with Orlando.” But very few people were mentioning the fact that the attack targeted the LBGTQ community, and none of my friends made the Rainbow Flag their profile picture. Why was that part of the story being ignored by my FB friends? Every news story, every pundit, and both presidential candidates mentioned the sexual orientation of the people slaughtered. But not my FB friends. Why?
Then, on Monday I started reading blogs and articles from people in the LBGTQ community blasting the evangelical church and in part, blaming them (and me because I am evangelical) for creating a toxic atmosphere in our country that allowed this attack on their community to happen. Their thought process seemed to be if your interpretation of the Bible excludes any type of sexual activity outside of marriage and same-sex marriage, you are a hateful homophobe and so the blood of 49 innocent people is on your hands. It was hard for me to do, but I tried to read past their rhetoric so I could feel and hear the pain from which they were speaking. Their pain runs deep. They are justified in feeling that pain.
Next, President Obama and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, made the issue about stricter gun control, while presidential candidate Donald Trump, made the issue about immigration and Muslims. After all, politically speaking, every tragedy needs to be turned into a political football.
Meanwhile, 49 families are hurting because their loved ones have died. Twenty-four hours after the tragedy, that should be are only concern and focus.
My heart is breaking for the victims and for the LBGTQ community, while my head is spinning trying to figure out the best way to respond to this tragedy as a local church pastor. But more importantly, how do I respond as a follower of Jesus Christ.
My Bible tells me there is “a time to weep…and …a time to mourn” (Ecclesiastes 3:4); and to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). For the time being, I am choosing empathy and sorrow over blaming and rhetoric.
My heart breaks for the lives that were lost and for their families and friends who are now dealing with grief and looking for answers. Each life lost was a precious soul to God, because each one was created in His image.
My heart also breaks for the survivors who may be asking themselves why they lived while their friends died. I pray they seek wise counseling in dealing with survivors’ guilt and PTSD.
My heart goes out to the Muslim community. I am thankful that many Muslim leaders have begun to speak out about the violence done by a radical few. I pray innocent Muslims are not targeted for violence by vigilantes. Over the last few months I have personally tried to reach out to the local Imam in my community. I think I need to try harder.
My heart aches for the shooter. I fear for his eternal soul.
I weep with the shooter’s family. I am sure they are broken hearted, but because of the horrendous act perpetrated by their loved one, they will have to bear their grief alone.
My heart breaks for my country. We are so divided I am not sure we can ever be healed. Many of us our living in fear and reacting instead of trusting in God’s sovereignty and walking in peace. I pray for revival. I pray it begins with me.
I weep for the Church in the United States. We have, at times, been more hateful than loving. We have, at times, been more concerned about being right instead of showing grace and compassion. We have, at times, placed politics above Kingdom living. We have, at times, been good patriots but horrible disciples. Lord, forgive me for those times I have been guilty. As a result, the Church in the United States has lost significant moral authority to speak into the lives of other people. Lord, forgive us.
I close this post with words from the prophet Isiah: “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).