A Pastoral Letter Concerning the Mass Murder in Orlando

Dear Church,

Acts of extreme violence are sadly common; but, some of them are so heinous that they rise to the level of national and international conversation. The attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando has risen to that level. 

On Sunday morning, just hours after the events there, I was unaware that anything had happened. When folks prayed for the victims during the Prayers of the People at both services, I didn’t know what they were referring to. In the hours and days since, we have all learned (and continue to learn) a great deal. I feel like this event highlights some important things in our lives as Christians, and I’d like to address a few.

First and foremost, I extend my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the victims, and my prayers for the souls of the departed. I also pray for all those who now live in greater fear as a result of this heinous attack. 

This terrible event is a reminder of the fragility of human life and the ever-present reality of evil. Many people want to find political answers to the evil that we’ve seen, and I understand that. I would love to pass a law that would stop mass shootings, but that’s not the way this broken world works. Not that there aren’t better laws, and better ways to enforce the laws; rather, that laws can’t change the heart. This is primarily an issue of the human heart, both individual hearts but also the values we hold as a society. The Gospel is our best hope for freedom from evil, both for us and for all people.

Another thing that strikes me is the fear that this attack both engenders and reveals in the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ people often experience fear of being harmed by people who hate them. This fear is, sadly, not new to them. Many can tell you harrowing stories of the ways they’ve been mistreated by others, including people like me (straight, white, male Christians). This is a good time for all of us to express love and support for our LGBTQ friends, neighbors, family members, and coworkers. While there is dispute within the Christian community about how to view practices like same-sex marriage, there should be no dispute that we are called to love all LGBTQ people. There is no excuse for hatred against any person, a fact which should be obvious to followers of the Man who said “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

On a similar note, this event has, once again, brought fear to the Muslim community. We don’t know the true motivations of this killer, and it seems possible that religion was not the top of his list. Regardless of this man’s actions, anti-Muslim hatred is no more acceptable than anti-LGBTQ hatred. Christian people should be the first to come to the aid of the oppressed and the fearful, no matter what philosophical disagreements we may have with them. So, this is also a good time to show love to the Muslim people in your life.

As I stated earlier, no law can change the human heart. However, events like these do bring up serious questions about the relationship our culture has with our guns. Christian people have a wide variety of opinions on this issue, and I’m not offering a prescription. However, I believe it is worth prayerful consideration.

I call upon us to pray for the victims, their loved ones, the fearful, and our country. If you have the opportunity to reach out in love and support to LGBTQ or Muslim people whom you know, please do so. If you don’t have a “natural” opportunity, maybe this is a good time to take a step. Make a call, send a text, bring a gift. This is an occasion to love our neighbor in the name of Jesus. Let’s not waste this moment.

Blessings in Jesus,

Fr. Thomas+