“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”
(from “No Man is an Island” by John Donne)
Dear HUMC Members and Friends,
The words of John Donne reflect the weight and context of grief that he bore in response to the deaths that he had witnessed and acknowledged. As a nation and as members of humanity, we grieve collectively as we learn more details of another senseless act of violence that bears the infamous distinction of being the largest loss of life resulting from gun violence. We are gripped by perplexing questions: Why? How many more lives will be lost? What could have possibly fueled such unbridled rage and hatred? How will we respond?
The victims were not chosen randomly. They were patrons of a nightclub popular among members of the LBGT community. Some have feebly sought a rationale for the lone gunman’s rage. Some have suggested religious extremism. Others have blamed underlying mental health issues as being responsible for the domestic violence exhibited during his brief marriage and ultimately, the unimaginable mayhem unleashed on complete strangers.
Regardless of the wide-ranging speculation, one fact is certain–sadly, we’ve been here before. Stories of random acts of gun violence have become so commonplace that they hardly garner much attention. The incident at “The Pulse” in Orlando feels different, but so did Columbine, so did Emmanuel AME, so did Gabby Giffords, so did San Bernadino, and the list goes on. So what will change? We are all different now. We are a little less because of the inexplicable deaths of others. John Donne is right. We are a part of humanity and the life (and death) of any human impacts each of us.
We must not only examine the perpetrator’s targets, we must also examine his tactics and his tools. What was he trying to accomplish by shooting these innocent, defenseless individuals while wielding tools of war? How long had he possessed these specific weapons and what emotions did they generate? How can any civilian justify possessing a high-capacity, high-caliber weapon that is designed for a battlefield? The questions are endless and exhausting.
Yet, in the midst of hopelessness, despair, and grief that may seem inconsolable and acts that defy reason, we offer words of grace and signs of peace. Most importantly, we should engage in deeds of determined action to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the likelihood of any similar horrific acts. As people of faith, we honor every life that God has created. Amidst the continued carnage, bloodied bodies, and chaos, we stand as witnesses of the promises of God that we shall not all die, but we will all be changed.
How you and I respond to violence will make all the difference. Some have compared the responses to the attack in Orlando to the responses witnessed following the attacks on September 11 and the attack at Emmanuel AME church–the vile act of hatred that was intended to highlight differences resulted in the identification of similarities. Following the terrorist attacks September 11, there was a greater sense of patriotism and an increase in attendance in places of worship. Following the attack in South Carolina, there was a renewal of understanding regarding the historic role of the church. In both cases, the attacks were intended to destroy symbols of power and strength. However, the result was a resounding refrain reflecting the bold determination to persevere.
In the aftermath of Orlando, there will be a cacophony of voices offering explanations and analyses. As a people of faith, as a church, and as a denomination, we have the sacred obligation to offer witness to the source of our strength and light that helps us each day to stand. Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley penned the words to a powerful hymn of the church “Beams of Heaven” which remind us, “Harder yet may be the fight, right may often yield to might; wickedness a while may reign and Satan’s cause may seem to gain. There is a God who rules above with a hand of power and a heart of love; if I am right, He’ll fight my battle, I shall have peace someday.”
We offer prayers for all of the victims and their families as they attempt to make sense of the senseless. We also offer prayers for unity, strength, safety, and peace for those who have become targets of inappropriate retaliatory actions.
Photo credit above: Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP