Faith Matters: Struggle to learn from vicious mass shootings

One hundred and thirty-six — the number of mass shootings in the first half of 2016.

We do not hear about most of them, because they are domestic disputes and gang violence, events in which at least four people are wounded or killed.

What is most disturbing is the vicious hatred that fuels public mass shootings, often followed by wild blaming of victim groups or entire faith communities, or the mentally ill.

Against hate-filled rhetoric and violence, the devoted and peaceful persons of all faiths must speak up and speak carefully.

Omar Mateen does not represent faithful Islam any more than Westboro Baptist represents faithful Christianity. Thank God for the “angels” who blocked the view of hate-filled picketers from the grieving as they attended memorial services.

Bad things happen to good people. We cannot yet see past the pain of the Pulse tragedy yet.

We know God can ultimately bring good out of bad.

We see goodness in brave first responders and other compassionate folk who are helping with healing.

We see the goodness of people rising up in support of LGBTQ persons such as Roman Catholic Bishop Lynch of St. Pete, who said: “Sadly it is religion, including our own, which …. often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people.”

We see the courageous love of the Jewish congregation who went to a gay bar in their city just a day after the killing to pray, sing sad songs and drink a beer with those who were struggling.

I pray we learn from the succession of tragic mass shootings to:

  • Work harder to teach, as Jesus Christ did, the values of peace and human dignity, recognizing our own tendency toward xenophobia and the abuse of power.
  • Soften the hard edges of mean-spirited rhetoric, learning to address anger and fear in constructive ways.
  • Provide greater security measures with firearms, like we do with automobiles and with airplanes, limiting access, to preserve public safety.

Last Sunday in the congregation I serve, we read the story of the conflict between Joseph and his brothers who wished him dead.

Given time to reflect, the hot-headed brothers were calmed by their others, and Joseph’s life was spared. This was a blessing to all of them in the end.

The gift of forgiveness Joseph is graced to offer liberates him and them.

We heard a beautiful example of forgiveness in Nadine Collier one year ago, in response to the hate- filled murders in Charleston’s Emmanuel AME Church.

Making peace is not the same as making justice.

Forgiveness is complex. It is not a call away from naming bigotry and working to diminish violence. As Jim Wallis of Sojourners said, “The violence of hate is the denial of the image of God in the other human beings.”

We lit eight rainbow-colored candles last Sunday to affirm human dignity and to call ourselves to courage and peacemaking. We remembered:

  •  Victims and their families, including traumatized survivors.
  •  LGBTQ persons who are too often victims of hate crimes.
  •  Latinos and Valencia College, hard hit by this tragedy.
  •  Peaceful Muslims, unfairly maligned by those who tie them to radical terrorism.
  •  First responders and medical personnel, dedicated and exhausted.
  •  All in this country who have suffered from gun violence or despair over it.
  •  Lawmakers who need wisdom for action, courage for change.
  •  All people of good will who need the courage to speak up and defend the marginalized

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Let love be genuine. … So far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Psalm 34:18 Romans 12:9-18.

The Rev. Elizabeth Deibert, 941-753-7778 Peace Presbyterian Church, 12705 State Road 64, Lakewood Ranch. Email edeibert@peacepcusa.com or call 941-753-777. Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday’s Herald, written by local clergy members.