At the time we gathered last week, many of us had heard that there had been a shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, but the details about who the shooter was, and why he was there, and who he targeted were, for the most part, unknown.
But we know now.
We’ve spent another week with seemingly endless media coverage, political discussion, debate and inaction, finger pointing, weeping, anger, fear mongering.
And this is a tough one, in no small part because it’s the largest mass shooting in US history. But even saying that, some in the African American community were quick to accuse the media of inaccurate or biased reporting, because there have been, in our past, larger numbers of deaths in a single event. Only, they were all black, and so, somehow, that gets overlooked, dismissed. And the semantics of it all come into play, as the deaths in such cases were not all caused by shooting, but were rather at the hands of mobs who shot, stabbed and hung their victims.
So some have addressed this horrific event, and the reporting in the aftermath of it, in terms of racial injustice.
Others have tried to make this all about gun control. Here’s a guy who had been under FBI scrutiny who was able to buy a weapon, and in response, the media and our elected officials have renewed their debate over so-called “No fly-no buy legislation” which, in a nutshell, says: if you’re under suspicion of being linked to a terrorist group, you should not be allowed to buy a gun, or you should, at very least, have to undergo further scrutiny and have a waiting period imposed to allow for that scrutiny to occur.
Of course, because the shooter was a Muslim, and because in one of 3 calls he made to 911, as he was in the midst of the killing and was holding people hostage, he claimed allegiance to ISIS, though, according to one report I heard on the radio this week, on his Facebook page he also claimed allegiance to another terrorist group that’s at odds with ISIS as well, calling into question any such allegiance. But, regardless of who he may have thought he was in allegiance with, some have turned this into another reason to spread fear of, and hatred toward, all Muslims.
Still others, because this attack specifically targeted a club frequented by members of the Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual and Transgendered community, and because this is “Pride month” and because there was, on the same weekend, a plot that was stopped, targeting a LGBT pride event in Los Angeles – one that, by the way, my daughter attended, so that, had that attacker not been stopped, my life might have been changed forever and my family might look very different at this point – but because Pulse attracted the clientele they attracted, and with it being pride week, some see this attack as just another attack on the LGBT community. In fact, I’ve heard that some in the far-right so-called “Christian” media – and I’ll be honest, I struggle to consider such people as being Christian – but some from that camp have even suggested that this was an act of God that will result in punishing both Muslims and gay people.
Others have pointed out that this man, or anyone who could do such a thing, had to be dealing with mental illness, and so have tried to make this about the connection between mental illness, a broken health care system, and what some call the unreasonable ease with which anyone, it seems, can get their hands on weapons designed for war, and designed to cause mass casualties quickly and with very little effort.
Radical Islamic Terrorism
You name it
There are a lot of ways that people have reacted to, a lot of lenses through which people have sought to understand, and interpret, and respond to the killing of 49 people in a night club in Orlando.
I can’t tell you which lens is right for you. But I will give witness to how my Lutheran Christian faith, and our readings from Holy Scripture today, have informed my thinking this week…
First of all, Jesus is in enemy territory in Luke chapter 8. The country of the Gerasenes, opposite Galilee, is decidedly non-Jewish. I mean, they’re herding pigs, for crying out loud.
There’s this man chained up among the tombs outside of the city, because he’s possessed by many demons, kept at a distance, isolated, rejected, because he’s seen as a danger to the community.
When Jesus approaches, he asks the man what his name is, and it’s a significant question, especially in that culture where names carried deep meaning and identity. Jesus, for instance, is named Jesus, which means: God saves, because the angel tells Mary that he will save the people from their sin. So it’s horrible, and poignant when the man answers: Legion.
Now, I’m sure that when he was born his parents didn’t look at him and say: I know, let’s call him Legion! But it seems, at this point in his life, having been so feared, and rejected, and isolated by his community, that this is the only name, the only identity, he can think of to claim for himself. It’s horribly sad that this man is so trapped by his circumstance that he’s lost his identity to it.
Honestly, though, don’t we do the same to ourselves and to others? We call people all kinds of things. We apply all kinds of labels to people, and to ourselves, based on their life circumstances.
He’s mentally ill
She’s an addict
She’s black, or native, or white, or Latina
Heck, even the pronouns he and she, for that matter, are meant to express something about one’s identity.
We label. We name. We identify people by their life circumstances, rather than by their deeper identity…
There’s been a movement in Lutheran Churches since the early 1980s called Reconciling in Christ. Today it’s spearheaded by an organization called Reconciling Works. You’ll be hearing more about this group over the next several months as the leadership, first, and then the general membership here at Reformation, seek to discern how best to express, in a formal statement of Affirmation of Welcome just what we read in Galatians chapter 3 today, namely, that for those who are baptized and have, therefore, been clothed in Christ, there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. There is no longer a distinction to be made according to any such categories, because we are all one in Christ Jesus.
Jew or Greek. Whether that’s to be understood in terms of nationality or religion, and really, the two were quite intertwined, and so it probably means both, the point is that we, the people of God in Christ, have no grounds to divide over religious identity, or nationality, ethnicity, race, or any other such things. Such categories have been done away with in Christ’s reconciling work.
Slave or free. Social standing, income or status, position in life, power and privilege or lack thereof, such categories have been done away with in Christ’s reconciling work.
Male and female. Gender identity, sexual orientation, identity based on physiology (or based on chosen or randomly assigned gender identity in the case of those whose physiology at birth is indeterminate) such categories have been done away with in Christ’s reconciling work.
There is only one identity that matters, and it applies to all humanity, and that’s that we are all created in God’s image and likeness! We are all, therefore, children of God, and of equal worth and value in God’s eyes. And if we are of equal worth and value in God’s eyes, we, as God’s people, must also assign equal worth and value to all people.
God in Christ has made the way for us all to be one, to put away our categories and the many other excuses we devise for our exclusion of, and division from, and hatred toward those we consider “others”.
The God who has always been ready to be sought out and to be found, who as Isaiah gives witness to, continues to call out to us: “Here I am! Here I am!” still stands and calls out to us today, calling us to put aside our reasons and excuses –
And Sexual orientation
And political affiliation
And all of our various fears and phobias
God calls us to put that all aside –
And to be one in Christ! One in the love of God! One people, clothed in Christ, and finally in our right minds, going back to our own homes, declaring how much God has done for us, proclaiming the good news of God’s saving love that is for all!