“Prayers can’t be answered unless they are prayed,” so the poet reminds us, and so we have honored the dead in vigils of remembrance, emotional prayers, heartfelt tributes, scripture-based homilies, fervent eulogies, thoughtful soliloquies and appropriate words spoken by public officials, but something must follow the prayer meeting – ACTION.
These are the opening words of a litany by AME Bishop Adam J. Richardson, Jr., penned for a “Liberty and Justice for All” rally in Washington, D.C. last summer, recalling various shootings that gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement, among others.
In worship on Wednesday, June 15 and on Sunday, June 19, we reflected upon scripture in light of the horrendous mass shooting at the Pulse night club in Orlando on June 12. We listed the name of every victim, and also those killed one year ago at Emanuel AME. We prayed for survivors, and laid flowers at our outdoor shrine. The shrine, erected June 13, will remain in place at least through the end of June; you are welcome to come pause, reflect, pray, or offer flowers or tokens.
At some point, however, we must also look to take fresh actions to touch lives, to change conditions, to challenge narratives of hatred and bigotry. Pilgrim Congregational Church UCC has been a Just Peace Church for thirty years, and an Open and Affirming Church — with a broad welcome and commitment to advocacy for all persons, especially LGBTQ — for fifteen years. We are looking at how we can better live up to these commitments.
You may choose to take action through Protect Minnesota, to advocate for lifesaving firearm legislation. You may display both a “Blessed Ramadan” sign AND a rainbow ribbon, to witness to radical inclusion that does not buy into scare tactics and false narratives. You may educate yourself more fully about LGBTQ issues, about Islam in America, about mental health and violence.
It is not only possible to tend to both the specific and the general, the individual and the system, the pain and the big picture; it is imperative. It is the only way we can heal, personally and corporately. Reflect. And act.
Today the United Church of Christ and the Open and Affirming Coalition stand with the LGBTQ community in Orlando, Florida, and with all who are grieving for the victims of the massacre at a gay nightclub in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Their grief is our grief.
We pray for the families and friends of the 50 who were killed.
We pray for the many injured and for their doctors and care-givers.
We renew our resolve as a church to work in Florida and in communities across America for the safety, dignity and freedom of our LGBTQ members and neighbors.
We renew our resolve as a church to work for sane laws that will curb the epidemic of gun violence in this country.
We now know the assailant was a U.S. citizen and a Muslim. We join with the leaders of Muslim communities in the United States who have denounced the attack in Orlando and the unreasoning hatred that motivated it.
The time has come for churches to end the spiritual violence they perpetrate against their LGBTQ members and neighbors. Preaching hate against others because of their sexual orientation or gender identity has taken a terrible toll of lives lost to suicide, and is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus Christ. We call on every church to stand with, and not against, the LGBTQ community.
We are angry, but we will not return hate for hate. Hate will not stop the cycle of violence–not in this country, or anywhere in the world. And so we remember at this time the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
“Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
National Officers of the United Church of Christ
Leadership Team of the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition