After Sunday morning, no one can dispute we are under attack. The real attack, however, is not the one involving assault rifles like the ArmaLite Rifle – 15 (Yes, I know the “a” doesn’t stand for “assault” even though enabling assault is what the AR-15 does). The real attack is on our sense of being. What kind of people will we be in the face of such a raw challenge to our safety, our freedom, our lives?
By targeting a gay nightclub while phoning emergency services to leave a message supporting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the shooter at Pulse Orlando drove at least three wedges deeper into the fabric of our society: homophobia/transphobia, Islamophobia, and guns.
Guns are a wedge issue in this country, made so primarily by a well-funded lobby that wants all of us to be well-armed so their stockholders and executives can be well-heeled. Without the top executives of the NRA choosing to side with gun manufacturers, guns might not be a wedge issue since 72% of NRA members favor better gun laws. We might have comprehensive background checks, appropriate waiting periods, and sensible rules for ownership, all while retaining the intent of the Second Amendment. Instead, we have loopholes through which any number of “disqualified” people can legally obtain a gun capable of firing a shot every second. The Orlando shooter had one or two of those…
Because these guns are readily available in our country, they become wedge instruments for those who want to create division. This assailant didn’t pick any nightclub; he picked a haven for historically marginalized people. He didn’t profess support for an innocuous organization; he cited a terror organization which has hijacked the name of a respected world religion. The deeper ramifications of the Orlando massacre will be the fear incited among us because of these calculated decisions. This is the real wedge.
If we rive, he wins. The challenge will be great in the coming days. Our LGBTQ friends will be disparaged, so we must support them. Our Muslim neighbors will be stereotyped, so we must protect them. Our families will have differing views, so we must respect them. Then we win.
Our faith demonstrates over and over again that we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond. Pockets of hope are all around us. The people of Orlando have embraced one another — gay and straight alike, and the authentic leaders of Islam have condemned the violence. As people of faith who follow The Way of the one who walked in peace, we must be among those who offer solace for the mourners, fortitude for the weary, and reconciliation for the estranged. In the face of fear, we must respond with courage. In the face of apprehension, we must respond with trust. In the face of violence, we must respond with equanimity. Then the attack fails.
Since last fall, the NC Council of Churches has been working with a broad coalition of partners in an effort to become better advocates for reasonable, common sense gun laws. In collaboration with groups including North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, MomsRising.org, Moms Demand Action, and the NC Justice Center, we will continue that effort.
On the weekend of June 17-19, we are calling on faith communities across North Carolina to remember the shooting victims of Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on the one-year anniversary of their murders. May we also remember all who have died and who suffer as a result of gun violence.