3 Things Religious Leaders Can Do in the Wake of the Massacre in Orlando

3 Things Religious Leaders Can Do in the Wake of the Massacre in Orlando June 13, 2016

ID-100390314Reflecting on the terrorist attack on “The Pulse” in Orlando, columnist, Bruce Bower, notes that the events “’shocked’” some politicians. “’Who would have expected such a thing?’ people kept asking.”

Bower observes something that I’ve thought for some time as well:

“Actually, I’ve been expecting just such a thing for years. The only shock was that it took this long for some jihadist to go after a gay establishment. Islamic law, after all, is crystal clear on homosexuality, though the various schools of sharia prescribe a range of penalties: one calls for death by stoning; another demands that the transgressor be thrown from a high place; a third says to drop a building on him. In Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Yemen, Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, as well as in parts of Nigeria, Somalia, Syria and Iraq, homosexuality is indeed punishable by death.

Nor do Muslims magically change their views on the subject when they move to the West. As long ago as 2005, the head of the Netherlands’ leading gay rights group said that, owing to the growth of Islam in Amsterdam, tolerance of gay people was ‘slipping away like sand through the fingers’; over the last 10 or 15 years, Dutch gays have fled the cities in droves to escape Muslim gay-bashing. In Norway, several high-profile Muslims have refused publicly to oppose executing gays, and when challenged on their views have gone on the offensive, demanding respect for orthodox Muslim beliefs. This past April, a poll established that 52 percent of British Muslims want homosexuality banned.”

Determining how to respond to terrorist acts of this kind will require action on a number of levels, embracing agencies charged with the defense and security of our country. Specialists in those areas will, no doubt, review their practice and policy in the coming weeks.

For faith leaders the central question has to be, “What kind of country do we want to nurture, and what kind of relationship between religious points of view do we want to encourage in face of threats like this?”

The bare outline of an answer to those questions, it seems to me, include these observations:

One: The safety, freedom, and dignity of all people must be safeguarded.

Regardless of the diversity and difference in positions that people may take on faith and practice, the freedom to make those choices must be safeguarded.

From a Christian point of view, that freedom is rooted in our conviction that God does not coerce us to respond in a particular way, but invites us to examine our lives in conversation with the work of Gods grace. In civic terms that conviction is rooted in the separation of church and state, which safeguards freedom of religious expression, but does not compel us to comply with a particular body of religious commitments.

In the wake of the events in Orlando, religious leaders must continue to speak out in defense of that freedom and the safety that should accompany that freedom, even as they speak in favor of their own faith commitments.

Anyone who insists on conformity in practice and faith and enforces that kind of conformity with verbal or physical violence, risks everyone’s freedom, including their own.

Two, knowing that no religious tradition is utterly uniform in its faith and practice, we should avoid generalizing about “all” members of any tradition. In this case that truth is particularly important as it applies to Islam and to Muslim attitudes toward homosexuality and violence, but the same truth should shape the way in which we talk about one another at all times and in all places.

Any observation that suggests we know what all Christians, Jews, and Muslims think or believe is bound to be wrong. We know this, and we should begin to qualify our remarks accordingly.

Three, we should nurture generous advocacy for what we do believe and resist abusive advocacy in all its forms. Finding the common denominator in what we all believe or eschewing any kind of religious particularity is not the answer to religious extremism.

We learn tolerance when we own the particularity of our own faith, recognize the particularity of someone else’s, and continue to communicate – all the while — in a fashion that is loving and gracious.

Modeling that approach to conversation and insisting on it is the hallmark of the kind of society to which we have committed ourselves as religious leaders is essential.

There have been those who have suggested that the events in Orlando are just desserts for the society that we have created. Some have argued that it can be traced to our attitudes toward guns and violence. Others have suggested that events of this kind can be traced to the openness of our society. I don’t believe that any of those things are at the root of the events in Orlando.

We are in a religious and cultural conflict with radicalized elements that believe that the way that we live and the way that we live with one another is unacceptable. How long this conflict will last is hard to say and involves decisions that lie beyond the walls of our religious communities. But experience teaches us that we can and do play a role in shaping a society that guarantees the safety and well being of one another as beloved children of God.

We should dedicate ourselves to that effort, now, and stand strong in its defense.


Image by Tuomas_Lehtinen, used with permission from freedigitalphotos.net


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