Baptists joined others from varied faith communities in calling for prayer, compassion and solidarity after a gunman killed 49 people and injured another 53 at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
Steve Wells, pastor of South Main Baptist Church in Houston, posted a reflection about “terror on our shores and anger in our hearts” on Facebook on Sunday afternoon, June 12.
“How can we end this madness without ourselves becoming mad? How can we fight evil without becoming evil?” he asked.
Wells posted a prayer on social media: “Lord, help us find our ways to come together when violence seeks to rip us apart. Your children in Orlando were targeted and killed. Our brothers and sisters lay slain in the streets. Today we weep. Tomorrow, give us wisdom to respond in a way that will bring an end to violence, remembering that hatred cannot drive out hatred; only love can do that.”
Broken hearts and broken people
Jim Denison, founding president of the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, called on Christians to love and pray for Orlando “with hearts as broken as God’s heart is broken.”
“If people had to be perfect to deserve our intercession, for whom could we pray? Who could pray for us?” he asked in a June 12 article. “We are all broken people who need each other and our Lord.”
The following day, Denison wrote an additional article noting the slain shooter—Omar Saddiqui Mateen—appeared to be a “lone wolf terrorist” who pledged allegiance to ISIS but did not appear to be directed by any organized terrorist organization.
Christians need to “respond with faith rather than fear” and not surrender to despair, he insisted. Instead, he urged Christ-followers to “look for practical ways to help” such as donating blood or contributing to organizations that will help cover the funeral costs of victims and the medical expenses of survivors.
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Call for solidarity
George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, posted an article on Facebook the day after the shooting, noting: “Prayer is always the first response. But solidarity is also called for in times like these.”
Mason warned both against speaking thoughtlessly in haste and remaining silent rather than voicing concern for people under attack.
“Reacting quickly and thoughtlessly can produce intemperate responses with unintended negative consequences,” he wrote. “Not speaking up can do so, too.”
LGBTQ people ‘targeted for murder’
Christians should acknowledge lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender and self-identified “queer” people “were targeted for murder” in the shooting spree, Mason insisted.
“They deserve to hear from Christians that we consider this an abomination,” he wrote. “Our hearts go out not only to those who are grieving losses of friends who were killed or injured, but also to all who feel fear more viscerally today because of it. We must speak up and stand with those who are being targeted daily by words and actions that make them seem somehow less human because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Christian churches should pray for a time “when LGBTQ people can feel safe in our country as full citizens and as beloved children of God,” he continued.
Stand with peace-loving Muslims
Muslims also need the support of Christians, he added.
“When those who claim their religion continue to distort it and use it as an excuse for violence in the name of God, we Christians must join the many peace-loving Muslims in condemning such atrocities and let them know that we not only support their right to worship freely in America, but also that we stand beside them in grief and love.”
Mason also raised concern about “the culture of violence” in the United States.
“Surely, we can see no good that comes from allowing assault weapons to be purchased that can be used to slaughter fellow citizens time and time again,” he said. “Common sense and Christian concern should allow us to find a way to protect our rights to own guns and, at the same time, to protect our neighbors from this scourge upon the land.”
While he acknowledged Christians differ on issues such as same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay and lesbian individuals, Mason called for unity around the belief “that the Spirit of Jesus would call us to extend our love and sympathies to those who are grieving and mistreated.”
‘Mourn the loss of each life’
Suzie Paynter, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, issued a June 12 statement of support and a pledge of prayer for the families of shooting victims in Orlando in the aftermath of what she called a “violent and senseless massacre” that is “truly beyond reason.”
The following day, she offered additional observations.
“As we continue to hear the names and hear the stories of those lost and injured in the tragic shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, we bear witness to the loss of so many beautiful lives—an accountant, a pharmacy technician, a dancer, a telemarketer, a bouncer, a barista, a brand manager. They are brothers, sisters, spouses, sons and daughters,” she said.
“We grieve with the families of the victims. We grieve with the city of Orlando, and we grieve with the LGBTQ community. I pray that love can overcome this act of hate, and that we as Christians mourn the loss of each and every life that was cut short by the actions that took place on Sunday morning. We lift up those lives lost and do so through both prayer and acts of support.”
Need to value human life
In his final press conference as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Ronnie Floyd condemned the attack in Orlando as “inexcusable and deplorable.”
“This is a great time to remind everyone that each person in this world has been made in the image of God, and we need to value human life,” said Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwestern Arkansas.
He insisted Southern Baptists “stand against any prejudice, any bigotry, anything that is wrong in relation to devaluing human life, regardless of what someone does or how someone chooses to live.”
Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, voiced a similar note.
“We may have disagreements, even substantive disagreements, about theology and lifestyle, but this violence is horrific, reprehensible and should be condemned by all,” Page said.
Can a divided nation grieve together?
Soon after news of the shooting made the Sunday morning news, Russell Moore, president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, posted on Twitter: “Christian, your gay or lesbian neighbor is probably really scared right now. Whatever our genuine disagreements, let’s love and pray.”
In a subsequent blog post, he called into question Americans’ ability to mourn as a united people.
“What I wonder is whether this country still has the capacity to grieve, together, in moments of national crisis. … Our national divisions increasingly make it difficult for us not just to work together, but even to pause and weep together.”