Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I tried to write this statement yesterday, the day after the horrific mass murder in Orlando, but the right words—the right “feel”—wouldn’t come. After letting go of it for a while, I tried again . . . still not right. Then I realized what the problem was: I was angry. More accurately, and more to the point, I was too angry. So, I prayed my way through that for the rest of the day and can now honestly say that I’ve made it to the other side.
C. S. Lewis was once challenged by a colleague about the efficacy of prayer, assuming that prayer was meant to influence God. In response, Lewis famously replied, “Prayer doesn’t change God; it changes me.” With all deference to Lewis, I’ll extend this wisdom to say that no, prayer alone won’t change or make right this tragedy, but it can and does change the nature of our relationship to such an unimaginable reality. In short, prayer is transformative, certainly for the one who prays and, I believe, mysteriously for the ones for whom we pray.
From this new place, I can see that anger, by itself, is not what is needed at a time such as this. In the face of pure evil, we as Christians must bring more to the table of public discourse. We must ourselves be part of the answer, helping to bring about meaningful steps to address the issues, issues that span an entire spectrum. In particular, we who follow a Lord who was Himself a scandal to many must specifically recognize and speak to the fact that this slaughter, the worst mass shooting in the history of our nation, in fact targeted a whole marginalized population, the communities of LGBTQ people everywhere who are so often treated as “other,” people who are all too often unjustly judged, oppressed, and even de-humanized. They deserve more than just our anger, even when that anger is righteous.
As I discovered anew, it is essential that we begin with prayer. Pray for the victims, their families, loved ones, and friends. Pray for the people of Orlando. Pray for all of those professionals, the police, physicians and nurses, clergy, and all who in their respective ways are working to bring some balm of healing. Pray for those in political office, both locally and in the Congress, who must now be painfully reminded of the weight they bear in shaping responsible public policy.
With prayer as our foundation, grounding us as disciples of our Lord, the Prince of Peace, I am convinced that we must now bring compassion—from Latin: to “suffer with”—to our response. It is insufficient to offer our thoughts and prayers (the too-easy phrase we so often hear from the talking heads). We cannot simply “send” something to the LGBTQ and Latino communities; rather, we must bring our very selves to their side and walk with them faithfully through this wrenchingly painful time. Perhaps if the politicians who have the power to make a difference understood themselves to be “suffering-with” something substantive might be accomplished. The same is true for us as the Church, the suffering Body of Christ.
We are once again called as Christians to respond with a holy witness to a senseless act of violence – to offer our message of love in a world that can, in such times, seem to be consumed with hate. May we reach out in this love with grace and be joined in solidarity with those who are so directly—so personally—carrying the pain of these dark days.
Please join me in this prayer to ground us as a diocesan Church as we seek to know—and to be—the redemptive power of God:
O God of compassion, whose Son Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus: Draw near to us in this time of great sorrow and anguish, comfort those who mourn, strengthen those who are weary, confused, angry and afraid, encourage those in despair, and lead us as a nation of diverse peoples as we seek your way, the way of peace and true community that will bestow abundant life for all; in our struggles, fill us with the knowledge of your love, and kindle that love in our hearts so that we may engage one another as those who are made in your image; through the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, our eternal God of eternal life. Amen.
The Rt. Rev. Shannon Sherwood Johnston, Diocesan Bishop