In response to last week’s horrific Orlando tragedy, Reverend Shari Prestemon, MN UCC Conference Minister, sent out the following to everyone who attended the annual conference:
June 14, 2016
Dear Minnesota Conference UCC,
Just days ago, 300 of us convened for the 54th Annual Meeting of the Minnesota Conference. On Saturday, Reverend Traci Blackmon called us to step into the breach to repair what is unjust and heal what is broken; she challenged us to step out onto the streets where such brokenness and injustice rage daily. Then on Sunday morning, as we gathered for celebration and worship together, we received the tragic news from Orlando. 49 children of God were killed in a LGBT nightclub by one hate-filled gunman. More than 50 others were injured, and across that Florida city and all over this nation scores of people were stunned by yet one more incident of mass gun violence.
We wept together Sunday morning, the last day of our gathering. We prayed. We lifted our laments to God. And then I preached of a fear that has taken our country and our churches hostage, and of a faith that calls us instead to undaunted courage.
We need that courage now more than ever, because the fear and anger and deep grief we feel in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre is viscerally real. We should indeed be angry. This was not a ‘random’ act of violence. This was violence specifically aimed at the LGBT community, a community that has for too long been the target of vicious hatred and violence. We should be angry that insufficient gun laws made it easy for someone who had actually been on the FBI’s watch list to get assault weapons and use them to express his twisted version of how the world should be.
But let us not let our anger — as justified as it is — be the last or only word. Let us not let our fears about a world that seems to be going stark raving mad paralyze our response. Instead let us raise a different voice, and witness to a different way.
Let us stand in the face of this hatred and violence and grief and speak of a God whose love is extravagant, whose welcome is wide. Let us declare that LGBT persons are precious children of God, made in God’s image, held in God’s bountiful grace. Let us refuse to fall prey to an interpretation of this horrific event that paints all Muslims as terrorists, and rather stand with our peace-loving Muslim neighbors in stubborn solidarity. Let us hold vigils and strengthen community and lift our prayers together. And let us sign petitions and preach sermons and join protests that signal our refusal to accept gun violence and gun worship as normative in our nation.
This is a moment for our kind of faith — loving, passionate, and unifying. This is a moment for courage.
Holding you in peace,
Reverend Shari Prestemon