How We React to Orlando Matters. Here’s Why.

Last Saturday in Orlando, the lives of 50 people abruptly ended. After the shooter had been taken down, first responders and EMS searched the club, attempting to organize the unimaginable bloodshed. As they began to search, cell phones in the pockets of dead victims started to ring. The ringtones built to a crescendo as hundreds of friends and family members, who had heard about the shooting, called their loved ones to make sure they were safe. It was one of the worst mass shootings in American history.

I first learned of the shooting early Sunday morning when my wife told me. As I sat comfortably in the living room, my response was simply “Oh. Wow.” and then selfishly continued to watch TV.

In our country, mass shootings occur with such frequency that the reaction of passive indifference is typical. If you have relatives affected by last Saturday’s tragic shooting, if you live in Orlando, or if you knew someone involved, then, of course, you’ll feel emotional trauma. But for most people in America, the only changes we’ll see are hyped up news shows and a Facebook sticker.

The Orlando shooting was a catastrophe. However, more catastrophic is America’s reaction to such events. The larger population is numb to the unsettling emotional response a mass shooting should produce. When we respond to tragedy with disinterest, it’s because some small part of us has given up hope. We genuinely care and want to help, but feel powerless to rise up and fight something that’s completely out of our control.

We all ask ourselves – what can we do against such reckless hate? Usually, we allow our apathy to answer for us, and apathy’s answer is, “Nothing. It doesn’t matter what you do.

But it does matter, and here’s why.


A vigil  in the wake of the Orlando Pulse shooting (photo: Flickr)

How you react to mass shootings matters.

We lose heart in the face of reckless hate because we forget our power to communicate love in spite of incomprehensible tragedy. We, in the slow passage of time, have forgotten how much power our voices exude. In your voice lies beauty, strength, and passion. If we allow these gifts to go unused, it’s because we’ve forgotten how truly influential we can be.

However, the power of our voice also demands responsibility, and we have the capability to make the Orlando situation much worse. By adding our voice to others’, we can either spew a message of hate and pain to those already vulnerable from the tragedy, or one of love and compassion. We should ensure our voice embodies love.

Hate Speech – Your voice communicates how you make sense of the Orlando tragedy.

Many of us speak out of a place of fear. Because we don’t want to wrestle with the tension of things that divide us across the aisle (homosexuality, Islam, Christianity, or gun policies), we compartmentalize poorly thought out conclusions that we haven’t fully fleshed out. Also, many of us shamefully use situations like mass shootings as an opportunity to advertise our opinions. This week in your social feeds you’ll probably see:

  • “This is why we should build the Trump wall.”
  •  “God cannot be mocked. Man reaps what he sows” (Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Real proud of Texas here)
  • “Wouldn’t have happened if open carry were allowed in bars.”
  • “Religion kills.”
  • “Prayer for this situation is f****** stupid”

We must resist the urge to utilize the Orlando shootings selfishly. Serve those affected by the tragedy instead.

In regards to Christianity’s role

Some “Christians” have already taken to social media to claim that the gay community deserved what happened on Saturday. Many quote passages from the Bible to claim that God allowed this to happen to punish the gay community. Does that piss you off? It should. Social media, while useful, can also become a platform to marginalize those hurting at the moment when they need compassion the most. The Christian community needs to take a long, hard look at how Jesus treated those that others ostracized. It’s lazy to believe that the gay community is being punished for being outside of God’s will, and it’s a ploy to grasp at self-righteousness. If Christians believe what their faith teaches, they must remember their perceived self-righteousness is offensive towards God (see Luke 18:9-14). Let’s drop the debate for the time being, and instead, serve our hurting neighbors.

On Islam’s role

The Muslim community will also experience persecution. Because Omar Mateen claimed allegiance to ISIS before the shooting, many will again claim that Muslims are all hate filled terrorists hell-bent on destroying America. It is amateurish to lump the entire LGBT community together, so generalizing about all Muslims generates the same hurt. Many followers of Islam are peaceful people committed to submitting to Allah’s will. Most Muslims hate terrorists as much as the average American. How tragic it would be to label those Muslims terrorists. Remind people Omar was an outlier and help innocent Muslims that wrongly come under persecution.

The Gun Debate

Pretending that the gun debate is simple is also destructive. It’s not. I’m not going to make an argument for or against gun policy because my opinion doesn’t matter. What I will say is that we can’t lump everything into simplistic conclusions. Screaming “Take ALL the guns away” or “This is why we need open-carry OBAMA” is one-sided and ignores all the pieces and emotions at play in the face of the American gun policy quagmire. It’s overwhelmingly convoluted, there is no grand conclusion, and it is our duty as a country to carefully debate how we should proceed forward. Additionally, it removes the compassion we should feel towards the victims and makes it about something else entirely. There’s a time and place for the gun policy debate. It’s just not right now. Let’s sort this out after we mourn. We all want a world without violence; it’s just not the one we live in yet.

gunSpeaking Love

If you pray, pray with each other for Orlando and the victims’ families. When we plead with God to ease the pain in the hearts of those affected by this tragedy, our actions fly in the face of the kind of hate that would lead a person to open fire on others. Truly, there is a significant amount of mystery involved in prayer, and we often don’t get the privilege of seeing it worked out, but prayer allows us to add our voice to the fight against hate in ways we can’t see. Most of us can’t fly out to Orlando to give blood or physically comfort those in need. That’s what prayer is for. Other’s may find prayers silly and angry that you’re talking to an “invisible sky faerie.” Love them too. They’re hurting just as much as you and others are.

If you don’t pray, use social media to show your support and spread awareness. There is already a “We Are Orlando” sticker, and it communicates solidarity with those suffering through this tragedy. It may seem trivial, but I guarantee someone who’s lost a loved one in this shooting will be lifted up by this simple gesture. Solidarity is important because the gay and Muslim communities can quickly be used as a scapegoat for what took place. Martin Luther King, Jr once famously stated:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

We must not combat hate with hate or shout someone else down. Instead, try to communicate love for the LGBT community, Muslims, and those with different views than your own.

Be slow to speak, quick to listen, but remain convicted about the event that transpired. Debating over religion or gun policy is actually good. What we must remember is that how we debate with each other sets the stage for either more hurt or healing. Recognize when someone isn’t mature enough to rationally discuss an issue, including yourself. By understanding where the other person is coming from, we set ourselves up as an authority to speak into this situation.

What happened in Orlando will continue to send shockwaves through our culture for years. Many people will add their voices to the situation, and over time, opinions and conceptions will be molded about what took place and why. Remember the power of your voice. Add love to this tragedy so that people remember that instead in the long run. Stand with Orlando.

  • njgrenfell

    A great article John. An important reminder that in times like this that we need love to unite and strengthen us rather than let hatred consume and separate us.
    I just wanted to thank you for writing these articles and let you know how much I have been enjoying your articles recently. You’ve got a great gift, I pray you continue to use it.

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