Let us now quieten our minds.
God of light and life, you draw us together; a people hurting, aching in our hearts, longing for a world in which peace and justice can reign. Make yourself know to us in the warmth of this place, in kindness, in acceptance, in generosity one to another.
Today and throughout the week in public squares, in churches, in bars, and in clubs, people have been meeting together in solidarity. When confronted by acts of such Evil, we overcome from a place of our togetherness, brought together by Love. For such Love as this, let us be thankful. Let us be thankful for one another here this morning, sharing in each other’s pain, and sharing in each other’s hope for tomorrow. In Ipswich, in the United Kingdom, and in this world, homophobia and transphobia is a daily reality. As we gather together our thoughts this day, we grieve with the grieving, we reach out to our LGBTQ friends, and cry out with them in the face of injustice, in the face of such violence.
Our words are not enough. Our good wishes and prayers are not enough. People of faith are called to action, and to stand with the persecuted. Gay people cannot be safe on our streets until homophobia has been defeated from the religious context. We are called to speak out against intolerance wherever it is present. God of light and life, bless us all gathered here. Give us such love that we might carry it out into a hurting world.
Together in a period of silence let us now come together to light these candles. When they are all lit we will just sit for a moment together in silence. And if a few could please come up at once – we light these candles, in order that we might send our prayers, and give our thoughts to the 49 LGBTQ people that were killed in Florida.
The shock of the Orlando attack has felt very visceral and painful to me, as I’m sure it has to all of us. I have gone back and forth debating in my head throughout the week what I should say, or really if I should say much at all. Is this a time simply to grieve with one another, or should we be discussing the plethora of issues surrounding it all?
I had nearly finished writing this address when Jo Cox was gunned down on Thursday. It has been a horrible week of grief and pain. I hardly know where to begin. So I shall begin with anger. Anger that beautiful life has been destroyed. Anger that there can be such hatred, such ignorance, and intolerance in the world. And anger that these tragedies will be manipulated and twisted to serve political causes – slotted into people’s shallow conceptions of what is good and what is evil in this world. Reality resists such simplistic characterisation.
What happened in Orlando last week was first and foremost an act of homophobic terrorism, an attack motivated by one man’s hatred for LGBTQ people. Undoubtedly complex, there are so many layers to all this. So many factors rightly or wrongly at stake: gay rights, terrorism, Islam, immigration, guns, domestic violence, loneliness, issues of self-identity, mental illness, the list goes on and on…
The perpetrator of this awful crime was a “Muslim” man. On Wednesday evening I met with the Ipswich and Suffolk Muslim Council – they had a pre-arranged event on ‘Understanding Ramadan’. We are currently in Ramadan. Ramadan is a one month period in the Islamic calendar when Muslims fast and pray in order to get close to God, to reflect on the love of God and the beauty of God. We have heard from reports that the perpetrator was not a devout man. He was not a man trying to get close to God. To repeat what they said that evening, to state the obvious, this man’s actions do not represent Islam. Islam does not condone violence, Islam is a religion of peace. Rather this attack came out of a great well of hatred.
For me this attack immediately brought to mind a statement made during the London underground knife attack last year. “You ain’t no Muslim Bruv” one bystander shouted at the perpetrator. An amazingly British cry of defiance. “You ain’t no Muslim Bruv.”
So what should our response to this tragedy be? Throughout this week there has been an amazing outpouring of goodwill; people gathering as we are now gathered, people embracing strangers, sitting with neighbours, standing on side of Love. This is hope. May it lead to ever more dialogue and understanding, ever more compassion and love, ever more unity and collaboration.
Yet, there is a struggle still ahead. The attack in Orlando which left 49 dead is the worst mass shooting in modern US history, and it was perpetrated against LGBTQ people. To be lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, or non-binary is to be misunderstood, to be marginalised, and to be discriminated against. And where does that come from? The Abrahamic faiths have a great deal to answer for. As long as there is discrimination in our churches, mosques, and meeting houses, how can we not expect violence? As long as LGBTQ people are othered, and treated as second class, how can we not expect discrimination to bubble out onto our streets?
We rightly respond to the horror of this week by embracing one another this morning, but the struggle goes on. Our prayers of hope and goodwill are a start, but we must stand up for justice. We must challenge institutional discrimination, speak out against it, challenge misunderstanding, and by our actions create a community which models love. As the Affirmation of hope said, we are co-creators of the future we want to see. We start here and we bring it out there. We shall overcome.
God of light and life, soften all our hearts that love, just love, will be known here. Love one to another. Love for a hurting world. A love to overcome centuries of hatred. A love to overcome ignorance. God of light and life, be in our words, be in our actions. Be in the peace we can find here. Love, just love, we pray.