The last couple of weeks have been an interesting experiment in how we as Americans react to harsh tragedy in a world where social media has saturated every corner of almost every community. We’re sliding downhill—not a scary pace, but enough to make one grimace.
I remember when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks took place in 2001. The sudden loss of so many people in an instant shook America out of its complacency and showed us that we were not living in some Shangri-La. Life could end in an instant, and while the attacks were a tragedy, they brought us together, if only for a while.
Placing blame did not come until later. First, we came together and mourned. We comforted each other in a time of real fear. The only real blame came from the mouths of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, who blamed the homosexuals for bringing al-Qaeda down on our heads. It ticked me off so much that I wrote a rebuking column in my hometown newspaper, the Chino Valley Review. Real blame and accountability came later.
Fast forward almost 15 years and another tragedy that, although the death count is a fraction of what Sept. 11 boasted, is still considered to be the biggest mass shooting the United States has seen with 49 dead, many more wounded and countless millions scared out of their wits as we received a reminder that a full and happy life is never guaranteed.
The news of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, seeped into our awareness, having taken place in the middle of the night while most of America slept. Instead, we found out while attending church, grabbing brunch at local restaurants and while gathering for family picnics. This was different from 2001, where we were all fully awake as the planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Attendees light up candles and participate in a moment of silence at Ember on Sunday, June 12. The candlelight vigil was held in wake of the deadly shooting at Pulse Orlando nightclub. (Joshua Lim/Orlando Sentinel)
The tragedy has brought more support to the gay and lesbian community, because Pulse was a gay nightclub, but it did not take long before fingers started pointing. Donald Trump believed it was radical Islam and required immediate action to ban Muslims from the country. President Barack Obama immediately blamed the fact that guns are so readily available.
George W. Bush might not have been our best president, but I have to give him props for allowing enough time for mourning before taking action to prevent further tragedy. Not so with our current and potential future leadership. They either want to get rid of all the guns or drop some bombs.
Thankfully, this time people of faith are taking a much better tact at addressing the Orlando tragedy, and for an example, I didn’t need to look beyond Wisconsin. One of the regional newspapers where I live, the Post-Crescent, had a story Sunday about how faith leaders in the Appleton area were condemning what had happened. However, they weren’t doing it with individual comments to reporters’ questions. Instead, leaders of all faiths—Jewish, Christian, Islam, et al.—came together with a letter.
Here’s what more than 50 keepers of faith had to say:
“One week removed from the most recent tragedy and incident of gun violence in Orlando, we stand together as faith leaders of the Fox Cities united in our compassion for the wounded and grieving; united against the hatred that feeds extremism and violence. We stand together united as faith leaders in all our diversity. For we are sons and daughters; heterosexual, gay, lesbian, and, transgender; conservative and liberal; Christian, Muslim, Unitarian, and Jewish, young and old, black, white, Arab, Asian, and Latino, and so much more.
“Too often we have been called upon to pray amidst the graves and grief of national tragedy. So we stand together against hate and violence wherever they are found. Too often our religious traditions have been co-opted in service of racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia. So we challenge one another to look critically at our own traditions even as we learn with and from one another.
“Fear is a strong force in the world, but we believe faith—in all the many expressions and traditions we represent as well as those unrepresented—is the strongest force in the world for good. Dr. King’s words still ring true, ‘Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.’
“So we stand together as faith leaders united in our differences, stronger because of our diversity. We are committed to seeking to better understand one another. To supporting one another and the community we call home. Above all, to shining the light of faith, peace, and love to expose hate in all its forms whether in Florida or in the Fox Cities.”
It’s easy to blame the Muslims or the NRA or homophobes. Blame has never been a problem for mankind, even when you don’t have all the facts. What we need to do is stop dividing ourselves into groups and coming together, like the faith leaders did with this letter. Maybe we have different beliefs and goals and plans to achieving our happiness, but our commonality is our humanity and that we have a right to exist. It’s not that we don’t disagree, but at the same time, disagreement should not equal death.
We can all learn from the short four-paragraph letter. It’s important to expose hate, but it’s just as important to support each other in this diversified world we live in. Omar Mateen, the man who caused this tragedy and ended up paying with his life, showed us how not to be. How will we be better people today?