The mass shooting in Orlando, the worst in our nation’s history, has left me speechless. I’ve searched for words of wisdom, comfort, or counsel and have come up empty-handed. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said a million times...about gun control, homeland security, terrorism, or senseless violence. Instead, let me briefly talk about words.
Words can help, hinder, or hurt, and more often than not, words reflect character.
When the news broke of the mass shooting on Sunday, June 12th, Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Woke up to hear the devastating news from Florida. As we wait for more information, my thoughts are with those affected by this horrific act.” Later that day, Clinton’s Republican rival, Donald Trump, tweeted: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism. I don’t want congrats. I want toughness and vigilance. We must be smart.”
Words...one set supportive, empathetic; the other, narcissistic, coarse. Quite telling in their difference regardless of your political affiliation.
In times of crisis, the first tool of solace for leaders, both political and religious, is the spoken word.
According to news agencies, Pastor Roger Jimenez of the Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento, Orlando, transformed this senseless tragedy into an anti-gay platform and suggested all gays be killed by firing squad. “I think Orlando, Florida is a little safer tonight,” Pastor Jimenez said and asked his congregation if they were sad that fifty pedophiles were killed. Words as horrific as the gunshots themselves.
“Standing in Solidarity with our LGBT Brothers and Sisters,” a Facebook video posted on Monday by Catholic priest Father James Martin, S.J., expressed a different opinion. Father Martin stated: “People everywhere should stand not only with the people of Orlando, but also with their LGBT brothers and sisters.” He cautioned that the LGBT community “even in death, is invisible” to many Christians. “For too long,” the Jesuit priest said, “Catholics have treated the LGBT community as OTHER, but for the Christian, there is no OTHER. There is no THEM. There’s only an US.”
Words of sympathy, unity, hope.
Of course, the contrasting statements made by these two clergymen reflect personal opinion rather than the official positions of their respective churches, but both gentlemen clearly knew the power of their words and the message they were crafting.
Again, words reflect character, purpose, intent. Remember, as the late Fred Rogers once said, “We speak with more than our mouths. We listen with more than our ears.”