THE ESSENCE OF ALL TRUE RELIGIONS
You have undoubtedly heard by now about the tragic mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando in the early morning hours of this past Sunday. A man by the name of Omar Mateen walked into the club and opened fire, killing 49 and injuring 53. While his victims lay on the floor of the nightclub, he dialed 911 and pledged his allegiance to ISIS. It is beyond my comprehension how a person would kill another human being simply for being different. It is mind-numbing to try to understand how a single individual can shoot over 100 people simply because they were gay. It is deeply disturbing that a person can carry out such a hateful act in the name of a religion or religious-based organization.
Throughout the ages, religions have played a vital role in many cultures in influencing how their followers should treat “the other.” It is unfortunate that religions, including my own, have often taught a spirit of intolerance and judgment towards those who are different. Such teachings promote acts of hatred and terror of various extremes. We have seen the worst of the extremes this week when Omar Mateen opened fire on the patrons of Pulse—the gay nightclub in Orlando.
I personally condemn all forms of intolerance and judgment against others who are different: the extreme form that we have witnessed this week and the subtler forms as well. Here are a few examples to which I refer:
- A close friend—when he was a teenager—was visited by his pastor in the hospital after a suicide attempt, caused by deep shame over his sexual orientation. The pastor told him it would be better if he had died than to engage in homosexual behavior and suffer eternity in hell for it.
- Another friend was subjected to “reparation therapy” so that he could understand that he “really never was gay,” because, according to his pastor and therapist, being gay is against God’s will and therefore unreal.
- I was told in the church of my youth that homosexuality is sinful, contrary to human nature, disgusting and evil, and punishable by God with a sentence of death and hell.
I condemn the words used by these religious professionals and the context they created within their churches and communities—a context where it is acceptable to dehumanize, devalue and demonize the people who, like me, are simply being honest about who they are and what they want in life.
In addressing the mass shooting in Orlando, the Rev. John Dorhauer, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ had these words to say about all forms of intolerance and judgment:
“Especially concerning to the United Church of Christ are those brands and expressions of Christianity that demonize the LGBTQ community. When religious leaders [say such things] they create a context in which such violence is cultivated.”
Rev. Dorhauer’s point is that all forms of intolerance and judgment add fuel to the fire of the extreme acts of hatred and terror, such as the one we witnessed this week. The beliefs we espouse and the words we choose indeed create a context in which we all act. I call upon the leaders and members of all of our faith communities to leave intolerance and judgment behind and to embrace tolerance, understanding, grace, and one another.
Regardless of the faith you choose, may you live by the words of Jesus, which I believe are the essence of all true religions:
“Love one another…just as I have loved you.”
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Love your enemy.”
Let us continue to pray for the victims and their families of the Orlando shooting, and let us take responsibility for our beliefs, our words, and the resulting consequences.
Aloha nui to all,
Kahu Alan Akana
“A Message from Kahu Alan Akana” is provided most weeks by the Kahu (Pastor) of Koloa Union Church, a congregation of the United Church of Christ (UCC), a member of the Kauai Association and Hawaii Conference.
Join us at 3289 Poipu Road in Koloa!