Ervin Stutzman is executive director for Mennonite Church USA.
I arrived home last night from an all-consuming six-day work trip in the nick of time to attend the special service—“Remembering Orlando,” in my home congregation.
Early in the service of lament, punctuated by the reading of Psalms, the congregation sat silently as the chimes slowly rang out 50 times, each vibrant chime shivering into silence, commemorating a life that had been shushed into eternal stillness by an act of horrific violence.
I wept as I listened to each chime, imagining the vibrant lives that had been snuffed out. Wounded in hospitals. Terror, horror, numbness, shock, horror. Grieving families and friends.
The worship leader reads from Psalm 6: “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” “Among the dead no one proclaims your name, Who praises you from the grave?”
I weep as I think of the hatred that is growing in our nation like a noxious weed whose alluring fragrance and virtuous appearance belies a death-dealing potion that inspires violence, sometimes in the name of God. And God weeps.
I hear the words of Psalm 94: “They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting.” “They slay the widow and the foreigner, they murder the fatherless.”
I weep as I think about LGBTQ Latinos, targeted for slaughter by cruelly cold scheming. I weep as I think of the life of each victim cut too short. A blanket of terror draped over the LGBTQ community, calculated to inspire fear. Dashed hopes and dreams.
I weep as I think of the ways that our families and churches have rejected immigrants, foreigners, and LGBTQ individuals, not truly giving them a place at the table.
I weep to realize that those who experience pain and rejection because of their sexual orientation and gender identity so seldom find acceptance and love in our churches, and turn elsewhere to find the supportive communities they deserve.
Another verse from Psalm 94: “Take notice, you senseless ones among the people; you fools, when will you become wise?”
I weep as I think of the culture of gun violence that has taken our country by storm. Destructive weapons of war are sold on the open market for monetary gain, leaving a trail of 30,000 lives a year. We are a citizenry armed to the teeth, killing each other with guns designed to take the lives of our enemies at war. In a nation that prides itself on being loved by God, we have become our own worst enemy. And God weeps.
I weep as I witness the political posturing and righteous moralizing that inherently follow horrific events of this scope. I weep, hoping that gazing through tears can enlighten my own eyes to see things in new ways, to understand the world more deeply, to follow God more faithfully.
I weep as I think about our church—our aspiration to become “communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.” In our best moments, when the Spirit breaks through in our lives, we reflect that hope. But I grieve that too often we contribute to the marginalization of the LGBTQ community through attitudes, teaching and behaviors which do not reflect the way of Jesus Christ. And God weeps.
I want to mourn deeply enough, to pause long enough, to listen intently enough, that I can hear the voice of God and my brothers and sisters.
But for now, I can say that God welcomes the stranger, the foreigner, and queer folks with open arms, and I want to do that too. As a leader in our denomination, I pledge to work with the Executive Board to find specific ways for our church to extend that welcome as well, especially as we prepare to gather in Orlando for our convention next summer.
In the midst of my mourning, I am gripped by the prayer of St. Francis. It expresses the longing of my heart:
Make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love:
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
May it be so in our church.