Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thoughts and Prayers

Jonathan Drake/Reuters
While most who read this were going about our observances of Ash Wednesday, a disturbed young man killed 17 people with an assault rifle at a high school in Parkland, Florida. He injured many more. As the horror of yet another mass killing spread over the media, the usual reactions began to be expressed by those who proclaim to be leaders of our nation: “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” It was stated various ways but that is the gist of it.
We seem to have gotten overly polite with our condolences at a broad level. Maybe we have become numb and complacent. Maybe we just have no words and blurt out what first comes to mind, which is that our thoughts and prayers are....not unexpected from people who profess a faith in God.
This time there was a very different response from those who witnessed this horror first hand, the survivors of the shooting. They were brutally blunt in making it clear they did not want our “thoughts and prayers”; they wanted action to end such acts of violence. They wanted those who allegedly represented their interests to do something to stop this. 
Those students, those kids, are organizing a response to put pressure on politicians to do something to stop gun violence. Some of the same politicians are dismissing the students and saying they are the pawns of “the left” or some such nonsense. Would they be as dismissive if they had been in that high school at the time of the shooting wondering if they were about to die? Would they be willing to ignore the calls for reasonable gun control legislation if one of their children had been shot? I leave it for them to decide. Maybe attending “Active Shooter” training at an elementary school would be beneficial to them? How do you teach a 6 year old child to survive an attack like this one? You should never have to be in that position, yet we are.
As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to do more than offer thoughts and prayers during times of intense pain and sorrow. We are called to be the face of Christ in working to find a true and effective response to gun violence and mental health issues as well as the rest of the ills that plague our society. We are called to act responsibly and proactively. In my opinion, the survivors of this latest shooting are doing just that. I support them and I join them in their work.
Thoughts and prayers are fine if they are followed closely by responsible actions.
A week after the Parkland, Florida, shooting, we learned of the death of the Rev. Billy Graham. Those of us of a certain age literally grew up knowing about his revivals, especially those of us from the Bible Belt. The Reverend Graham was indeed an evangelist. Thoughts and prayers for his family are absolutely appropriate.
But what about his views about us queerfolk, the place of women in the world, even racial issues. While I am not one to usually cut anyone much slack when it comes to such issues, I have to view the man in the context of his roots and the influences on his life. I am not going to “praise him to high heaven” but I am not going to excoriate him either. He was a flawed human being like the rest of us. He was a product of his environment, for whatever that may be worth.
Remember that he was brought up in a religiously conservative household. He attended the Florida Bible Institute in Temple Terrace, Florida and was ordained a Baptist minister in Palatka, Florida, in 1939. Have you ever been to Palatka? I doubt it has changed much since 1939! Graham was a product of the Southern Baptist Church and that speaks volumes. It was from their theological tyranny that I fled as a teenager and found The Episcopal Church. Oddly, he would eventually be criticized by that denomination for his ecumenism and broad embrace of other faith expressions. He was also criticized for refusing to maintain racially segregated seating at his crusades. (It still baffles me how one can see and respond to one form of injustice and not to another form, but that is for another discussion. There is also speculation that his views on same-sex marriage were really those of his son Franklin. Who is to know now?)
Billy Graham did stick to what he felt was his calling and that was bringing people to Jesus Christ. That is our calling as well, whether we as Episcopalians want to own it or not! He spent most of his 99 years on this earth responding to that call. It is sad that he apparently never understood that “Just as I am” applied to all, us queerfolk included.
In looking at the broad picture, I can be critical but overall the view is positive. The same can be said of me, of each of us. It is my hope that, at the end of my life (and I hope it lasts 99 years!) what I have done will be viewed over the whole of my ministry and life and I will not be judged based on the times I’ve been a fool or a jackass. 
May you continue to have a holy and blessed Lent. May you also respond in a Christ-like manner to the call for action against gun violence in our society.
I wish each of you a blessed, holy and productive Lent.

Bruce Garner, President
Integrity USA ... The Episcopal Rainbow

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