Australia’s Christians responded to the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, with prayer and special services to remember the victims and their families.
The United Theological College in Sydney held a prayer service this morning while Anglican Cathedrals in Sydney and Adelaide announced special services on Wednesday evening. The Catholic Bishop of Wollongong has postponed a talk for the Australian Family Association. Instead he will join a vigil for the victims outside the primary school where the speech was to be held.
Kanishka Raffel, Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney, said the Wednesday service would be a commemoration of the dead and an opportunity to pray for the whole situation.
He said that “in light of such horrific acts of evil we wanted to provide an opportunity for people to gather comfort from one another, to express love and sympathy and care for people who have been so terribly affected and look to God, who gives us reason for hope.
“I think Christians are called in the face of such suffering and evil to reach out in love and compassion for those who are grieving, to weep with those who weep.”
Raffel acknowledged that this time of immense sorrow and evil had a particular impact on the gay and lesbian community and “we want to say that we have no truck whatsoever with violence directed towards people because of their sexuality.”
When asked what he would do if someone raised a rainbow flag in the cathedral, he said: “The doors of the cathedral are open for all and we trust that God allows us to come as we are and we want to welcome people who are willing to come who want to express grief and seek comfort – and to everyone who wants to do that the doors are open.”
Ben Myers, lecturer in systematic theology at the United Theological College, says his gut reaction was to respond quietly in prayer.
“We had a service of prayer this morning at the college where I work and it wasn’t trying to make a big statement; it was just praying for the victims and families,” he said.
“There’s something about simply praying quietly and lamenting and trying to avoid scoring any sort of political points.
“So much grandstanding happens on social media. Politicians start grandstanding, the anti-gun lobby starts grandstanding and all of that seems to me to be quite unhelpful.”
Myers says Christians don’t need to feel shock and outrage expressed in a lot of media commentary because “we don’t have a view of human nature that makes evil inexplicable or just outrageous.”
“In my view it doesn’t prove anything when something like this happens. It’s not evidence to support anybody’s view either about guns or gay rights. It’s just something that has happened to people’s lives, so if you happen to be there you can help. If you’re not there, praying is the only thing you can do.
“I just don’t see the point of turning real human suffering into grist for some mill. So prayer makes sense when nothing else does.”
Rob Buckingham, senior minister of Bayside Church in Melbourne, said that while the event was still so fresh the best response was prayer.
“I think our initial response should be of prayer and expressing our compassion, the compassion of Jesus to those who have been affected, particularly those who have been injured and those who have lost loved ones,” he said.
“I think it would be very helpful not to get involved in political issues relating to this.
“I’ve seen a lot of people arguing about guns and Donald Trump and Muslims and gays and I think polarising around those issues is singularly unhelpful and very unchristian.”
Gay activist and former pentecostal pastor Anthony Venn-Brown, founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International, said it was a time of grief and mourning for the LGBTI community.
“Unkind words can hurt at any time but during a time of grief, they plunge painfully deeper into the heart.”
Christian consultant and media commentator Keith Suter said the Orlando tragedy demanded three responses by Christians.
The first was an understanding that the massacre was collateral damage from a long struggle for the Islamic soul that may run for another 100 years.
“It’s a dispute between Sunni and Shia, between those that want to modernise the faith to make it relevant to the modern world and those who don’t want to do so.
“What we’re looking at is an assault on what Islamic State call the grey zone – Muslims who are in the middle. They’re not supporting Islamic State and yet they are still calling themselves Muslims. The object of the Islamic State is to radicalise the grey zone, to force those Muslims to see the ‘error of their ways’ and to realise that the Islamic State as the new caliphate is the group to follow.”
Suter believes that Christians should have a deeper understanding of this dispute than secular Australian and American politicians because they understand how people are willing to die for their faith, as Christians continue to do at an accelerating rate in several countries.
“The third comment is … the need for a Christian response to help out, even though many of us disapprove of what that gay club was all about. Nonetheless, we have to have sympathy for the victims,” he said.
He added that IS was unable to achieve its goal of radicalising the grey zone on its own and relied on Western politicians and media to talk up the Islamic threat.
“We have to be very careful that we don’t allow this to add to the narrative of the Islamic State that it is now on a collision course with Rome, as it refers to the Christian crusaders. Unfortunately, Donald Trump is exploiting it by whipping up anti Islamic propaganda,” he said
“That is exactly what Islamic State wants so as to be able to pull Muslims out of the grey zone.”More