CHURCH leaders around the world have condemned the attack on the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people were killed and 53 others seriously injured, in the worst mass shooting in the United States’ recent history.
The gunman, Omar Mateen, held hostages in the club for three hours, before police eventually stormed the building and shot him.
It later emerged that police gunfire may have rebounded off the walls of the club and struck some of the victims.
The Police Commissioner of Orlando, John Mina, said: “When our SWAT officers, about eight or nine officers, opened fire, the backdrop was a concrete wall and they were being fired upon. . . It was a hard decision to make but it was the right decision.”
Mateen, a US citizen of Afghan heritage, pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) while speaking to police, although President Obama said that there was no clear evidence that the shooting was linked to IS. It was, he said, an “act of terror and an act of hate”. He was due to visit Orlando and meet families yesterday.
Mateen’s father, Seddique Mir Mateen, said that his son had been enraged after he saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and child. He said that he believed that the attack had “nothing to do with religion”.
But regular attenders at the club said that Mateen had himself been there several times over the past few years, and also used a gay dating app.
On Wednesday, Churches in Orlando were reportedly offering to host funerals for the victims, free of charge. The Pastor of the Forest Lake Seventh Day Adventist Church, Bernie Anderson, told The Huffington Post that the gesture is “a true expression of love.”
The President of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, Imam Muhammad Musri, attended a vigil for the victims in Orlando, and said that Muslims stood united with them.
”We condemn the ideology of hate and death and destruction, and we call for all Muslim leaders and communities across this nation and across the world to stand up and to deal with this cancer, and to remove it once and for all,” Imam Musri said.
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, the Rt Revd Blase Cupich, sent a message to the LGBT community saying: “The archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you. Our prayers and hearts are with the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando, their families, and our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.” Some said that his words were unusual for making explicit the sexual orientation of the victims, something that many other church leaders had failed to do in their responses.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, however, issued a joint statement supporting the gay community, which, they said, had become the latest group “to be so brutally targeted by the forces of evil”.
They said: “We must pray, weep with those affected, support the bereaved, and love without qualification. The obligation to object to these acts of persecution, and to support those LGBTI people who are wickedly and cruelly killed and wounded, bereaved, and traumatised, whether in Orlando or elsewhere, is an absolute call on our Christian discipleship.”
The Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Cloyne & Ross, Dr Paul Colton, criticised religious leaders who did not welcome and include the gay community. He sent a tweet that said: “Our prayers are shallow, an affront even, as long as so much religion fails fully to affirm and include LGBT people.”
The general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, called “for all people of faith and good will to join in clearly and categorically rejecting violence against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, regardless of differing religious perspectives regarding homosexuality”.
The Episcopal Church in the US has published a litany for the prevention of gun violence, to be used in churches this Sunday, which asks God to “grant us the conviction to advocate for change”.
Pastor Paul Valo, of Christ Church, Orlando, which is close to the nightclub, told the BBC how members of the congregation had come in during the early hours of Sunday morning to help the emergency services who were responding to the incident, offering them food and a place to rest.
Businesses and individuals were continuing to donate food to the church for those still working at the crime scene. Christ Church cancelled all usual Sunday services to hold an evening vigil for the victims and their families.
”Who can figure out the mind of someone who is full of hate?” Mr Valo asked. Other vigils were held across the city. One was at Joy Church, part of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), which ministers to the LGBTI community.
The Global Moderator of MCC, the Revd Dr Nancy Wilson, said that the shooting was “an intentional mass murder of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in the middle of Pride month at the most popular bar in Orlando. It was meant to send a message.”
The Bishop of Central Florida, the Rt Revd Gregory Brewer, who has received a handwritten note of support from Archbishop Welby, condemned the violence, but said: “There will be time later to raise questions about security, gun violence, and homophobic rage.”
But the chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, Tracey Byrne, criticised the response from Church leaders as “almost universally, grudging and inadequate, failing in some cases even to acknowledge that this was an attack which deliberately targeted LGBT people.”
She invited the LGBT community to express their solidarity in the wake of the attack by attending London Pride, on 25 June, and a Pride Communion service at Bloomsbury Baptist Church in the evening, at which the Revd Kate Bottley, who appears on the Channel 4 programme Gogglebox, will preach.
In a statement on Wednesday the LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council condemned the attacks as an assault on the “precious dignity” of human beings, and urged Pope Francis to support the “global decriminalisation” of homosexuality.
Vigils were held around the world on Monday night in memory of the victims. Hundreds gathered outside the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho, which was targeted in a nail-bomb attack in 1999.
Sydney archbishop apologises to LGBTI community THE Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, has on behalf of his diocese apologised to members of the LGBTI community for any verbal abuse they might have suffered from the church, writes Muriel Porter, Australia correspondent.
Speaking at a memorial service held this week at St Andrew’s Cathedral for those killed in the Orlando massacre, he said that “words of derision, mockery and exclusion so frequently fall from our lips when directed against persons who are different from us. This is especially the case for members of the LGBTI community, who have suffered the verbal abuse that so deeply cuts into a person’s soul. Where we have been guilty of such words, I. . . offer my apology on behalf of the Anglican Church in Sydney.”
The service was attended by the Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, as well as the state governor and premier, and the American consul-general. A multi-faith ecumenical service was also held at St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne.
The Australian Primate, Archbishop Philip Freier of Melbourne, issued a statement condemning homophobia. He has also said he hopes and prays that there will no backlash against Australian Muslims.
“It is always wrong to target any people because of their sexual orientation, whether it is name-calling in the school playground or this sort of atrocity,” he said. “Homophobia is always and everywhere wrong.” It would also be wrong to blame Islam as a religion for the actions of Omar Mateen, despite his claim to be acting on behalf of Islamic State, he said.
Victims of South Carolina church shooting remembered A MEMORIAL service for the nine victims of a racially motivated shooting at a church in South Carolina last year took place just hours after the attack on a club in Orlando on Monday.
Nine churchgoers were shot while attending a Bible-study class on 17 June 2015 at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston (News, 26 June 2015).
Their killer, Dylann Roof, is due to go on trial in November. He had asked to be tried by a judge, not a jury, but that was denied him this week.
The memorial service on Monday night was attended by those of several denominations, including Roman Catholic and Episcopal; prayers were said for the Orlando victims.
”We are walking path,” the Pastor of Oak Grove AME, the Revd Robert Brumfield, said. “We are here to remember the lives lost, and to lift up the legacy of their families who exhibited faith and strength in being able to forgive.”