Following the nation's deadliest mass shooting in history at the Orlando gay nightclub Pulse on Sunday morning, more than a dozen interfaith leaders gathered at the Montrose Center in Houston Monday to stand in solidarity against the attack that killed 50 people and injured 53 more, and to provide support to the LGBTQ community.
They cautioned against trading one form of dangerous prejudice—that being one man's decision to murder dozens of people apparently because of their sexual orientation—for another: Islamophobia. The faith leaders—who included a Catholic deacon, a Jewish rabbi, Muslim imams, Methodists, Lutherans, and a Mennonite—echoed one another in making it clear that all faiths should welcome LGBTQ people into their churches or mosques, and also that no faiths should consider Muslims to be “terrorists” because of the actions of violent radical extremists.
“The term 'Islamic terror' is a misnomer,” said M.J. Khan, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, “because there is nothing Islamic or religious about murdering innocent people. These diabolical actions should be labeled for what they are: acts of terror and hate.” He added, “I want to send a message to the LGBT community: We stand with you as partners in humanity. You are not alone.”
Lutheran Reverend Lura Groen, who works at the Montrose Center and self-identified as queer, called out churches across the nation of every faith, and also Texas politicians who like to invoke their faith, for inspiring the kind of hateful rhetoric aimed at the LGBTQ community that leads to tragedies like this one. Another faith leader had pointed to Houston's HERO fight and the pain it caused transgender Houstonians as just one example.
Groen, after emphasizing the need to welcome instead of ostracize LGBTQ people in faith circles, even apologized to the Muslim people on behalf of Christians.
“I am so sorry and heartbroken and angry about what Christians have said about you,” she said. “And I want to say to the media, to the politicians that represent me and the queer community in Texas, to anyone listening: Don't you dare take this tragedy and say anything Islamophobic about my beautiful and compassionate Muslim brothers and sisters. Not in my queer name.”
Deacon Sam Dunning, representing the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, noted how sad it was that it took a tragedy like this one to bring the interfaith community together in the first place.
He was just in Orlando last week, on vacation with his family in Disney World up until Friday. His daughter visited with a close friend who lives there, too. But in the hours following Sunday's horrific tragedy, she learned that his best friend and former boyfriend was among the 53 shot and wounded inside the Pulse nightclub.
“I didn't know the man, and my daughter didn't either—but she knows that,” Dunning said. “This touched her. This touched her directly. This is reverberating, resonating all throughout our nation. It's time for us to stand up against this culture of violence… We need to search for the causes of this tragedy. ...This gun culture, it needs to be questioned.”
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