"Hard work to be done": A letter from Bishop Gates following Orlando shootings

Following is a letter to the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts from Bishop Alan M. Gates in the aftermath of the June 12 shootings in Orlando, Fla.:

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

A week ago I joined a neighborhood Peace Walk in Boston’s South End with Boston Police Commissioner William Evans and members of his department, children and adults of the neighborhood, and participants in our diocesan B-PEACE effort.  We walked local streets proclaiming our determination to reduce gun violence and other violations of communal safety.

“Of course,” I told the gathering, “marching around the neighborhood or wearing orange (as we’d Peace Walk Courtesy Photo Bishop Gates at a June 6 Peace Walk in Boston's South End. recently done for Gun Violence Awareness Day) will not, in and of itself, stop the violence.  We do this to proclaim to others and remind ourselves that together there is hard work to be done.”

The very next day a 17-year-old student was shot and killed outside his high school in Dorchester.  Six days later 50 people have died in Orlando in what is being termed the worst mass shooting in our nation’s history.  Within hours of my own grateful participation in Boston’s Pride Parade, I find myself grieving and extending compassionate prayers and heartfelt support to the wider LGBT community as the latest target of hatred and violence.

I struggle to sort out the tangled web of motivations in this tragedy, as in others before it.  Each mass shooting and terror attack has had its own particular toxic combination of factors – individual alienation, hatred towards those who are different from us, religious extremism and more.  A common factor in virtually every case, however, has been the ready accessibility of lethal weapons.

With each successive, perverse milestone in our country’s narrative of violence – now a school massacre, now a movie theater slaughter; now the most children murdered, now the greatest total number of victims – our initial determination to be galvanized fades into a higher threshold of tolerance and accommodation to apparent inevitability. 

Our grief and anger, however, must continue to issue not only in compassion and prayer, but in continued advocacy for those measures which can turn the tide in this crescendo of death.  We do this with programs that build relationships across lines that divide us.  We do it also with common-sense legislation on access to weaponry.  (Bishops United Against Gun Violence, of which both I and Bishop Gayle Harris are members, provides links at www.bishopsagainstgunviolence.org, pull-down menu “The Evidence.”)

Of course we know that none of these measures in isolation will prevent all murderous attacks.  Of course we know that combating terrorism requires different methods than combating household firearm accidents.  But a full spectrum of interconnected efforts must advance the cause of communal safety and peace.

Jesus told us that the greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbor.  It follows that the greatest sin is the failure to love, and we are told that the consequence of sin is death.  Too much are we witnessing this consequence.  Let us love one another.  Fervently, tangibly, relentlessly: let us love one another.

Faithfully in Christ,
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates

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