Examining the Orlando Massacre’s Religious Roots

US-ATTACKS-GAYLast week, Bondings 2.0 covered Catholic reactions to the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Beyond immediate prayers and support, many people have also written about the religious roots of this attack.

Though not all the responses featured below are written by, about, or for Catholics, we believe they are relevant to the discussion. Our church still has a long way to go to be a true promoter of equality. The responses discussed below hold truths from which Catholics and people of all faith traditions could benefit.

Fr. Russell Pollitt, SJ, of the Jesuit Institute-South Africa, writing in The Daily Maverick, asked succinctly: “What role has religion played (across the board) in fueling homophobia?”

Pollitt first answered that, in many cases, “language alone was enough” as when the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to being gay as “objectively disordered.” Despite calls for more pastoral language about homosexuality at the 2015 Synod, other bishops’ stiff objections stifled any progress on the point. Pollitt noted that “[m]any of the American bishops. . .were the most vociferous on this subject.” He continued:

“The kind of language that is used in official texts of the Church powerfully shapes perceptions, attitudes and actions. After all, isn’t that what religious teaching strives to do – shape perceptions, attitudes and actions – hopefully for the good?

“While religion and religious language alone cannot be held responsible for or used as the sole motivating factor for this senseless killing in Florida, believers cannot let this pass. We need to interrogate the impact of the words we use and the positions we take. Religious language, and the mindset it forms, must take stock of its contribution to forming attitudes that contribute to a cocktail that breeds such evil acts. This type of evil can never be associated with God.”

Pollitt identified the misuse of Scripture as another means by which religious adherents have perpetuated homophobia. He wrote:

“Often the Bible is used to justify a range of attitudes and actions. But there is an important fact that is overlooked or ignored: The difference between what is in the Bible and what the Bible teaches. What the Bible teaches is not always reducible to what is in the Bible.”

Pollitt addressed, too, religious extremism and communities’ need to challenge those people who practice “bad religion.” He wrote:

“While we should ensure that religion is not used by extremists to justify murder, we have to acknowledge that religious perceptions and attitudes need to be challenged when they fail to position themselves within the authentic vision of a particular religious tradition. Extremists are not only ‘out there’, they are within our religious communities. . .

“When religion, or anything for that matter, is distorted and used by extremists for their own ends, it needs to be condemned. When it is distorted and used by some believers for their own ends, it needs to be condemned, even more urgently.”

Pollitt closed his reflection with a call to action for faith communities:

“I hope that the Christian community will have the courage to face up to its part in shaping perceptions, attitudes and actions that have contributed to the persecution and suffering of gay people by perpetuating homophobia. We need to call it what it is: wrong.”

Fr. Edward Beck, CP, a media commentator,  described for Crux,  how his thinking shifted about church teaching’s language after he encountered a parishioner who suggested the Pulse victims would be alive if they had not been in a gay (and therefore immoral) club. This left him “dumbfounded, literally speechless.” He wrote, after some reflection:

“Can we do better?  I believe we must. . .I don’t believe that Catholic, or Islamic, teaching in any way justifies violence against a group of people. But the fact that some think it does should disturb all of us.

“We are called to be vigilant in assuring that the edicts of our traditions are never hijacked as apologia for nefarious ends.  We must also continue to challenge our religious traditions to be in accord with their founding visions that say love wins every time, in every way.”

Writing at Common Dreams, Kristen Becker connects the Orlando shooting to anti-LGBT legislation that civil and religious leaders, including the Catholic bishops, have championed in recent years:

“This is the trickle-down hate effect. . .One after another, laws aimed to de-humanize the LGBTQ community were brought forth under the guise of ‘religious freedom.’ There will be many right-wing Christians who will jump to the front and say, ‘The shooter was Muslim!’

“The man who pulled the trigger might have identified as Muslim, and a perversion of Islam even so, but Christian rhetoric really killed 50 people on Sunday — the fruit of the last two years of conservative vitriol lays on an Orlando dance floor this morning, covered in innocent blood.”

Finally, at Religion News Service, David Gushee. a theology professor at Mercer University, Macon, Georgia, suggested some hard relfection questions for religious leaders who do not affirm LGBT people. Noting the suffering that LGBT youth experience because of religious believers’ anti-gay attitudes, Gushee asked:

“Is the consistent, acute, totally predictable psychological distress caused to these young adults by your understanding of God’s moral rules a relevant consideration for your teaching and pastoring?

“In light of this suffering and what is now known about human sexuality, do you still believe that this is what the God you are trying to serve really requires?

“Might it be that some aspects of your understanding of sexual ethics are revisable rather than the eternal will of God?

“Which of you will take some risks to get a serious conversation going about these issues in your faith community, on behalf of your own most vulnerable young people?”

Later this week, Bondings 2.0 will explore how Catholics can respond in the wake of the Orlando masacre to the reality that the institutional church instills and perpetuates the prejudiced attitudes which led to this attack.

To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Orlando massacre and Catholic responses to it, please click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

7 replies
  1. bjmonda
    bjmonda says:

    To agree with some of the above I add:
    I am sick and tired of religious discrimination! God does not want vengeance, murder, maiming, shaming and censure: loss of opportunity, property, equal rights and the creation of irreconcilable differences! I am sick and tired of people who are being taught by the Righteous to hate themselves and fear others!

    Are Catholics, Mormons, Jews, Baptists, Lutherans and many Fundamentally based Christian Religions radical fringes? Neither are most Muslim groups. Yet their official teachings and doctrine are fomenting hatred, murder and suicides.

    In light of Orlando what do we hear from the leaders of most religions? SILENCE! And how can they be other than silent, when their doctrines are the cause of the hatred, and while their minions carry out God’s wishes?

    Priests, Bishops, Preachers, Ministers, Imams who do nothing to change their teachings and do not raise their voices to condemn hatred and violent acts are not innocent! And they, not so subtly, give consent to the violence by remaining silent. Rather than remaining silent they must accept responsibility by CHANGING THEIR RELIGION’S DOCTRINE TOWARDS GLBT.

    What thinking person can insist that LGBT persons, when acting according to their God given nature, are intrinsically disordered? How can that even be possible for someone who believes God made all things and creatures?

    Silence, so deviously encourages murders like we have endured for centuries, and as recently as last week.

    How many need to die before the so-called virtuous are condemned for what they are?

  2. Eugene O'Neill
    Eugene O'Neill says:

    I quote below from an blog post by Michael Sean Winters titled “Questions for the USCCB” on the response of our bishops to the Orlando massacre. The last line is the best and made me smile although it made me sad, as well because it is true.

    “Do you think it is polite to refer to people in the manner that they refer to themselves? Do you still call Presbyterians and Lutherans heretics? Would you appreciate being called papists? Idolators? Does your hesitancy reflect concern about certain theories about LGBT issues you have been sold by some conservative groups and, if so, is this reluctance to call gay people gay not an example of putting ideology before people which the pope has denounced as the source of great evil and many barriers and injustices in our world?

    Do you realize that even Donald Trump yesterday understood it was morally necessary to express specific concern for the LGBT community? Do you also realize that when you have ceded the moral high ground to Donald Trump, even for a minute, it is time to rethink your entire life?”


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] June 22nd, Jesuit Father Russell Pollitt, the director of the Jesuit Institute of South Africa, reflected on Orlando, noting that organized […]

  2. […] this week, Bondings 2.0 explored the religious roots involved in the mass shooting in Orlando that targeted an LGBT nightclub. This reality means faith […]

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