Bishop Jim Hazelwood, New England Synod, ELCA, offers hope to LGBTQ community, prays for change

ReconcilingWorks thanks Bishop Jim Hazelwood, New England Synod, ELCA, for his words of hope to the LGBTQ community and his call for responsible gun laws.

pablo (6)This past weekend we held the 29th Assembly of the New England Synod under the theme “No Reservations: A Place at the Table for Everyone.”

On Saturday, we received greetings from Imam Wissam Abdel-Baki and Interfaith and Outreach Coordinator Dr. Mohammad Saleem Bajwa of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts. That same afternoon, Lutherans and Muslims were working side-by-side packing meals to be served in local food pantries.

Throughout the Assembly, a number of people who identify within the LGBTQ community led worship and other exercises.

I left the Assembly inspired by the witness we are making in New England: The Lutheran expression of the Christian faith is boldly embracing of all God’s people.

I then began to read about the horrific tragedy in Orlando, where a man, armed with a “civilian version” of a military assault rifle, murdered 50 people. I am sickened, heartbroken and outraged.

I am shocked, and I deeply lament for the victims and their friends and families who have lost loved ones in this tragedy. I find myself running short of words, beyond those of sorrow and grief.

My insides are turned inside out; specters of death have me down.
I shake with fear, I shudder from head to foot.
Who will give me wings, I ask – wings like a dove?
Get me out of here on dove’s wings; I want some peace and quiet (Psalm 55, The Message)

I am heartbroken that the broad inclusiveness and love we as Lutherans demonstrated toward our Muslim brothers and sisters and LGBT leaders this weekend are potentially marred by this act. Perhaps more frustrating is the way this event is being used to promulgate a racial and religious bias against people in the Islamic community here and abroad.

Once again, we hear calls to ban groups of people based on their religion. This is both outrageous and unconstitutional. At the same time, this targeting of the nightclub in Orlando because of its LGBTQ clientele breaks my heart that still, in this 21st century, we allow God’s children to be denigrated because of their sexual orientation. I am equally outraged that years of scapegoating LGBTQ people by some religious leaders — including in my own Christian tradition — have allowed this community to be abused, and have even directly or indirectly invited violence upon them.

God, put an end to evil; avenging God, show your colors!
Judge of the earth, take your stand; throw the book at the arrogant
God, the wicked get away with murder- how long will you let this go on? (Psalm 94, The Message)

While I support and treasure the Constitution of the United States as a living document – including its Second Amendment – I do not believe there is any case that can be made on moral, cultural or theological grounds for the easy availability of military-style assault rifles. How many times must we endure these kinds of tragedies?

Newtown … Aurora … Virginia Tech … San Bernardino … Charleston … Orlando …

The argument, often cited, that if an armed person were around, they could have stopped the shooter falls apart when the armed assailant is carrying an AR-15. What should we do? Have everyone carry an assault rifle? We are a nation of laws. We are governed by a code of communal loyalty. We are not, nor do we want to be, the wild west or Mogadishu. Can we at least agree that military-style assault rifles should not be available for sale on the open market?

Is this any way to run a country? Is there an honest politician in the house?
Behind the scenes you brew cauldrons of evil, behind closed doors you make deals with demons. (Psalm 58, The Message)

I am a bishop in this church for several reasons. One of them is my clear and unequivocal conviction that all people are Children of God. There are no buts, no exceptions. I deeply value our Muslim brothers and sisters. I love all of God’s people in the LGBTQ community. I believe in the vital role of healthy religion as a voice in the republic, and value living in a place and a land where I am able to articulate that voice. My place in these times is for us to stand with those who can all too easily become the object of derision and scorn, while at the same time lift up that we are not a people of fear; we are a people of hope.

It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned the exiles.
We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune …
And now God, do it again, bring rain to our drought-stricken lives. (Psalm 126, The Message)

The tragedy of Orlando is a symptom of a society increasingly focused on violence as the solution to all our debates. This tragedy will continue if we allow these two communities, Muslims and the LGBTQ community, to be pitted against one another for political gain. This tragedy will continue if we do not take a mature approach to regulating the easy access to assault rifles. This tragedy will continue if we allow hate to be the dominant voice.

Love conquers all, but not the love of sweet sentimentality or the cheap love that asks for nothing. The love that conquers all is a powerful voice in the public square. It is a love that calls for:

  • Change in our attitudes toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons
  • Change in our attitudes toward people of the Islamic faith
  • Change in our gun laws.

For God is sheer beauty, all-generous love, loyal always and ever. (Psalm 100, The Message)

In the name of:

The one who most profoundly embodied that love,

The one who experienced a violent death,

The one who would not let hate be the final word,

The one whose love conquers all,

Jesus the Christ.

Bishop Jim Hazelwood