This morning a video appeared on Facebook in which Seddique Mateen addresses the people of Afghanistan.

Seddique Mateen is the father of Omar Mateen, the 29-year-old US citizen who slaughtered 49 people and injured 53 others many critically in an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida yesterday.

Speaking in Dari, the variety of Persian language spoken in Afghanistan, Seddique Mateen appears to condemn his son’s actions saying,

I don’t know what made him [do this], I have no idea, I had no idea that he felt resentful in his heart and had gone to the gay [he uses the derogatory word hamjensbazi] club and killed men and women there.

Mateen goes on to express sadness and confusion at his son’s violence,

I am very sad and I’ve announced this to the American people as well. Why did he do this act during this holy month of Ramadan?

But then Mr. Mateen invokes God as the one who will dispense “punishment” against people who are gay. He says,

On the topic of being hamjensbazi, punishment and the things that they do, God will give the punishment. This is not the issue for a follower of God and he [Omar] that did this has greatly saddened me. I wanted you to know this. God give all youth complete health to keep the real path of the holy religion of Islam in mind.

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jun/13/orlando-gunmans-father-condemns-atrocity-but-says-punishment-for-gay-people-is-up-to-god

In a world in which the name of God can be invoked against people whose only “crime” is to enter into a loving relationship that someone else feels is unacceptable, Christians must do all we can to make it clear that the God in whom we believe always condemns violence, never the freely given respectful gift of love no matter with whom this gift is shared.

The biblical passages cited in our endless arguments over gay relationships have been dissected, analyzed, and debated to death. People genuinely disagree about how these passages should be understood.

But, no matter how we interpret the few contentious verses that purport to deal with homosexuality, there remains disagreement about how they should be applied in the realities of our current context. We apply many passages of Scripture today in ways different from the ways they were applied in the past. The burden of proof rests upon those who resist a more respectful and inclusive reading of verses used to exclude anyone, to make a compelling case that God’s will is to ban any person from full inclusion in our community.

It is clear where church tradition lies when it comes to marriage. But traditions change. Our understanding of marriage has changed over the centuries. It is good that we should seek to honour our traditions; but tradition is not meant to be a prison. When tradition becomes a tool that makes it more difficult to be loving, Jesus asks,

why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? (Matthew 15:3)

The “commandment of God” is

you shall love… There is no other commandment greater… (Mark 12:3,31)

If God is a God of “punishment,” the only “punishment” will be against those of us who fail to do all we can to follow this great commandment to love. Words and actions matter. We cannot duck responsibility for the direction our words and actions are leading. We are either increasing love or creating a world in which hate and violence become even more common.

In the face of Orlando there is only one issue “for a follower of God.” Are our words and actions leading us to fulfill more fully the commandment of love? Or, are our words and actions sowing the seeds of exclusion and violence?  Will we do all in our power to insure that people whose only “crime” is to love another person, do not have to question whether they are fully embraced in our community?

It is time to repent of our precious theological debates. It is time to come out from behind our parsing of words and let go of our angst over some vague illusion of institutional unity. It is time to renounce the violence of exclusion and affirm with all the clarity we can that God stands for love. God embraces and welcomes all people; we will do no less.

What can the church possibly hope to gain by continuing to align itself with the wrong side of history?

May the God of love give strength and healing to those whose loved ones were senselessly slaughtered yesterday. May we who continue in this sorrowful pilgrimage renew our determination to build communities of love in which all people encounter respect, healing, and hope.

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