Religious leaders reexamine words after
Orlando gay club massacre
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[June 18, 2016]
By Letitia Stein
ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - From pulpits in
Orlando and beyond, church leaders are reckoning with religious views
often hostile to homosexuality after a gunman killed 49 people at a gay
nightclub, with some wondering if they are contributing to breeding
At a prayer service soon after the worst mass shooting in modern
U.S. history, Reverend Joel Hunter confessed he did not know how to
pray for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community
targeted in the attack.
"I have been searching my heart: is there anything I did that was
complicit in that loss?" said Hunter, senior pastor at Northland, a
nondenominational Christian church based in central Florida near
Orlando, site of the Sunday morning shooting that also left 53
The show of support from church leaders, including denominations
that reject homosexuality and same-sex marriage, raised hopes that
the shooting could mark a turning point for acceptance of the gay
community in religious circles. Authorities have described the
massacre by 29-year-old Omar Mateen as both terrorism and a hate
But fears persist that the warm embrace could end after a few
"Stand with the community when there isn't a crisis," said Terry
DeCarlo, executive director of the GLBT Community Center of Central
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said faith-based leaders were
talking openly about how to support the gay community for the first
time, signaling to her "a transformational moment."
Patty Sheehan, an openly gay city commissioner in Orlando, choked
back tears standing alongside local Christian, Jewish and Muslim
leaders at a news conference held as churches planned burial
services for victims.
"They did not die in vain because of what is happening right now,"
Sheehan said. "If you are softening your hearts, and there has been
a change of heart, thank you."
The bishop of the Catholic diocese in St. Petersburg, Florida, two
hours from Orlando, wrote a poignant blog post acknowledging that
religion can lay the groundwork for the violence seen in Orlando.
"Sadly, it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly
verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and
transgender people," Bishop Robert Lynch said.
On Sunday, First Baptist Orlando Pastor David Uth plans to use his
pulpit to remind his 19,000-member congregation that even if they do not
agree with people's lifestyle, they should remember that God's love
[to top of second column]
Rev. Betty Deas Clark (R), Iman Muhammad Masri (C) and Dan Gross
hold a prayer at the vigil site at the Orlando Regional Medical
Center for the shooting victims at the Pulse gay nightclub in
Orlando, Florida, June 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young/File Photo
"We're the worst at really, genuinely loving like Jesus," he said of
Baptists, calling it a church failure that gays and lesbians feel
unwelcome in its pews. "That we own completely. We apologize."
This week, the Southern Baptist Convention at its annual meeting
passed a resolution rejecting same-sex marriage and transgender
bathroom rights, even as it separately condemned the mass shooting
The Reverend Terri Steed Pierce is senior pastor at Joy Metropolitan
Community Church, which serves the gay community, about one mile
away from the club where the shooting took place.
She was incensed after being left off the roster of pastors at the
service earlier this week that was attended by the region's top
"I'm a gay pastor of a gay church, and our people were the ones
gunned down, and yet we weren’t invited to the table," she said. "We
continue to be relegated to the margins, even in the faith
The organizers of the event said it was hastily planned and Steed
Pierce was not purposefully excluded.
After a separate news event a day later, Steed Pierce said only one
other religious leader came up to talk to her. He remarked that he
was a sinner, too, she said.
"I am stopping you right there," she said, recalling their
conversation. "I am not sinning. I am being who God created me to
(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Mary
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