While I was enjoying a relaxing long weekend camping with friends in the Catskills an unidentified person walked into a LGBT support group in Tel Aviv Israel and opened fire with an M-16. Two people were killed and 15 others wounded. I didn’t get the news until this morning when I sat down to my laptop to catch up on email and blogs that I read on a regular basis.
As I read the news, a lot of different feelings warred inside me: anger, fear, sadness, and frustration all came up in a rush. In my head I began building an idea of who would do such a thing. I went over all the times I had been bullied or felt excluded and began building connections in my mind. I wondered why other Christians I knew hadn’t said anything about this and wondered what it meant about them.
Then I remembered another shooting. A little over ten years ago I was a young youth worker fresh out of Bible College when the Columbine shooting happened. The two shooters had worn black trench coats, and were misidentified by some as being goth.
At that time I had been working at building relationships with a number of teens who identified with the “goth” subculture. I remember these students telling me stories about how suddenly they were treated as potential killers by those around them. Many of them were called names, and one friend was even assaulted by others who saw them as “one of those freaks.” The irony of it all was that my friends were some of the gentlest people I had ever met. Many were pacifists who refused to touch weapons, and others were vegan because they could not even countenance violence against animals.
Horrific events like this seem to bring out the part of our human nature that seeks to classify the “other” and to draw away into the safety of “people like us”. We desperately seek for meaning in such events, and try to assure ourselves that something we can do we protect us from such things happening. And in the process these very human reactions can cause us to do a lot of things which can hurt innocents.
As of the time I am writing this we do not know who committed this crime and we do not know why. I would ask all people to be careful about making rash judgements without firm information. If more details do emerge we still need to be careful about the generalizations that we make from them. If the killer turns out to be motivated by hatred of gay people in general we must refrain from transferring that person’s crime onto others who share that person’s nationality, ethnicity, or religion. If it turns out that the shooter was gay that information should not be used by groups to try and prove anything about gay people in general either, or claim that gay relationships are more dangerous.
In the face of such an evil act I believe that the only response is for all of us: gay and straight, people of diverse religions or no religion, liberals and conservatives to commit to working hard to understand each other better. We must commit to defending and respecting each other. We must all speak out against violence whether in its obvious forms such as this shooting, or its more subtle forms that happen a thousand times every day.
But most of all we must resist the temptation to retreat further into “us vs them” thinking. We must not be ruled by fear. Because it is that very thing…the ability to think as another human being as “other” that allows the violence in the first place.