Bishop responds to Orlando tragedy

The following was published by our resident Bishop Peggy Johnson following the recent tragedy at the Orlando nightclub Pulse.

No more targets of hate and rejection.
Make love our aim!

photo of Peninsula-Delaware Conference Bishop Peggy JohnsonPeople of color, people with disabilities, women, people who are poor, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender all know this: Who you are can be dangerous!  Recent tragedies born of hate—like the historic carnage that assailed victims in Orlando, Florida, yesterday—are proof of that ever-present danger.

You have to watch your back. Your very safety is potentially at risk every single day. There is a “pecking order” in this world, and if you happen to be in one of society’s “target” groups you get the message in a million subtle and sometimes life-threatening ways. That message is that you are “less than,” and not worthy of the same respect, opportunities and dignity available to those who possess power.

I grew up in a middle-class, all-white “bubble” of suburban society in the mid-sixties, and I never felt the slightest pinch over who I was as a female in my racially segregated, male-dominated community.  I chose a gender-appropriate career of teaching vocal music in an elementary school; and I led choirs and played the organ for church. I was rewarded by my society for this humble place of service.

It was not until I went to a predominantly male seminary to study for the ordained ministry that I encountered the “less than” blow to my face. I was not prepared for it. I was challenged on many levels for daring to seek ordination in the man’s world of ministry.

One professor routinely would address the class (in which I was the only woman) “Greetings, future pastors and pastor’s wives.”  I was only acceptable to him if I took the role of a pastor’s wife.  The hardest thing was that classmates would pick up their black leather Bibles and quote Paul against me, saying I was “unscriptural” for seeking authority that was designated for men only and for refusing to be silent in the church.

We need to be careful of how we use the Bible. It should never be a weapon against someone; nor should we take a few Bible verses, to the exclusion of the whole of scripture, as a tool for maintaining supremacy over others. This is not an unheard of practice in the 2000 years of the Christian church. There are verses in the Bible that are used to keep “targeted” people in their inferior place, both in the past and still today.

Fast forward to our country’s most deadly and heinous mass shooting that wreaked havoc in Orlando early Sunday morning, just hours before many of us went to church.  President Obama called this an “act of terror” and an “act of hate,” targeting a place of “solidarity and empowerment” for gays and lesbians.  (

The alleged gunman’s father shared with the news media that his son may have chosen this nightclub for the massacre because of his strong views against gay people.  Mateen’s political alignment with the Islamic State (ISIS), along with his anti-gay sentiments, made for a doubly lethal motivation for murder and mayhem.

As United Methodists we believe in the sanctity of life and the “sacred worth” of all individuals (2012 Book of Discipline, paragraph 161F). In Christ no one is “less than.” God created all of us as equals and as equally precious. No one should be targeted for bias, discrimination, hatred or violence of any kind.

During this time of grief and healing we need to:

1)  Pray

Pray for the victims, for their families and friends, and for the city of Orlando. We need to pray for our church as it continues to struggle with the debate over human sexuality and ministry that is on the hearts and minds of United Methodists during this era in the life of the church. We need to pray that our study of Scripture allows God to speak to all of us about these issues as we move forward and to teach us to love more deeply and more broadly. We need to pray for a solution to terrorism and the continual stream of violent outbreaks of gun violence in our country.

2)  Talk

Talk to people who are different from us, around whom we may feel uncomfortable because they have different personalities and perspectives than our own.  Listen to their words and hear their hearts. Seek to understand their interpretations of faith, life and Scripture. Ask innocent questions with grace, and try to understand their unique journeys in life.

3)  Act

Act in ways that model, for those who watch us, a civil way of walking and talking on this earth, a way that respects all, that rejects violence and hate-filled rhetoric, and that seeks to build bridges of understanding and acceptance. Act with genuine humility, and be willing to have less in this world so that others can have more—more respect, position, power and opportunity.

At the end of the day, all of this is really about who is “in” and who is “out.” There is a sinful, human tendency in all of us to believe there is not enough to go around and that “our people,” “our beliefs,” “our way of thinking” represent the only true way. In that tendency of errant thought and behavior we create idols of ourselves and thus, find ourselves in opposition to God, who alone is worthy of worship and allegiance. God alone determines who is in and who is out.

But the inviting, welcoming, loving Spirit of God is alive and moving among us in this world, urging us to foster peace, understanding and reconciliation, to overcome our differences and divisions, to heal the hatred and rejection in our world. Be a part—in fact, be a leader—of that movement in all the places, times and ways you can, wherever you are and especially in your church and community.

Be the disciple and the transformation we need in our world for such challenging times as these.

—Bishop Peggy Johnson