“I think it’s important that you hear their names.”
Somehow, that was the line that finally broke me in the wake of the Orlando massacre. While others were discussing ISIS, weapons used, and the political implications, a reporter was slowly reading through a list of nearly fifty names, voice faltering, while adding information about each one.
- Jean Carlos Mendez Perez (aged 35). He is remembered by his sister as a doting uncle, who loved to buy her children ice cream.
- Brenda Lee Marquez McCool (aged 49). She loved to go dancing with her son. He survived.
- Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala (aged 33). He worked at a blood donation center. “He’s alive in the lives that he saved,” said a co-worker.
For some of us, hearing the names reminded us that this is about real people, not just politics.
A RESPONSE TO THE RESPONSE
So while there have been many responses to the shooting, this is not one of them.
It is not a response to what happened because I have no good response to that. It is a response to the response—and especially that on social media.
As Russell Moore notes (here), we used to be able to grieve together as a nation: Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, and 9/11 were examples. We wept with those who wept (Rom. 12.15). And while there was some of that after Orlando, Moore is also right to say that
“the aftermath quickly turned into an excuse for social media wars.”
And as so often with such missive missiles, the minds of all combatants seemed made up so far in advance that the MEMEs had already been written. Indeed, in some cases, the bodies of the slain formed only minor speed bumps to be driven over on the way to making one’s point.
Whatever the debate, each side seemed clear on what this “proved”:
- Guns: For some gun-lovers, the real problem was that victims themselves were unarmed. More guns in nightclubs; that’s how you fix mass-shootings. While for others, this showed that America’s firearm fixation is literally killing us.
- Islam: For the new nationalists, this revealed that Trump was right in trying to ban all Muslim immigrants (never mind that the shooter was born here). While for the new atheists, this proved that religion itself is what “poisons everything.”
- Homosexuality: For a handful of “Christians” (word used loosely), the problem seemed not so much the lives lost, but the ensuing support for the LGBT community. While for ardent secularists, this showed that all fervent “believers” (whatever the stripe) hate gays.
To be clear, I do not think that every point being made was invalid.
I even agree with several proposals on how to begin preventing the kind of shootings that happen in no other civilized country with this kind of stupid frequency.
But that is not what I want to talk about here.
WHAT WE’VE LOST
My observation is this: We seem to have lost the national ability to mourn PEOPLE, before making POLITICAL POINTS. And while some points matter, it is the people who are priceless.
In this case, bodies were still being pulled out Pulse nightclub when the pixeled pronouncements started flying. Donald Trump, for one, “mourned” as he does all things—by Tweeting—“I called it!” he crowed: “Appreciate the congrats for being right.”
You know, just like F.D.R. after Pearl Harbor.
Others were more thoughtful (which isn’t hard). Still, in many cases, as I went online last week, I couldn’t help but feel like there was something wrong with the insta-battles that broke out even before family members had been notified.
It was not always like this. Social media has changed things. And in this regard, for the worse.
FIRST, SAY THEIR NAMES
What then is my suggestion?
Hear this: I am not saying that those passionate about solutions should just stay silent. Not at all.
But I do think that before we venture into polemics, we should first do what a few thoughtful mourners did, and say their names. Weep with those who weep. Reach out to gay friends and family. Grieve with the grieving. Many people did this, and God bless them. (I especially appreciated this from the new Wesleyan General Superintendent Wayne Schmidt [here]; in fact, it was not a statement at all, but a prayer.)
To recount the names and faces of the fallen reminds us that they were real people, with real dreams, parents, siblings, friends, and children. They are not mere dead weight to be leveraged in the catapults that launch our online arguments.
Biblically speaking, the call to love and serve and grieve is not dependent (even one iota!) on whether the victims were gay or straight, liberal or conservative, Christian or atheist.
The imago Dei is the lone prerequisite.
So while we must seek solutions to such reckless acts of hatred, let’s not forget to weep with those who weep.
First, hear their names. And perhaps that empathy may, in the end, lead us to work together to prevent such acts in the future.
Requiescat in pace.
Edward Sotomayor Jr., Stanley Almodovar III, Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, Juan Ramon Guerrero, Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, Luis S. Vielma, Kimberly Morris, Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, Darryl Roman Burt II, Deonka Deidra Drayton, Alejandro Barrios Martinez, Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, Amanda Alvear, Martin Benitez Torres, Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, Mercedez Marisol Flores, Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, Oscar A Aracena-Montero, Enrique L. Rios, Jr., Miguel Angel Honorato, Javier Jorge-Reyes, Joel Rayon Paniagua, Jason Benjamin Josaphat, Cory James Connell, Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, Luis Daniel Conde, Shane Evan Tomlinson, Juan Chevez-Martinez, Jerald Arthur Wright, Leroy Valentin Fernandez, Tevin Eugene Crosby, Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, Brenda Lee Marquez McCoo, Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, Christopher Andrew Leinonen, Angel L. Candelario-Padro, Frank Hernandez, Paul Terrell Henry, Antonio Davon Brown, Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, and Akyra Monet Murray.