I will remember Orlando & Charleston with a determination to love

By Rev. John Vaughn 

Fear is contagious.

As I was getting ready to start writing my reflections on the one year commemoration of the massacre at Mother Emmanuel in Charleston this past weekend, I was greeted at church on Sunday morning with the news of the massacre of 49 people in an Orlando, Florida nightclub.

Fear is contagious. Click to Tweet

I was stunned. My first thought was of all of the families that lost loved ones last night – they were someone’s child that was reared, nurtured, guided and loved. My next thought was that I wish that we as a country could viscerally feel this – there will be sadness and outrage, but at the end of the day, it will be seen as yet another isolated incident in Orlando that if anything will give many people in this country more reasons to be fearful.

My family met Rev. Pinckney, the pastor of Mother Emmanuel in his previous position serving the congregation of Campbell Chapel AME Church in Bluffton, South Carolina. One of the more memorable moments of the service where we met him was “back to school” Sunday. His sermon focused on the children’s storybook character Curious George encouraging our children and youth adopt a spirit of curiosity when returning to school. Even our children still remember that sermon! My sadness is that curiosity and openness to new adventures and relationships is being drowned out by the infection of fear and its public manifestations of hatred, racism, xenophobia and its resulting violence.

My colleague Rev. Paul Raushenbush got it right this past Sunday morning when he said in his sermon that “we are living in a love crisis.” There are many things exacerbating the infection of fear. Some include; Easy access to guns. As the National Rifle Association will start making its case that such situations just call for more guns, I am reminded that the Christian scriptures tell us that the sword leads to the sword. Only love can cast out fear, not the sword or violence.

A fear of “the other.” That someone felt moved to shoot and kill people in what was a known LGBTQ nightclub speaks to a sense of fear of LGBTQ folks that turned to hatred. That the shooter was a Muslim American whose warped sense of religion led him to take such an action, stokes the fires of Islamophobia in ways that puts a whole community at even great risk.

Only love can cast out fear, not the sword or violence. Click to Tweet

At the end of the day, we are afraid to love. Fear is telling is us that love is a weakness. Loving everyone – the people you like and don’t like, the people you understand and don’t understand, the people you trust and don’t trust is hard. Fear wants us to believe that if we let down our guard and even show any kind of love, it will lead to our eventual self-destruction. Let us be clear, love is hard. One could understand if the families that lost loved ones at Mother Emmanuel in Charleston almost one year ago, started a campaign for armed security guards at all houses of worship or to advocate to have all white supremacist herded up and put in jail or banned from the US. Instead they loved – It took the form of forgiveness and re-committing themselves to fighting all personal and systemic injustices that create the conditions for such shootings to happen. They lived out their belief in the transforming power of God. Prophetic grief.

Like many, I too am tired of writing these types of blogs and reflections, but I will keep writing and doing what I can to both prevent such actions and promote a more loving and just country. The answers will not be found in arming more people, increased surveillance of Muslim communities, building more and higher walls, more programs to make gay people “straight” or blaming each other for all the things we think are wrong with America. Maybe we need to hold in our hearts that those killed were once someone’s baby, grandchild, cousin, niece or nephew. Maybe then we can feel these incidents deeply enough to have the collective courage to not allow fear to spread like an uncontrollable disease through our bodies. When are we as individuals, communities and a county going to finally get it that Love is our only way out of this mess?

Love is our only way out of this mess. Click to Tweet

I will remember Charleston with love determined to rid our nation of violence against black lives. I will remember Orlando with love strong enough to cherish the lives of my LGBT neighbors. I will love this country with a power that says no more to violence, no more hate, no more death. I will remember Orlando and Charleston with a determination to love. Together we will end the contagion of fear.


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As people of faith, we thank Senator Chris Murphy for his prophetic stand against gun violence on the Senate Floor and call on U.S. Senators to honor Murphy’s request for a vote on critical gun safety legislation.




Rev. John Vaughn is the Executive Vice President of Auburn Seminary. Which Voices leave you wanting to hear more? Email us ideas for interviews at [email protected]

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