Like many of you, I was shocked and saddened as I listened to news coverage about the mass shooting that occurred in Orlando on Sunday. Authorities have called the shooting both an act of terror and an act of hate.
The shooting was an act of terror—the gunman apparently was radicalized and made a 911 call pledging his allegiance to the leader of ISIS before carrying out the mass shooting.
The shooting was also an act of hate—the gunman targeted an LGBT nightclub during Gay Pride month.
As a person of faith, it’s frightening to see how religious ideology can lead to hatred and violence. Right now in our world, the focus is on radicalized Islam, but almost every religion has its own history of using religious teachings to promote hatred and violence.
How does this happen? How does religious faith, which can be so beautiful and inspiring, get so messed up? I think part of the problem occurs when religious individuals prioritize certain religious ideologies above the call to love one’s neighbor, even if the neighbor is from a different race, culture, or religion. Whenever these priorities get mixed up in a religious group, I think the potential for danger is there.
One of my favorite stories from the Bible involves an expert in the religious law who asks Jesus a big question: What is the greatest commandment? The religious expert wanted to know what the most important rule was. It’s an important question, and I think Jesus gives a profound answer. Instead of focusing on a particular commandment or rule, Jesus points to the principle of love.
Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
The message of Jesus is clear. Love is the point. All the religious commandments and rules should help move us toward loving God and loving others. If a religious ideology or teaching does not promote love and instead promotes hate, it’s off base.
Discussion: What do you think of the connection between religion, hatred, and violence? If you are religious, does your religion promote love toward others as the ultimate goal? Is there anything about your religious teachings or commandments that promotes the opposite of love?