ORLANDO, Fla. (BP) — Calls for prayer and compassion rang out from Southern Baptists nationwide hours after the mass murder of 49 and the injury of 53 early Sunday (June 11) at an Orlando, Fla., gay nightclub in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Armed with a handgun and an AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, a U.S.-born citizen of Afghani parents, walked into the Pulse nightclub around 2 a.m. and began shooting among the more than 300 patrons at the club as it prepared to close for the day.
Police killed Mateen around 5 a.m. after a three-hour standoff as the gunman held at least 30 hostages inside the club. During the horror, Mateen called 911 and pledged allegiance to ISIS Islamic terrorists, ABC News reported. Mateen had killed 49.
First Baptist Church of Orlando, the pastorate of David Uth, will host a community-wide prayer meeting at 7 p.m. June 14 in cooperation with the Greater Orlando Baptist Association and several pastors across various denominations.
Among those injured, Uth told Baptist Press, was a graduate of the church’s school The First Academy who was employed by the church in a non-ministry capacity. Additionally, one of the church’s security officers was a member of the swat team that overcame Mateen, Uth said.
“The only one [church member] that we have uncovered is a young man who graduated from our school and also worked in our tech area,” Uth told BP. “He was there and was shot. He was not injured seriously, but his friend next to him died, and of course the trauma of having to watch his friend die was overwhelming.”
Uth addressed the tragedy from the pulpit Sunday morning, calling worshippers from his 19,000-member congregation to the altar to pray.
“We need to pray this morning, and we need to pray that this be a moment for the body of Christ to stand and to shine the light of the Gospel and the hope we have in our God,” he told his congregation. “When the night is darkest, that’s when His light shines the brightest. And when the night’s the darkest is when you can be … light and salt.”
Orlando is experiencing “unbelievable grief and [is] overwhelmed that this could happen here,” Uth said. “This is one of those news stories that happens other places and it’s overwhelming that the loss of life, the evil and the hatred that would create this moment.”
Confirmed as terrorism by the FBI, according to media reports, the massacre came days before the start of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in St. Louis, Mo., where SBC president Ronnie Floyd had already scheduled a special prayer service for spiritual awakening and other concerns.
“Our hearts are broken for the people of Orlando,” Floyd told Baptist Press. “May America rise up and pray for the families of the victims and the entire city. Our Southern Baptist family will do so from across the world as well as from our convention.
“In these perilous times in America,” he said, “we are reminded again of our great need for Jesus Christ and for spiritual awakening in America.”
Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty President Russell Moore responded with compassion.
“Christian, your gay or lesbian neighbor is probably really scared right now. Whatever our genuine disagreements, let’s love and pray,” he tweeted Sunday morning. But in a subsequent blog post at russellmoore.com, he questioned America’s ability to mourn as a unified nation.
“What I wonder is whether the country still has the capacity to grieve, together, in moments of national crisis,” he said, noting the tragedy had “turned into an excuse for social media wars over everything from gun control to presidential politics.”
“Our national divisions increasingly make it difficult for us not just to work together, but even to pause and weep together,” Moore wrote. “We become more concerned about protecting ourselves from one another’s political pronouncements than we do with mourning with those who mourn.”
Moore also called Southern Baptists to prayer.
“We don’t have to agree on the meaning of marriage and sexuality to love one another and to see the murderous sin of terrorism.” Moore wrote. “Let’s also pray for our leaders who have challenging decisions to make in the midst of crisis. Let’s mobilize our congregations and others to give blood for the victims. Let’s call for governing authorities to do their primary duty of keeping its people safe from evildoers.”
Frank S. Page, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, expressed similar sentiments.
“We may have disagreements, even substantive disagreements about theology and lifestyle, but this violence is horrific, reprehensible and should be condemned by all,” Page told BP. “Southern Baptists join with our nation in shock and horror at the shooting of so many persons in Orlando, Fla. Our prayers go out to the families.”
The gunman was a resident of St. Lucie County, Fla., worked as a security guard and had spoken with his father the day before the crime. While investigators numbered the victims at 50 for most of Sunday, the number was revised to 49 this morning, June 13. Including the gunman, 50 are dead, and 53 were hospitalized Sunday.