You Don’t Get To

Orlando. Orlando. I still can’t wrap my mind around this.

(In case you’re living under a rock and hadn’t heard, a gunman opened fire in an Orlando nightclub. Current estimates are 49 — not counting the gunman — dead and 53 injured. It was a gay club.)

LGBT people were targeted. That seems pretty clear. The rest, though?

When a mass shooting occurs in the US, people immediately divide into various angry factions over who is to blame.

Well, I know who’s to blame for those 49 deaths. I know who’s to blame for the injuries, for the families torn apart, for every tear and every bit of pain.

The gunman. And everyone.

See, you don’t get to “figure it out” and then sleep well at night because you “know” why this happened.

You don’t get to say, “Thanks, Obama!” and call him and his cronies Muslim plants. You don’t get to blame America’s always-been-open doors and call for banning brown immigrants. You don’t get to call for some kind of registry for Muslims. You don’t get to say that this country’s problems are because we’ve taken the Christian God out of schools.

You also don’t get to decry mentally ill people as time bombs and psychos. You don’t get to hold the very existence of guns as the source of the problem. You don’t get to blame Congress and their unresponsiveness to these events. You don’t even get to blame ISIS, whether they take credit or not.

You don’t get to, because doing that exact thing IS why.

The gunman shot people, and he alone carries the weight of the crime itself…but as long as we are hunting for scapegoats and rushing to categorize the shooter, we are not blameless.

We obsess over “Other”-ing people and distancing ourselves from those we find distastefully different. We can’t handle being uncomfortable or having to try to wrap our minds around the possibility that those other people’s way of life, love life, religious beliefs, etc. are just as valid as our own.

We don’t appreciate having our thinking challenged, and instead of reaching out to understand, we recoil in fear and anger. We ostracize. We disenfranchise. We send the very clear message, from pulpits and classrooms and communities, that it is NOT OK to be other than a white natural-born American Christian male without the slightest sign of mental illness and with everything else just so. We protest the rights of other people to carry on as they see fit, and we fan the flames with rhetoric and dogma and mob mentality.

When you send the message to a struggling person they are somehow made wrong and are unworthy of their life because they do struggle…when an immigrant or a citizen is treated with fear and suspicion because of their brown face or Middle Eastern-sounding name or headscarf…when you make someone feel so Other or keep hammering home that this or that group is even MORE “Other” and unworthy, eventually the words sink in.

When you dehumanize someone this way, or dehumanize a group to someone who is already not in a stable place for whatever reason, you are sowing the seeds for what happened in Orlando. It becomes Us vs. Them, and They are seen as inferior, not as fully human (or worse, they are seen as what’s wrong with the country/life/whatever). That’s what fevered homophobic rhetoric and normalizing “faggot” jokes can do when the words fall upon fertile soil. (This bishop agrees.)

I’ve said these things before, but we apparently were not listening…so I’ll say them again.

The gunman killed 49 people. We did not — but we helped the gunman along his terrible path. In the end, nobody is innocent here. So before you go demonizing your favorite target (guns, Obama, mental illness or the lack of treatment available, Muslims, immigration, gays, liberals, conservatives, mainstream media, Congress, non-Christians, etc.), maybe it’s worth a look in the mirror.

[Note: Of the 30 deadliest mass shootings (single-day) in America, 100% have involved at least one male gunman. Where’s the call to ban men? Why don’t we view all men as potential madmen just waiting for a reason to snap and go on a killing spree? Gender has been a far more common factor than ethnicity, national origin, religion, socioeconomic status, or anything else I’ve seen. We are hypocrites, one and all.]

You don’t get to blame anyone or anything but the gunman himself, unless you’re willing to admit that we’re all guilty.