Prayer for Omar Mateen

Jason Micheli —  June 23, 2016 — 8 Comments

2016AC-logo-color-with-UMC-flameI’m recovering from 3 plus days spent at my little nook of Methodism’s Annual Conference. Given that nearly a quarter of every dollar a United Methodist gives goes out the door of his or her congregation to the larger Church, there’s many structural and strategic critiques I could offer about how we spent our time (and I’ve already seen many of my younger clergy colleagues doing so on social media).

I won’t belabor the organizational beef. I do want to address what I took to be both a grave theological error and a personal one too. During the proceedings we debated- debated- a resolution recommending that we pray for the (gay) victims of the Orlando tragedy. We actually debated it. Christians debated praying. Full stop. For victims of murder. We eventually did so and in it we prayed for the victims and their families and, if I recall, there was verbiage spent on gun violence and gun legislation and hateful ideologies.

What was missing, I noticed immediately, was a prayer for the perpetrator. We didn’t prayer for the shooter. And that wouldn’t be odd in any other context except for a Christian one, for we are the people who believe the cross erases any meaningful distinction between victim and victimizer.

I noticed the lack in the prayer and in our debate about it, but I was too afraid to step up to microphone 10 to say anything about it. For that, I am ashamed. It’s little recompense but I offer this prayer here that I should’ve offered there:

Slaughtered Yet Risen Lord-

You forgive us from the cross with which we push you out of the world, invoking to the Father that we do not know what we are doing. Perhaps we know ourselves better than you know us, for surely we knew what we were doing.

We confess.

And, we presume, Omar Mateen knew what he was doing too by murdering out of hate (and it seems self-hate too) by wounding just as many, and, in so doing, wreaking violence on his family and any who cared for him. We presume he knew what he was doing, and so not one of us has any natural inclination to forgive him or, even, to pray for him.

We confess.

Actually, Lord Jesus, we’d rather pray for you to punish him. We’d prefer the assurance of his eternal torment, and we don’t know how to square that desire with the news that you’ve already suffered hell for us, once for all, and that you died- accursed- not for people like us but the wicked. Like Omar Mateen. We desperately do not want him to be counted among that ‘all’ for whom you died.

We confess.

We don’t want to pray for him, Lord. Maybe it’s because we don’t think he deserves it, or maybe it’s because we suspect it will prove hard to hate someone for whom we pray. We don’t want to pray for him, but you queerly command us to love enemies and trespassers and to pray for them. So we do- not because it’s a strategy to make the world more peaceful and not because we believe that by loving our enemies our enemies will cease to be our enemies. We do so, reluctantly, only because you commanded us, and as dumb and offensive as praying for him strikes us, you’re still the only one whose character God has vindicated by resurrection. And if you can raise the crucified from the dead, then perhaps you can raise up a People whose hates are not more precious to them than their faith.

We hope.

So against our better judgment but towards our Easter hope, we pray for Omar Mateen and any and all who, in the mysterious complexity of life, loved him. We’re told he killed in the name of righteousness; help us not shirk your command to pray for enemies in the name of righteousness. Give us grace, Lord Jesus, that in the fullness of time we may see in him, and him in us, thieves welcomed by you undeservedly into paradise.

Help us to pray for Omar Mateen and those like him. Help us to believe the Gospel that its through such practices and the communities constituted by them that you have chosen to redeem this sinful and violent world. Amen.

Jason Micheli

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8 responses to Prayer for Omar Mateen

  1. This made me wonder if I’ve ever heard a Protestant pray for the dead. The family certainly, but hmm. . . .

  2. I remember this same challenge when we gathered for a prayer service at our local church after the Virginia Tech shootings. On the table, we placed a bouquet of roses, one for each person who died, including the shooter. His life was precious to God too. I confess that I did not share with the congregation the number of roses that I had ordered for the bouquet, and I doubt anyone counted them. There is no sin or brokenness that is not covered by the cross of Jesus, not even my own sin and brokenness, which though perhaps not as public as that of these shooters, is no less in need of grace. I am my own worst enemy, so when I pray for my enemies, I am included in that number.

  3. Phillip A Starling June 23, 2016 at 10:36 AM

    Thank you for this post Jason. I truly appreciated your statements on both the debate about praying for the victims and the exclusion of the perpetrator from the prayer. I heard once the viewpoint that all crimes committed (by those of sound mind) can be traced back, eventually, to an unmet need for genuine love. Praying for the perpetrator in this case is an example of showing a love that literally surpasses all human understanding. Your prayer made that very clear. I believe that only this kind of love can reveal to the next killer, who is already out there contemplating what he might do and how, that there is another option the terrible choice that Omar Mateen made.

  4. What seemed so obvious to you was not obvious to the others. I so wish you had spoken up at the conference. That would have given the others a chance to reconsider or think deeper. It would not have crossed my mind/heart if not for this post. What you offered is an honest prayer. Thank you.
    PS I don’t think you were afraid but the fact that you are shy.

  5. Absolutely spot on! Every time (and it’s way too often) one of these tragedies occurs, we discount the “bad guy” as unworthy. Did you notice how the death toll, on the news, was 49. Well it was 50. As if Omar Mateen didn’t count! I believe that God grieves the loss of Mateen just as much as the loss of any of the others. Try to see beyond what this man did to the things in his life that led him to the point that he did it. God grieves those things, too. Not that anything excuses what he did. But it seems to me that he chose (or circumstances led him to) living in hell on earth. As Donna Holder said, “there is no sin or brokenness that is not covered by the cross of Jesus. . . .” Even this. God is healing and welcoming these people into God’s presence–all 50 of them….

  6. Steve Jackson June 23, 2016 at 8:32 PM

    Amen

  7. Thanks so much for this post Jason. We often recognize that we must love others and that others includes those who are enemies. I admit to looking into the eyes conveyed by the photo in your post and having a coldness in my heart. For that I need to be forgiven. As you so frequently do, you remind us that every time we smugly believe we are the good guys — according to our notions of Christ’s accounting — we are in reality sinners in need of grace. In our family we often refer to your interruptions to our smugness as Jason taking a 2 x 4 to our head to get our attention. Thanks for telling the truth. We need it so very much.

    PS-I am also struck by the comments that you have received (above) and to the thoughts they express. You bring out the best in people.

  8. All of the above writers, of course starting with Jason, said so well what I have learned, that we must learn to forgive as we are forgiven. We must pray for our enemies. It is simple, yet so hard, yet so liberating.

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