A guest post by Robert A. Rees, Ph.D.

“It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.”

We are all responsible for what happened in Orlando.

I am responsible for what happened in Orlando. The morning of the Orlando massacre I was talking on the phone with a friend, a university professor, who casually said she had just turned off the television because she saw two men kissing.

I said, ”Well, some men do kiss,” to which she responded, “Not that kind of kiss!”

I thought of that when I read the news later that day about the tragedy in Orlando and the fact that, according to the father of the mass-murderer, his son was enraged at seeing two men kissing.

While the motive for the mayhem perpetrated by Mateen is turning out to be more complex than that, we know enough about the violence against LGBT people worldwide to know that the revulsion toward any affectionate or romantic expression by gays is deep seated and dangerous. The recent news that a judge in Kenya has upheld mandatory anal examinations of men suspected of being gay is only the most recent example of the persistent savagery perpetrated against gay men.

I am responsible for what happened in Orlando because I should have confronted my friend’s homophobia directly and told her that I found it offensive. Every anti-gay joke we listen to silently, every homophobic slur we fail to counter, every hostile act against LGBT people we witness without standing up and speaking out makes us complicit in what happened in Orlando.

We are all responsible for what happened in Orlando.

I am responsible for what happened in Orlando because when I heard Donald Trump speak of Mexicans as killers and rapists, I didn’t do anything except agree with my friends that it was an egregious slur.

When I heard him speak of Muslims as potential terrorists who should be banned from entering the United States, I didn’t call my Muslim friends to console them and I didn’t meet with my Muslim colleagues at Graduate Theological Union to ask how I could help.

We are all responsible for what happened in Orlando.

I am responsible because even though I find our current gun laws bordering on insanity, I haven’t written to my congressional representatives expressing outrage that not only are they unwilling to enact a ban on assault weapons, they aren’t even willing to ban their sale to people on the Terror Watch List.

Neither have I supported the efforts of gun-control groups working to counter gun violence. I didn’t do anything about Columbine, about Sandy Hook, about Ft. Hood, about San Bernardino–but I am determined to do something about Orlando, because I feel responsible for what happened in that bar where so many gays and Latinos were slaughtered by a man who was able to legally buy an assault weapon.

We are all responsible for what happened in Orlando—and we all will be responsible for what happens the next time someone is able to buy a rifle whose designed purpose is to kill lots of people quickly and indiscriminately.

While we are all responsible for what happened in Orlando, some of us are more responsible than others:

Those of us who persist in fictions and fables about homosexuality

State and local lawmakers who have passed 200 anti-LGBT laws in the past year

Those of us who camouflage our bigotry in the rhetoric of religious liberty

Those of us who support party over principle

Corporations that discriminate against gays, Latinos, blacks, Muslims or any other category of human beings

Especially, the National Rifle Association which uses fear, intimidation and coercion to ensure that there are no limitations on the sale and possession of weapons, resulting, according to Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, in more American preschoolers being shot dead than police officers are shot in the line of duty. Also, on average, more Americans are killed annually by guns in our homes and schools and on our streets than were killed by guns annually during the Civil War.

But enough of us dream of an America free of homophobia, racial hatred, Islamophobia, misogyny, and the gun lobby that we have the power to bring change.

As Delmore Schwartz reminds us, “In dreams begin responsibilities.” We are all responsible—and will continue to be as long as we fail to act.

Bob Rees holds a BA from Brigham Young University and an MA and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has taught at UCLA and UC Santa-Cruz and was a Fulbright Professor of American Studies at Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania. Currently he teaches at Graduate Theological Union and the University of California, Berkeley. Rees is the author and editor of numerous studies in the humanities, education and religion. He is the co-editor (with Eugene England) of The Reader’s Bookof Mormon (Signature Books, 2008) and the editor of Proving Contraries: A Collection ofWritings in Honor of Eugene England (Signature, 2005) and Why I Stay: The Challenges of Discipleship for Contemporary Mormons (Signature, 2011). Currently, he is completing a second volume of Why I Stay and writing a books on Discipleship and Mormons and Gays. Rees has served as a bishop and a member of the Baltic States Mission presidency. He lives in Mill Valley, California.

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