Florida Megachurch Pastor Joel Hunter on Orlando Shooting

President Obama greets Joel Hunter, left, senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Fla., after Hunter’s prayer during an Easter prayer breakfast in the East Room of the White House in Washington on April 14, 2014. (Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
President Obama greets Joel Hunter, left, senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Fla., after Hunter’s prayer during an Easter prayer breakfast in the East Room of the White House in Washington on April 14, 2014. (Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

In the aftermath of the shooting at an Orlando, Fla., gay club, diverse leaders in the city have reached out to the LGBT community. One surprising photo emerged: evangelical megachurch pastor Joel Hunter shaking hands with Equality Florida’s Carlos Smith. It was a simple gesture, captured by a local newspaper reporter, but one with deep symbolic meaning.

“There is no place for hatred and violence in any healthy religion or in any healthy society,” Hunter said at a news conference called by the Florida branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The senior pastor of the 20,000-member, nondenominational Northland Church shared more in a phone interview about the intersection of LGBT discrimination and religion in light of the shooting. The interview was edited for length and clarity.

Q: There’s a very noticeable difference in how religious leaders are saying the words “gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual” in their responses to the shooting. Do you believe this was an act of hate targeted at a specific group?

A: Absolutely, it was. All of our hearts are broken and awakened. Many of us, especially in the conservative evangelical branch of the faith, don’t normally think of the vulnerability of many of the communities around us. It is not a part of our everyday agenda, but this has certainly put it on the agenda. This is something we need to specifically address on an ongoing basis to make sure that no population among us is threatened or marginalized.

Q: What message do you have, as a national religious leader, for LGBT people — especially young LGBT people?

A: There are a lot of us who want to make sure they are treated with respect — that they’re given every opportunity to live their full lives, that they’re as precious in the eyes of God as anyone who has ever been made. That would be the bottom line I want all people to understand, but specifically those who are going through this kind of struggle or this kind of cultural transition right now.

Q: Do you think the LGBT community in Orlando feels comfortable at your church and other conservative evangelical churches?

A: I hope so. We have several gay couples and gay people who go to our church, but we specifically don’t address a lot of sexual issues in the worship service. We talk about vulnerable populations, we talk about service, we talk about following Christ. I would hope they would be comfortable in a congregation like ours — but I don’t know. You’d have to ask them. We certainly want them to be.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons

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