The mass shooting in Orlando this weekend could end up adding to a culture of fear and exclusion that seems to be sweeping the country during this election cycle, according to Rev. Kelley Becker of the First Christian Church of Bloomington.
Becker said churches and other faith groups should work to prevent any possible backlash against the U.S. Muslim community. She also urged people of faith to speak out more forcefully against demonizing "the other" in society.
The Orlando attack involves three groups that have been at the center of increasing division within the the country: gays, Latinos and Muslim.
It was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. Some 49 people were killed and about 50 more injured early Sunday morning at an LGBT night club popular with Orlando's Latinos. The shooter called 911 during the attack and proclaimed his allegiance to the Islamic State, police said.
His father told an interviewer that his son was also offended recently by a public display of affection between gay men.
"In this age of hyper-anxiety when so many of our young people are listening to news coverage of what's going on in world and hearing fear about Moslems and anyone who is different, people of faith need to be speaking words of love and calling out the fear when they hear it ... Our faith should make us people of love not fear," Becker said.
Becker, a Disciples of Christ minister, is also coordinator of faith outreach for Not In Our Town, a community group that promotes, racial, ethnic and religious understanding.
Becker said Bloomington Normal has "made great strides in becoming a welcoming community," but no U.S. city or town is immune to the type of attack that struck Orlando and earlier this year, San Bernardino, CA.
"It takes one person with a heart full of hate to do horrible things. And at every turn we have to say not in our town," Becker added.
Becker said she expected a large turnout tonight for a rally in front of Bistro, a club popular with the LGBT community, at 316 Main Street in Bloomington, to honor those killed and wounded.
"There is tremendous support for our brothers and sisters in the LGBT community and I would expect people from many different faiths to come out," Becker said. "We will do everything we can to keep people safe here."
Becker said religious groups that call homosexuality a sin and continue to work against gay marriage might be adding to the divisions in the country. However, "Even those churches are not advocating violence in any way," she added.
It may become clearer in the coming days whether the Orlando shooter's actions were influenced by ties to ISIS or to his religious leanings. Becker said Americans need to distinguish between Islam and acts motivated by hate.
"Radical Islam is a very different thing from the Islamic faith ... radical Islam is nothing like the peace-loving Muslims I know in this community," Becker said.
"I have heard people who were close to this individual say he was angry and fearful and hateful and those things are traits that could be part of any religion," she added.
Becker said she hoped the Orlando tragedy would further communication between Moslems and people of other faiths, and that she has been praying for the nation to come together.
"In the Christian faith, we are followers of the ways of Jesus. When we build walls and close doors between us and other people, we need to remember Jesus stands on the other side of that wall and that door with people who are marginalized and excluded," she said. "As Christians we have a responsibility to tear down walls and open up doors to include absolutely everyone."