For a Latino, Pentecostal megachurch just 10 minutes south of the Orlando nightclub Pulse, the scriptural call to “mourn with those who mourn” has become their heartbreaking reality in the wake of Sunday’s deadly rampage. This week, Iglesia El Calvario prepares to host funerals for victims, offer grief counseling, and conduct ongoing outreach for their city and its LGBT community.
The nearly 4,000-person Assemblies of God church prayed, gave blood, and passed out water on Sunday, while death counts climbed from 20 to 30 to 40 to 50. That evening, they heard from Governor Rick Scott and Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera in a citywide vigil held in their sanctuary to remember the lives lost—many of them Hispanic and gay, at the club for Saturday’s Latin night.
Gabriel Salguero, a pastor at Iglesia El Calvario and founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, joined his LGBT neighbors in relief efforts. He offered prayers in Spanish and English at an 8,000-person event hosted this week by Equality Florida, a gay advocacy group. When local reporters inevitably asked about the tension between evangelicals and the gay community, he responded, “We’re called to be Christ to everybody, and we’re called to love our neighbor, every neighbor.”
It’s not the first time Salguero has pastored a community devastated by tragedy. He moved to New York a few months prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks. He had only been living in Orlando for six months before this weekend’s shooting. In between vigils and community events, Salguero spoke to CT about the church’s response to the attack that has left their city overwhelmed by grief.
Over the past few days, you’ve had the chance to pray for and with people who probably wouldn’t normally be in your church. What has your message been to the LGBT community?
The church loves you, God loves you, and Jesus loves you. We want to dispel the myth that evangelicals hate gays. We have a lot in common, not least of which is our shared humanity. We’re all moms and dads, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews and grandparents, and that brings us together. I spoke to a young Puerto Rican gay man who grew up in the Pentecostal church, and he said, “I’m shocked that a Pentecostal Latino pastor led the prayer at this vigil.” I just said to him, “Jesus would have led the prayer. Jesus would have.”
There were a lot of tears on every side. If we’ve learned anything it’s that no matter what our disagreements are, God calls us to love our neighbor and to be Jesus and to mourn with those who mourn. I think they felt that genuineness, that authenticity of shared pain. We believe in prayer, and we believe the church needs to be a healing presence, as are the doctors and the psychologists. Everybody’s got to do their job, but the church has to be Jesus.
What have you learned about Florida and Orlando, your community, through the response to the shooting?
Like on 9/11 in Manhattan, I experienced an overwhelming capacity for kindness in the midst of tragedy and hate. I told the church to donate blood, to go give water, to go be Jesus. Hundreds of people responded. They had to say, “We don’t need any more blood.” And that’s not just our church. That was happening all over Orlando, Florida. We didn’t care who was getting it—a first responder, a lesbian young woman, or gay young man—whoever needed blood, they were giving blood. And our church has flooded blood donation centers, the blood buses, the mobile blood centers. That was amazing. They took water and sandwiches.