Thoughts on Orlando

The recent mass shooting in Orlando is another dark mark in a long line of brutal current events. Many of us are wrestling with confusing (and sometimes conflicting) emotions as we try to sort through what happened, and what it means for us. This tragedy is especially poignant as it brings several cultural priorities to an intersection: terrorism, sexuality and national security. How should we, as Christians, understand and untangle this knot? Here are a few thoughts.

 Who’s to Blame?

Senseless tragedies are disorienting, because we are not wired to experience senseless suffering. We need to find meaning. It’s part of who we are. So it makes sense that, when a tragedy like this occurs, we scramble to find some meaning, to assign some kind of blame. If we can somehow peg responsibility somewhere, we can, perhaps, cope with the fact that it happened.

In this situation, Christians who, like myself, believe that same-sex relationships are outside the scope of God’s design for sexuality (and therefore wrong) face a terrible temptation. We are tempted to blame those who died. You probably know the thought: “Well, maybe if they weren’t at a gay bar, they wouldn’t have been killed.”

Let me be blunt: this line of thinking is wrong. We can’t go there, any more than we can blame the victims of the Aurora, CO shooting for being in a movie theater. These men and women were not gunned down because they were at a gay bar; they were gunned down because a man with murderous intent walked into a gay bar and opened fire.

The logic of such a thought is tantalizing. But we must then be consistent. The hit-and-run victim must be blamed for being a sinner while driving. The tornado victim must be blamed for being a sinner while at home. And on.

Look, we know that God judges sin. That is a biblical nonnegotiable. But it is not within our capacity to discern whether a specific tragedy is the direct result of God’s judgment.

This was an evil act, committed by a man with murder in his heart. This was a tragedy, brought about by evil. Love will not let us feel any satisfaction in this evil (1 Cor. 13:6). Instead, it is right for us to grieve that such events take place in our broken world.

 What about the Muslims?

This event has, predictably, stirred up feelings of resentment, fear and anger toward Islam. And, let us be clear: the relationship between the radical, extremist (minority) version of Islam, and the civil (majority) version of Islam is a confusing one for most of us. I don’t intend to untangle that knot here.

I do intend to turn your attention to the fact that you likely have several nonviolent and “normal” Muslim men, women and children in your neighborhood. A tragedy like this (understandably) puts these fellow Americans in a sticky spot. The problem of radical Islam is a real one that cannot be ignored, and must be discussed. But we must rise above the guilt-by-marginal-association crowd. We are called to more than that.

This, surely, is an appropriate application of Jesus’ charge to “judge not, that you not be judged” (Matt. 7:1). Now, let me be clear: there is a place for judgment. But it is the judgment that sees Islam as misguided and a false religion. It is the judgment that sees fellow human beings who desperately need the gospel. Not the judgment that says Muslim = terrorist.

 Disagreeing with Martyrs

Lastly, this kind of event puts additional pressure on the Christian. The LGBTQ community has made great gains toward normalization over the past several years. Both the recent supreme court ruling (2015) and the directive issued by the White House on transgender bathrooms in schools have both facilitated tremendous momentum in society’s acceptance of varied sexual identities.

This puts those of us who hold to a biblically-consistent (“traditional”) ideal of sexual identity in a pickle. How do we continue a productive cultural dialogue when we find ourselves on the wrong side of both public opinion and, now, the law?

The shootings in Orlando serve to deepen our predicament. The LGBTQ community has successfully identified itself as an oppressed minority frequently threatened by the majority. A tragedy of this scale reinforces that narrative.

Why is this important? Because, just as some Americans find it difficult to distinguish between a radical Muslim and a nonviolent one, the LGBTQ community will find it increasingly difficult to distinguish between those who disagree with their sexual identity, and those who want to kill them for it. Which makes our role in this cultural conversation ever more complex.

What can we do? As I argued here, we need to live out the heart of the gospel in close proximity to those who need to hear it most. We need to speak the good news with our words, but validate it with our lives. It is the only way I see us leaping across the ever widening gap that stands between us and our neighbors.

So let’s not waste this opportunity. We can enter into the grief of the world, because we grieve a fallen creation where this kind of thing happens. But let us engage it with the hope it so desperately needs.

 
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