Omar Mateen carried an assault rifle and a pistol into the Pulse club, a gay night club in Orlando Florida. He killed 49 people. It was Sunday morning, June 12, 2AM. I woke for church on Sunday around 6:30. My son was watching the news around 8AM. The weather was on. After the weather, we turned off the TV and began getting ready for church. I had no knowledge of the shooting.
At church, no one mentioned it to me and I did not look at any news outlets. So, as the service began and then throughout the service, I had no knowledge that the worst mass shooting in U.S. history had happened a few short hours earlier. During our prayer time, I did not know. No one mentioned it to me.
After the worship service, our family ate lunch at home, with no media on. Then, my middle son and I got in the car for the 3-hour drive to my parents’ place in Roanoke. We listened to a Hardy Boys mystery on CD the entire way. Upon arrival, we hung out with my parents, played games, shot baskets on their backyard hoop, and ate. Finally, around 8:30PM, I was flipping channels and stopped at CNN. Over 16 hours after the shooting, I finally found out. If I had known Sunday morning, we would have had a time of prayer in our worship service.
For what would we pray? Of course, we’d pray for the family members and friends of the victims. We would ask God to provide solace and comfort. We would pray for the more than 50 people who were injured but not killed. We would pray that God would heal their wounds and soothe their shattered psyches. And we’d pray for the survivors. They may be alive and uninjured, but they are not unscathed. We would pray for them as they carry the burden of survivor’s guilt and the horrors of watching their friends die. The images they see when they close their eyes to sleep will haunt them in their dreams for a long time.
Yes, there is much to pray for and we carry all of it to God on behalf of these wounded people. What else?
We must pray for the family of the shooter, Omar Mateen. They will be ostracized. American society as a whole feels the shock and the anger of such an event. Unstable persons could escalate the violence if in a misguided attempt at justice they were to lash out at Mateen’s relatives. These people will carry shame and will need God’s help to be free.
What else? What do else do we say when we pray? An interesting thing about this story is the convergence of many different political hot potatoes. There is homophobia, the hatred of the LGBT community. There is Islamophobia, the hatred of all things Muslim. That fact that the killer was Muslim and self-identified as an ISIS supporter arms Islamophobs with all they need to demonize the entire religion and all who practice it.
Then, there is the issue of gun control. Those who abhor the accessibility of military style assault weapons will have a field day attacking, ideologically, those who defend their 2nd amendment right to “keep and bear” arms.
This story has created strange bed fellows. I read and posted an opinion from a conservative Christian who wants to damn all Muslims and to liken the religion to the circumstances in 1920’s Germany that set the table of the rise of fascism and Nazism. The Orlando shootings show that if we don’t stop ISIS now, it will become another Hitler-led Nazi type of power that wreaks havoc and propagates genocide. Many of my Facebook friends pointed out several leaps of logic that in the article. What I found fascinating in it is that the author, a conservative, linked arms with high profile atheists Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins, and Ayn Hirsi Ali in order to brand Islam as violent and evil. And he did this in defense of the victims, gay people. Recall the last time you remember conservative Christians aligning with Atheists to defend gays from Muslims. I bet you cannot think of time. I can’t.
The enemy of my enemy is my friend?
For the record, I know all Muslims are not violent because I spend a week in a community that is 70% Muslim. While I am there, I talk about Jesus and try to convince people to follow him. The Muslims react in violent ways. They sell me bread and fruit. They welcome me into their homes and heap hospitality on me. And at the hotel bar, they sell me beer and soda. Smiling the entire time. I have never felt safer anywhere.
For the record, I do not keep weapons in my home. Yet, I am good friends with card-carrying NRA members. I don’t think the issue is as simple as some of my dogmatic anti-gun friends. But, I do believe it would be helpful to significantly reduce the number of assault weapons and automatic, high volume, rapid fire guns. Nobody needs those. You don’t need an arsenal that Rambo would envy to protect your home. And having a gun doesn’t make you safer. The guard at the Pulse night club was armed, but 50 people still died.
For the record, I love gay and lesbian people. Not all of them. I don’t know all of them. But, I love the ones I know. My neighbors. Old friends who now take care of my nephews and nieces. Dear friends who are still “in the closet.” Based on my reading of Matthew 19:1-12 and Romans 1:18-32, I do not believe same sex marriage is God-honoring or sanctified by God. I believe homosexuality is outside God’s plan for human sexuality. But I want you to pay attention to something. I wrote my theology after identifying how many gay and lesbian people I love.
And please notice this. I don’t count homosexual sex as an unforgivable sin. Some Christians don’t think it is a sin at all. If they and I are to discuss the divergence in our theology, I’d like to do it in an atmosphere of friendship and love. And I do believe that someone can hold the opinion that same sex marriage is OK in God’s eyes and at the same time that person can be a disciple. To put it simply, in theological terms, I oppose same sex marriage. But I don’t think someone is disqualified from the title ‘Christian’ just because they disagree with me on this point.
So where are we? I think the way of Christ is the way of compassion. His encounter with the rich young ruler is an example. He was working to correct this man’s understanding by helping the man shift his priorities from a dependence on material wealth to a dependence on faith in God. But, Jesus knew the man would not respond, not the way Jesus preferred. Still, the Gospel say that when Jesus told him to part with his riches, before Jesus said a word, he looked at him and “loved him” (Mark 10:21). That’s where we are. We are to love people.
We – followers of Jesus – are to be peddlers of the Gospel. When it comes to social issues, we start from the cross and resurrection and base ourselves there. If we find ourselves in disagreement with someone on any of the issues I have raised, we enter the conversation compassionately seeking to love the other even in disagreement. Most importantly, we do not settle for the prevailing narrative. We loudly but compassionately proclaim a counter narrative, one in which the love of Jesus rules the day. That story must be told and lived, and we must be the ones to tell it and live it.
I close with a tweet from Russell Moore:
Christian, your gay or lesbian neighbor is probably really scared right now. Whatever our genuine disagreements, let's love and pray