So as I’m sure everyone in the country knows by now, there was a large-scale shooting in Orlando early Sunday morning. The death toll, as I’ve read, is up to 50, plus 53 wounded, apparently making this the largest terrorist attack in the United States since September 11th, 2001. Thankfully this was not comparable to the scale of that day’s atrocities in deaths, damages, or complex plotting, but it’s still a horrible tragedy that affects the lives of more people than can be counted.
Naturally, of course, a call to prayer is a significant part of the initial Christian response to this. Archbishop Foley Beach shared this prayer on his Facebook page Sunday afternoon:
Most merciful God, whose wisdom is beyond our understanding: Deal graciously with those affected, in their grief. Surround them with your love, that they may not be overwhelmed by their loss, but have confidence in your goodness, and strength to meet the days to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As Sunday unfolded, the news reported the shooter’s name, US citizenship, Afghan ancestry, and most recently some form of affiliation with Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State). I haven’t waded through the information yet to understand if this was an ISIS-planned attack or simply an ISIS-wannabe who received their applause post-mortem, but either way this brings a difficult aspect to the situation. For “in the old days,” wars were fought between countries and nations. In recent decades, war seems to have been increasingly replaced with terrorism. But with Daesh/ISIS, yet another twist is being added into the mix: individual terrorists are recruited globally. Thus a seemingly normal American citizen can be transformed into an agent of terrible evil and do a great deal of sudden damage. This is, of course, quite disturbing, and presents new challenges for the civilized world.
But what makes last night’s attack really dastardly brilliant, in my opinion, is the chosen target: a gay bar and nightclub. Shooting up a rock concert in Paris or flying airplanes into corporate and government buildings in NYC and DC cause entire nations to band together in solidarity. Shooting up a gay bar, however, could play havoc with American culture and politics. In the eyes of the Islamic East, the “Christian West” is morally bankrupt and devoted to the propagation of horrific sin, and the LGBTQ+ movements are prime examples of what they despise about Western culture.
But at the same time, of course, we have a right-wing force of moral conservatism who also dislike the LGBTQ+ causes. Ours are usually not as violent about it as Muslim countries under Sharia Law (though hate groups like the KKK and Westboro “baptist church” come close). Nevertheless, by picking a target that some Americans will rally around and others won’t want to rally around, a stake is poised to be driven through American society that could do a great deal of damage to us all if we’re not careful.
There are probably going to be “Conservative Christian” commentators this week saying asinine things about God’s judgment on the gay community, the moral bankruptcy of this nation, and refusing to refer to last night’s attack as a terrorist attack. There is going to be a temptation to identify the victims as “guilty sinners who deserved what they got” rather than “human beings who were ruthlessly murdered.” But we absolutely must fight that temptation.
It’s hard because biblical traditional Christianity is unavoidably against the LGBTQ+ cause, morally and ethically. We preach that one thing is a sin, and they preach that the same thing is not a sin. We are, in a sense, enemies of one another. But we must remember that being opponents does not give excuse for hatred. At the end of Romans 12, St. Paul repeats the consistent biblical wisdom of both the Old and New Testaments: “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
At times like this, when it is most decidedly the LGBTQ+ community that has been targeted by a terrorist attack, we must not resort to victim-blaming, vilifying, or otherwise tacitly take sides with murderers. We must not turn a blind eye either. We must respond with compassion, love, and grace. Christ loved all with whom he came in contact. We believe that he has loved us, and transformed us from hardened sinners into healing sinners. We must also, therefore, learn to love our neighbors as ourselves, bringing Christ’s transforming love to them.
I don’t know how this is going to play out in the media as the week goes by, and I haven’t a clue how this election season might be affected. But I do know that this is a major opportunity for Christians in America to show either the compassion of the Gospel or the cold shoulder of our own judgmentalism. I pray we choose the former.