Like me you have more than likely been staggered by the tragedy of the nightclub murders in Orlando, Florida. It seems inconceivable that someone could go to such lengths, sink to such depths of depravity, as to plan and then so callously execute his scheme to kill as many as possible.
Sadly it seems that no sooner has the dust settled but many from every side of every debate have used the attack to make their various points. I’ve noticed a common theme pushing through; that everybody appears to claim that nobody is listening, nobody cares. As a result every rejected proposition becomes more entrenched.
Social conservatives complain that the liberal establishment won’t face up to the reality of Islamic-inspired terrorism. Liberals bemoan the unwillingness of conservatives to cede any ground on gun control. Perhaps most significantly now, the various gay and lesbian voices cry out in pain at the direct hatred poured out upon them by the gunman who appears to have rejected everything there are. I’ll leave it to others to debate the politics, for now let me say something about rejection, homosexuality and how Jesus changes everything.
One incident that aptly summed up the sense that our general western culture didn’t really get quite how attacked the gay community felt was a newspaper review on British Sky TV featuring British commentator Owen Jones who gets increasingly incensed at what he perceives to be the unwillingness of others to acknowledge the direct targeting of homosexuals. “This person is a homophobic terrorist, whatever else he is” says Jones. “It is one of the worst atrocities committed against LGBT people in the Western world for generations … and it has to be called out as such”
Now what just happened there? Well not least Jones felt rejected; rejected first by the terrorist himself and all that Jones thought he represented, and then compounded by the rejection of others with him who would not acknowledge the peculiarity of the attack – that it was directed at “LGBT people”.
It’s easy to jump to a dismissal of Jones’ final outburst as petulant and narrow-minded but let’s not miss the great sense of rejection and hurt that he’s expressing. Christian, if you have any compassion for anybody made in the image of God (as every single person is) then can I suggest that the first response to Jones must be some form of empathy, some attempt to understand where he’s coming from whether you think that position is valid or not. Here is someone in pain who represents (if possible) a whole self-defining community in pain.
Did the terrorist specifically seek out a gay bar or was it just one of a list of possible targets for him? We will perhaps never know. It appears from ongoing reports that he had visited the place a number of times in order (one assumes) to scout it out. But then he had also done the same at Disney World. So was the Pulse Bar just a particular expression of Western immorality that the terrorist rejected wholesale? I suspect that is the point that Jones’ discussion partners were trying to make. But in pressing their own point they effectively dismissed the emotion that Jones was communicating, which only compounded things. From Jones’ perspective they were rejecting his sense of rejection.
Now imagine being a Christian having to respond to that. What would you say? What would you do? The great problem we face is that for many like Jones any moral disapproval of homosexuals is all placed in the same bucket. Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptists, the Orlando shooter and old Aunt Mabel who wouldn’t hurt a fly are really all just the same thing if all three take a conservative position on sexual ethics. So John Birmingham in a piece a few days ago in the Sydney Morning Herald says,
It was sick-making to see one hypocrite after another offering up thoughts and prayers for the LGBT victims, when for years their thoughts and prayers have been fervently directed towards oppressing and even terrorising them.
For Birmingham any expression of rejection of alternate sexual ethics flows from a “fervently directed” hatred which makes the Christian praying over the situation a hypocrite. This is the paradigm that Birmingham and Jones function with.
But of course there is another way. The Herald were kind enough to post my letter in response,
When Christians who are opposed to gay marriage offer prayers and sympathy for the victims of the Orlando shootings they’re not being hypocrites (“Orlando shooting: thoughts and prayers from hypocrites do nothing to help”, smh.com.au, June 14). We are simply following our master Jesus who taught us to love everyone, not just those we agree with. The reality is that if the Orlando shooter only understood this there would be 49 less dead today.
I could, of course, have said even more to expand the point. The gospel runs counter to Jones’ and Birmingham’s paradigm of rejection. Jesus was criticised for spending time with “sinners”. The Apostle Paul puts it this way,
Rom. 5:6-8 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
In the Christian worldview those who are ungodly, the “sinners”, are not to be rejected so much as to be reached out to and when Jesus reaches out He does so with His own life. Jesus Himself is met with terrible vicious pain-bringing rejection but He chooses to endure it so that we might not ourselves be rejected.
I find myself filled with sadness not just for the outrage in Orlando, but for the rejection expressed by Jones and Birmingham. Their paradigm is one where you reject those you disagree with. There is a terrible irony in Birmingham’s piece that he does the very thing that he accuses others of; he flatly rejects a position that he disagrees with with no desire for understanding, let alone compromise. So we’re left with three players; the terrorist, Birmingham and the Christian. Tragically both the terrorist and Birmingham are operating under the same assumption, that disagreement must result in rejection, while the Christian thinks differently.
Or at least we should think differently. I hope if you’re a Christian reading this that you choose that different path. If Jones or Birmingham were sat on the couch opposite you expressing not only their own sense of rejection but, at the same time, a rejection of you then what would you do? Rejection is not the gospel response. Jesus reached out in love to a world that rejected Him.
And if we want to make a statement of clarity about sexual morality and the kind of things that happen in bars like Pulse, well then all the more reason to not reject the “ungodly sinner”.
The story of the Orlando attack is a story of rejection. A terrorist who rejected a non-Islamic West and gay people in particular which they will never agree with. Defenders of the gay community who operate under the same paradigm of rejection.
The Christian knows a different story. Let’s not add to the rejection.