published in an edited form at The Gospel Coalition, Australia

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.

11 comments on “#Orlando – The Call of the Rejected

  1. What Birmingham fails to see is that this was not an attack on a gay bar, but an attack on humanity itself.
    We as Christians will empathise with the grief and loss felt by all those living in Orlando, because they will be grieving just as much as the gays. Gays do not have a monopoly on grief and shock. It would be the same if it was an attack on a mosque in Orlando by a crazy American. Orlando would be in shock as would anyone with any sense of being human.
    Sadly, Birmingham begins his article by calling those who oppose the gay agenda “enemies”; and pretty much says that “Christians have blood on their hands” and unless we moderate our “hate speech” (none of which I have seen by Christians), the blood will splatter on us.
    One would hope that Birmingham would moderate his speech against Christians lest he be found guilty of what he accuses others of.

    • Ron, surely it is both an attack on a gay bar and an attack on humanity. Your use of the little word “not” is troubling. David O tacked the issue of mourning the LGBT victims, we should not erase them from our discussion.

      • yes John. I think the language of “both … and” is correct. Jones’ error is to make it only about homosexuals. The counter error is to make it only about “humanity”.

        What is interesting, however, is that my friends in Florida tell me there is a more generalised sense of outrage – the overwhelming emphasis on the gay community’s isolated victimhood in this is not what’s being expressed by the majority on the ground. Nevertheless both need to be held up for contemplation.

        I would put it this way – the Pulse bar was a particular expression of a western “immorality” that the terrorist rejected, thus it was an attack on both the general (the West) and the specific (homosexuals).

        • [comment deleted]
          Friends, I’m all for a good robust exchange of views but let me make it clear that just pouring out insults on those we disagree with won’t be tolerated here.

          If you can’t express yourself without having to resort to invective then you’ll have to do it somewhere else.

      • Do not be troubled John,maybe the word “just” after the word “not” would have been better.
        However the main point remains. A community in mourning should not be concerned with who the people are that they are mourning.
        Why should our sympathies be focussed only on the gay community?

    • “What Birmingham fails to see is that this was not an attack on a gay bar, but an attack on humanity itself”

      No it isn’t. It’s looking increasingly like the targets were chosen because of their sexual orientation. That makes it an homophobic crime. Calling it an attack on humanity in an attempt to ignore the fact that the victims were LGBT is to erase the victims. Every part of LGBTQIA people’s lives have been politicised so it’s unreasonable to try to depoliticise LGBT peoples deaths.

      “We as Christians will empathise with the grief and loss felt by all those living in Orlando, because they will be grieving just as much as the gays. Gays do not have a monopoly on grief and shock.”

      Completely wrong. This was an attack on the LGBT community so it’s their voices and their grief that is important now. It is certainly not the time for Heterosexuals and certainly not christians to be talking over queer voices and certainly not to be alleging supposed grief if they have been supporting policies that are disadvantageous to the LGBT community – This article explains it well – point number 5

      http://everydayfeminism.com/2016/06/allies-after-orlando/

      “Sadly, Birmingham begins his article by calling those who oppose the gay agenda “enemies”; and pretty much says that “Christians have blood on their hands” and unless we moderate our “hate speech” (none of which I have seen by Christians), the blood will splatter on us.”

      Actually there are multiple incidents of pastors and christians “celebrating” the tragedy. Don’t pretend they aren’t guilty of hate speech, when they clearly are:

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/06/14/christian-pastor-on-gay-victims-in-orlando-massacre-the-tragedy-is-that-more-of-them-didnt-die/
      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/06/13/christian-pastors-message-about-orlando-massacre-dont-say-its-a-tragedy-because-its-not/
      If you haven’t seen hate speech from christians – you’ve got your eyes closed.

      Simply there is no “gay agenda.” There are LGBT people who want equal protection under the law and to not be attack in the violent manner outlined in the articles above. Similarly it’s disingenuous to pretend to have sympathy for victims of a homophobic attack if you’ve been actively trying to push positions and policies that make LGBT people second class citizens in their own nations:

      https://unicornbooty.com/31-gop-politicians-their-thoughts-prayers-and-anti-gay-pro-gun-votes/

      “One would hope that Birmingham would moderate his speech against Christians lest he be found guilty of what he accuses others of”

      This is a poor attempt at a reverse racism claim – There is no hate speech against Christians. Calling people out for their hate speech and bigotry is not itself hate speech.

      • I was going to start refuting some of your points, but I think I’ll just post the observation that the collection of assumptions, values and perceptions that you and I operate under are astonishingly different. I find these beliefs of yours absurd:

        – that people who view homosexual behaviour as immoral can’t grieve the deaths of homosexual people
        – that there is no gay agenda
        – that there is no hate speech against Christians

        But I’m well aware that arguing won’t work, because we come to the argument with such completely different presuppositions.

        A quick note on the hate speech from Christians: David hadn’t seen any of it because the Christians he interacts with, by and large, represent their Lord well.

        • “that people who view homosexual behaviour as immoral can’t grieve the deaths of homosexual people”

          I think this point was made well by the “unicorn booty” article. 1) Few LGBT people have time for the supposes sympathies of people who have previously been attempting to disparage them or deny them rights previously – particularly when the view that “homosexual behaviour as immoral” contributes to attitudes of hatred that incite hate crimes such as Orlando in the first place. It comes across as disingenuous and patronising. 2) Given this was an attack on a group of LGBT people in particular LGBT people of colour, it’s their voices that are important and their grief that should being heard.

          “that there is no hate speech against Christians”

          In Australia at least I would be disparage the existence of hate speech against christians. Hate Speech generally denotes vilification, the ability to incite hatred, contempt or ridicule against a group of persons and therefore requires the speaker to occupy some position or power. Christian’s aren’t a minority in this country so it’s difficult to see who exactly is being incited to hatred against christians as a whole. Offensive speech towards christians certainly does exist – one could perhaps cite imagery of Jesus used in comedic TV series such as “Family Guy” as an example but that doesn’t mean the speech necessarily incites violence against them.

      • Julia – I’m not going to debate the points I have made.
        I would simply comment on a comment you made:
        “not the time for Heterosexuals and certainly not christians to be talking over queer voices and certainly not to be alleging supposed grief if they have been supporting policies that are disadvantageous to the LGBT community”.

        I take it that you are unable to sympathise with the genocide of Christians by ISIS in IRAQ/SYRIA over the last eighteen months because you oppose the policies of Christians?

  2. I appreciated your letter to SMH.

    However, are Christians opposed to gay marriage or supporters of marriage as God intended it?

    Others [including an Anglican Diocese of Sydney Northern region minister with a large Facebook following] seem to be taking a line that it is a freedom of the State to define marriage. This leaves Christians to advocate for their position in amongst all the noise.

    Christians can support marriage as God intended – and advocate so. By interpretation some will identify this as opposition to gay marriage. Let them interpret as they wish but be careful not to fuel them.

  3. “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.”
    AND I would imagine you would INCLUDE yourself in that description when you made 2 gay men live in a caravan outside your house on the SBS series “Living with the enemy” when they welcomed you into their house because you were not not going to have 2 deviants living under your roof. I think the biblical term is “no room at the Inn?”

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