In our Christian Scripture, we read of the need to persevere through hardship. Philippians 2 teaches us “I can endure all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We get encouragement to face the inner struggles of doing what we want versus what God wants. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans of the turmoil between doing what God wants and doing what evil in the earth wants. We are taught to turn to God for guidance, and that is sage counsel.
In the news we hear of a holy war between Islam and Christians, often referred to as Jihad. The problem with this is that it is ill informed and a bad translation. Jihad is an Arabic word that means striving or persevering. It refers to both the internal and external struggles between sinfulness and obedience to God’s will and loving nature. There is no connotation of war, holy or otherwise, in this idea. It is very similar to the descriptions Christians read in Scripture – an acknowledgement that we struggle with these two opposites.
In Orlando, Florida, a man entered a night club and massacred 49 people and did serious physical harm to some 54 more, and egregious psychological harm to 200 more in the club and countless people across the nation. In the first hours after this attack, the media was publicizing that the attacker was a Muslim. It was reported that seeing two men kissing enraged him to violence against homosexuals who frequented this establishment. Some politicians and activists started to call for tighter gun controls. Others blamed the other party for interfering with legislation that would have prevented this event from occurring.
Let’s take a moment and look at some of the elements of this event. The attacker was a follower of Islam and apparently declared allegiance to ISIS during negotiations with law enforcement over the course of three hours while he held people in the club as hostages. His father, however, reports that his son was not a radicalized terrorist and that the attack was not based on religious ideology. This would suggest that the attacker carried out this attack because of his views of homosexuals. However, some co-workers have said that he worked with homosexuals without any problems, and he had treated them all cordially. Some other co-workers, though, reported that he often talked about acts of violence such as this that he carried out, so there is an apparent disconnect between what some heard and what others heard.
May I then suggest that the attacker was wrestling with some inner turmoil that we will never be able to know of because he is among the dead from this event? Could it be, as some have suggested, that he sensed his own homosexual urges and reacted poorly to having such feelings? Could it be that he was struggling with what he understood God to be saying as opposed to what he wanted? Could the jihad of this event be the sad state of a tormented mind that could not reconcile what his religion told him and what his heart and mind felt?
Muslims in Orlando and across the country have spoken out about the horror of this attack. They have offered prayers for the families. Christian communities have held vigils for the families of the dead, and have spoken out about the horror of this attack. They too have offered prayers for the families. The politicians have attacked each other’s platforms on gun control, on same sex marriage, on the role of religion in society. Some Christian pastors have spoken out in favor of the attack, make such remarks as “the only tragedy is that more (homosexuals) were not killed. We have read of Chick-Fil-A, known for funding anti-LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) organizations, opened a restaurant on Sunday to prepare sandwiches and beverages to be given to blood donors in response to the sudden need. There are images of people holding each other while one or both cry. There are images of people holding each other simply to touch another living being.
We should understand that this event is and is not about religious ideology. We should understand that this event is and is not about access to guns. We should understand that this event is about one individual’s animus toward homosexuals, but it is not about your view or the laws of this land. There are people who will attempt to exploit this event to push one agenda or another, somehow limiting the rights of individuals for the perception of greater safety, but that is not thought out well for unintended consequences. What this event is about, if I may presume to be able to identify just one thing, is the struggle each of us has between good and evil.
In this case, the attacker severed his relationship with God and carried out a heinous act. There was no God that called him to do this, but the evil that is in the human heart. Each of us struggles with jihad, with striving to serve God and righteousness. Sometimes we make poor choices. Fortunately, most of those decisions do not have the consequences of this event. Taking away guns will not solve this problem; that would merely reduce availability of one implement, but there are others available. Restricting the right to worship God as one understands God will not solve this problem. There are countries in which Christians are persecuted by Muslims. It would be more than sad if the US, with its bold statements about freedom of religion, were to become a place where Muslims were persecuted by Christians (and some would suggest they already are). There are some countries in which Christians are persecuted by Hindus, others by Buddhists, by atheists or humanists. Regardless of those states, Christ did not teach persecution of another faith under any circumstances.
What is the Christian response to the events of Orlando? First, cry in pain with those who are mourning the loss of their child, their friends, their spouses. Compassion is to suffer with another and we should suffer this tragedy as a personal attack to have even an inkling of the pain those directly affected by it are experiencing. There is no harm in shedding more than a few tears for the loss of life. Second, speak out about mistreatment of any group. We do not have to agree with others to be able to treat people with dignity and respect. No group deserves to be slaughtered senselessly in a public gathering; regardless of their skin color, sexual preference, ethnic origin, religion, legal status, length of hair or hair color, or any other way we can think of dividing people. Third, pray and then act. Act for justice, peace, and God’s word. We are called to be a holy people, set apart for God’s service. What should set us apart? They should know we are Christians by our love.