Responding to the violence in Orlando | from Scott Sauls

This post is from the blog of pastor and author Scott Sauls. We found it so insightful and compassionate that we wanted to share it out, as our nation grieves the tragic shooting in Orlando.

Saint Augustine once wrote the famous words:

In essentials, unity;
in non-essentials, liberty;
in all things, charity.

Today, and especially in light of the horrendous massacre in Orlando, in which forty nine souls had their lives cut short by a shooting spree at a gay night club, I would like to focus on the third of these three statements. For the purposes of this reflection, I will add the words, “and toward all people and all people groups” to the charity part.

Because of the way that Jesus came to us in love—not while we were at our best but while we were at our worst, not when we were treating him as a friend but when we were treating him as an enemy—we Christians of all people should find creative and consistent ways to love, listen to, and serve all kinds of people…especially in their days of need and loss and sorrow.

In light of the Orlando tragedy, I am especially moved to highlight this basic gospel imperative, to love your neighbor as yourself. This is not a time to be silent about the horrible injustice that occurred in Orlando last weekend. And it is not a time for preaching one’s views about right and wrong when it comes to sexuality. This is a time to love. This is a time for compassion. This is a time for tears, to enter into the sorrow and the loss, not with answers but with presence.

And, whatever one’s beliefs may be about sexuality, silence is never an option where abuse and injustice are perpetrated. Because, as Dr. King once said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Furthermore, Jesus never seemed too concerned about sending “mixed messages.” He welcomed sinners of every kind—religious sinners and irreligious sinners, sexual sinners and pious sinners, bottom of the barrel and holier-than-thou sinners—and ate with them. Without caveats. And he took a lot of criticism for it from pious religious folk. But he didn’t seem to care.

A day or two after the Orlando shooting, an LGBTQ advocate tweeted the words:

Straight friends,
especially you Christians,
please know:
We hear your silence so loud.

According to the writer, most of the outcries about Orlando seemed to be coming from everyone except those who identify as followers of Jesus. It’s as if she was saying, “Hey you Christians, they are hurting down there in Orlando. So then, you Christians, where are your tears? Where are your outcries? Where is your compassion? If it’s there, let us see it and feel it and experience it. If you have a light, you Christians, this is most certainly not the time to be hiding it beneath a bushel.”

There are exceptions to the woman’s concern, like this thoughtful piece about weeping and mourning together over lives and loved ones lost from the Southern Baptist leader, and a relatively new friend of mine, Russell Moore. Or one tweet and then another from Matt Chandler to his sizable number of followers:

What a horrific act of evil. Christians your Muslim friends & neighbors woke up this morning wondering how they will be viewed. Love them. Also consider the fear and pain this will have in the LGBT community. Let’s be the people of God in this heinous and awful violence.

But, responses like these notwithstanding, to whatever degree the woman is right in her concern, that is, to whatever degree Christians do choose to remain silent about such violence done to any person or people group created in the Image of God, is the degree to which the gospel’s humanitarian pulse and ethic must be revisited.

In the spirit of loving deeply in the midst of having differences, I am especially struck by the following excerpt from an essay written by a former chaplain at Harvard:

The divide between Christians and atheists is deep…I’m dedicated to bridging that divide—to working with…atheists, Christians, and people of all different beliefs and backgrounds on building a more cooperative world. We have a lot of work to do…My hope is that these tips can help foster better dialogue between Christians and atheists and that, together, we can work to see a world in which people are able to have honest, challenging, and loving conversations across lines of difference.

The former Harvard chaplain’s name is Chris Stedman.

Chris is an atheist, who also identifies as “queer.”

Is it possible to disagree with each other on sensitive subjects, and still maintain meaningful and even loving friendships with each other? And, as Russell Moore suggests, is it not only possible but imperative and right to weep and mourn across such lines…and in such a way that the lines become transformed into bridges?

As an atheist and member of the LGBTQ community, Chris Stedman believes it is possible.

As a follower of Jesus, I believe it is not only possible, but is an essential part of Christian discipleship. It is morally imperative for the people of Jesus to weep with all of our neighbors who weep, and mourn with all of our neighbors who mourn.

“Who is my neighbor?” the teacher of the law asked Jesus.

Your neighbor, O child of God and heir of the Kingdom, is anyone who is near and anyone who has a need.

In the spirit of neighbor love, Kate Shellnutt from Christianity Today posted this on Twitter, in response to Orlando:

Looking for churches volunteering
or offering security for Pride events
in light of the Orlando massacre.

I don’t know about you, but to me this provocative comment from Kate feels like something Jesus would affirm. You know, Jesus…the same Jesus who healed ten lepers even though only one of them would say thank you, the same Jesus who made a Samaritan the hero of his story about neighbor-love right in the face of the reality that Jews hated Samaritans and Samaritans hated Jews, the same Jesus who commended Rahab for providing refuge for Israel’s spies even though she was still, at the time, an active prostitute, the same Jesus who went after Peter in love when Peter had denied him three times, before Peter ever repented or said that he was sorry, the same Jesus who looked a prostitute dead in the eye, while she was still dressed like a prostitute and had come to him straight off the streets to kiss his feet and pour her prostitute’s perfume on his skin, and praised her for her expression of love, regardless of how unorthodox it may have been to the cultural norms of the day.

Kate Shellnutt’s tweet sounds to me like what Chick Fil-A, a Christian owned and operated restaurant, did in response to the Orlando shootings. On Sunday, the day that Chick Fil-A is usually closed, they brewed gallons of tea and prepared hundreds of their sandwiches, and handed them out free of charge to people who were donating blood for the LGBTQ shooting victims.

This is the same company who, because of its President/CEO’s belief in the Bible and, on that basis, the historic Judeo-Christian sex ethic, got boycotted by a gay activist and then reached out and ended up becoming good friends with the same gay activist (you can read the full story, from the perspective of the gay activist, Shane Windemeyer, here).

Disciples of Jesus, not in spite of their Christian beliefs but because of them, take initiative to love, listen to, and serve those who do not share their beliefs.

Chick Fil-A’s response to Orlando is merely an attempt to mirror the action God has taken toward everyone who believes, and the reason why anybody ever believes in the first place…

It is God’s kindness that leads us to repent.

It is not our repentance that leads God to be kind.

Let’s make sure that God’s kindness is tasted not only on the pages of Scripture, but through our lives and through our loving. Because the more we are into Jesus, the more conservative we are in our belief that every single word of the Bible is right and good and true, the more liberal we will be in the ways that we love.

Jesus said to the adulteress, “I do not condemn you. Now go leave your life of sin.” Reverse the order of these two sentences, and you lose Christianity. Reverse the order of these two sentences, and you lose Jesus.

This is the faithful response. Yes, this. To seek with all of our hearts to love our LGBTQ neighbors in ways that our LGBTQ neighbors themselves would recognize as love. The response that makes us suspect in the eyes of those who are religiously smug and relationally scared, the response that leads some to even accuse us of being soft on law because we are so heavy on grace. The response that causes onlookers, especially the more pious ones, to mischaracterize us as “gluttons and drunks” because of the aroma of Jesus, who was similarly accused, that seeps out of us.

In theory this sounds reasonable, but in real life it is messy. As Dostoevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, love in practice is a dreadful thing compared to the love in dreams. But the real and messy love—the kind that leads us to maintain conviction while communicating love and compassion and empathy to those who might not agree with our convictions—is better than the love in dreams, which is a sentimental love that has no roots. The real and messy love, not the love in dreams, is the love that Jesus entered into. And we must follow.

And so I ask again, is it possible to profoundly disagree with someone and love them deeply at the same time? Is it possible to hold deep convictions and embrace people who reject your deep convictions simultaneously?

Yes, it is.

Do you remember Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man (Mark 10:17-27)? Do you remember how Jesus told the man to sell all of his possessions, give to the poor, and then follow him? Do you remember how the man then turned away from Jesus because he had great wealth? If you do remember the encounter, did you catch these two incredibly significant details?

First, Jesus looked at the man and loved him.

Second, the man walked away from Jesus feeling sad. Not judged. Not ticked off. Not feeling bullied or dismissed or excluded or marginalized. Not saying to Jesus and his followers, “I hear your silence so loud.” No. Not this. But SAD. The man walked away in the tension of paradox—held captive by the chains of his money idol, yet sensing a forfeiture of a different and perhaps more life-giving form of wealth.

So let’s ask ourselves, what will matter more to us in the end—that we successfully put others in their place, that we took a “moral stand” regardless of who we alienated in the process…or that we loved well enough for lines to turn into bridges? God have mercy on us if we do not love well because all that matters to us is being right and winning culture wars and taking moral stands that put people in their place but don’t win any people’s hearts. I want to contend that truth and love can go together. I want to contend that truth and love must go together.

Into a climate in which Christians were routinely made fun of, maligned, and persecuted for their convictions, Peter wrote these words:

In your hearts honor Christ as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Critics turned to friends, lines turned to bridges…through gentleness and respectCan you imagine it?

So then, as for the dear souls lost in Orlando…

Look at your neighbors with compassion, and lean into love. Listen to the cries and the sorrows. And take to heart these words put to song by Charlie Peacock:

Don’t speak. Save your words.
Silence the lips
of the people with all of the answers.
Gently show them
that now is the time for tears.

Because Jesus wept.