Orlando Aftermath: Between Sentiment and Vitriol

Police in Orlando direct family members away from the scene of the shooting.

There has been no shortage of Christian think pieces about Orlando in the last 36 hours. Almost without exception, their headlines are variations on the “here’s how Christians ought to react” theme. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this. It’s the template Christian pundits are expected to follow in the wake of any national atrocity. But I trust my readers to decide for themselves how they choose to react to the events of Sunday morning. So I simply offer my observations on the Orlando aftermath, in hopes that they will distinguish themselves in some way from what you have already encountered.

The vast majority of reactions that I’ve seen, long-form and short-form, Christian and secular, can be sorted into two piles: the sentiment pile and the vitriol pile. The Christian reactions are predominantly sentimental, with the usual thin Westboro Baptist slice of vitriol. The latter crew forfeited their right to be taken seriously long ago, and there’s no reason to start paying attention to them now. I see no point in gleefully declaring this to be an act of God’s judgement, not only because it is obviously sinful to express glee over a mass murder, but because it’s unnecessary to attribute to divine action what can easily be explained by human free will.

On the other hand, I am decidedly unmoved by the plethora of pundits instructing me to “hug my LGBT neighbor right now,” or to work myself into a state of grief over the murders. Many people around the country and the world were murdered in cold blood on Sunday. Many people are being murdered right now. Many of them are far more innocent than the patrons of Pulse: the aborted, the dehydrated, the abandoned and the unwanted. Yet it’s only psychologically normal that even for them, I am not going to be able to divert a constant stream of emotional energy. I am horrified at their deaths, yet my eyes are dry as I type about them. How much the less can I be expected to open the floodgates for a group of homosexuals who happened to be gunned down at a gay bar, merely because everybody happens to be talking about it right now? This is group-think cum emotional manipulation. I refuse to play the game.

I am also predictably seeing a flood of articles that lay out an “on the one hand…on the other hand” formula for how this murder should inform Christians’ view of Islam and Muslims. Even Nabeel Qureshi, a thoughtful scholar who is rightly pointing out that the murder stems from violence inherent to Islam, has expressed fear that this will lead Christians to retaliate against innocent Muslims. It is clear that he is deeply uncomfortable at the suggestion of a national conversation about the wisdom of continuing to allow Muslim immigration. Yet it is perfectly possible to lay out the case for closing our borders without irrationally, unkindly lashing out at our Muslim acquaintances. I see virtually nobody even attempting to distinguish between these reactions. Ironically, people like Nabeel lecture other conservative Christians not to paint Muslims with a broad brush while themselves painting conservative Christians with a broad brush.

Meanwhile, the larger culture wallows even more deeply in cloying sentiment while indulging itself even more widely in vitriolic spewing. Naturally, the latter is aimed not at violent Islam, but at conservative Christianity and the NRA. By liberal logic, anyone with a principled opposition to pacifism must share in the blame for any mass shooting, and anyone who also opposes homosexuality is automatically culpable for anti-gay violence. This is all par for the course. It’s no surprise that in the eyes of a rabid activist like Angus Johnston, Marco Rubio is barely any better than Omar Mateen. This doesn’t mean we should abandon basic human decency and toss in with Westboro Baptist. It does mean we should be under no illusions that the larger culture is going to soften towards us as long as we aren’t Westboro Baptist. They demand much, much more.

Happily, we are not constrained by the approval of the masses. The Church’s task is a simple one: to preach the gospel. Our commission is to carry the good news that Jesus can forgive all sin, including the sins of the homosexual and the sins of the murderer. Our commission is to shout from the rooftops there is hope beyond sorrow, life beyond death, for all those who will repent and believe.

To this we are called. For this we are sent forth. Christ binds no other burden on our backs.

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