So much has been already broadcast and published about the catastrophe in Orlando that I honestly have been hesitant to say more. But I now have a few reflections that I hope will be helpful.
There are so many issues involved—the nature of Islam, the shooter’s probable homophobia, the extent of gun violence in our culture, as well the appropriateness of media and political responses—just to name a few. While I have personal opinions about all of these, I doubt that my sharing my opinions would be of any general value.
So instead allow me to say the obvious, but something I have not heard said much. No matter how else one looks at this case, it was plain and simply murder (or for survivors, attempted murder).
When the Lord made his covenant with the people of Israel, murder was forbidden in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere.
There are some key truths about murder we must not forget:
• No one has justification to murder anyone else. Whatever the shooter’s motives were, they were contrary to the will of God. Any form of faith that justifies murder is not of God (assuming faith was one motive here).
• No one deserves to be murdered for any reason, lifestyle or otherwise. We are called to have compassion for any of those who lost loved ones due to murder. They need our prayers, that they may be comforted and know the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
• We need to remember that murder is radically connected to hatred. Jesus taught that hatred was actually the equivalent of murder (Matthew 5:21-24). Whether this crime was primarily motivated by the killer’s Islamic faith, his personal homophobia, or some combination of the two, the underlying cause was almost undoubtedly hate. Jesus taught us that we may not hate anyone, not even our enemies, for we are called to be like God our Father who cares for everyone (Matthew 5:43- 48). And it is worth remembering that in one instance when someone was about to be killed for immoral sexual behavior, Jesus saved her life, offering her a chance to live faithfully (John 8:1-11).
• The last truth is perhaps the most uncomfortable. Before we jump to judge anyone involved, we need to remember that we all have murder and other sinful desires in our own hearts (Matthew 15:19). I have been reading many of Agatha Christie’s mysteries, and her detective character’s assumption is that anyone can commit murder. Christie understood the Biblical view of our warped hearts. We therefore all need salvation by the sheer grace of God, purchased for us on the cross of Christ.
I am sure that the debates about this tragedy will be with us a long time. James in his letter counsels us to “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Let us listen with compassion to all who are suffering loss, let us be careful not to speak with easy answers, and let us guard our hearts from being quickly angry with those who disagree with us. Before we rush into anger, let us remember how grateful we should be for the Lord who has loved us, even as sinful as we are.
On another sad note, I ask your prayers for the family whose son died from an alligator attack at Disney World in the Orlando area on Tuesday. And please intercede for a priest of our diocese, the Rev. Brad Page who works there and has ministered to many directly involved in that sad tragedy. Please lift up to the Lord those other employees at Disney World who are likewise heartbroken about this accident.
I call us all to pray for all those bereaved, for the Orlando area, and for our nation. May the Lord show his mercy upon us all.
In Jesus, who weeps with those who weep,
The Rt. Rev. Neil G. Lebhar
Bishop, Diocese of the Gulf Atlantic