I first learned of the Islamic terrorist attack in Orlando from an email I received on Sunday morning. I hadn't turned on the news, but I checked my messages and found this:
"Are you happy now??? This is where your Christian bigotry leads."
I wasn't sure what it meant, but I had a couple of other emails similar in content and tone, so I knew something must have happened. Quickly, I discovered that a Muslim in Florida had massacred dozens of people at a gay club.
A woman prays at a site about a block from the Pulse nightclub in the aftermath of a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, on June 12, 2016. Fifty people died and another 53 were injured when a terrorist opened fire and seized hostages at the Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, police said June 12, making it the worst mass shooting in US history. (GREGG NEWTON/AFP/Getty Images)
If you're a little naive, you might be surprised and somewhat confused by the way these events unfolded. Why would I be blamed for Muslim terrorism? I'm a Christian, not a Muslim. The shooter, Omar Mateen, pledged his allegiance to ISIS, not to any church, and certainly not to any conservative blogger on the internet. Mateen and his fellow militant Muslims aren't motivated by Christian beliefs, and they do not desire to follow the same path as those who follow Christ. ISIS routinely drives that point home by marching Christians out into the desert and hacking off their heads.
Indeed, radical Muslims have been waging a jihad against Christianity since the year 600. If these people really wish to model themselves after us, they sure have a funny way of showing it.
But no matter how absurd it may be, Christians are made to share the blame with militant Islamists simply because we both believe the gay lifestyle to be sinful. It doesn't matter that our convictions are rooted in belief systems that are diametrically opposed. And it doesn't matter that only one group regularly acts upon these convictions by throwing gay men off buildings. It doesn't matter that Christians testify to the inherent dignity of all people and strive to bring the good news of salvation to the whole human race, while fundamentalist Muslims testify to the dignity and salvation of only a few. None of that matters. The left will seat us at the defense table alongside the Muslim killers, because they see us - not the Islamists who slaughter them - as their true enemies.
The emails I received were not unique. Immediately after the last body hit the ground, the media set out to tie this attack not to Islam but to a more generic "homophobia." Or "homegrown homophobia," as a Washington Post editorial puts it. It should be understood that the term "homophobia" in this case, without a qualifier like "Islamic" or "Muslim" attached, is a dog whistle meant to implicate conservative Christians. Same goes for "religious bigotry," a phrase designed to awkwardly shove Evangelicals and ISIS terrorists under the same umbrella.
Of course, those "homophobia" claims are a little precarious considering the fact that the shooter was probably gay himself. His ex-wife, his friends, employees at the bar, and users of various gay dating apps have all reported that Mateen had strong "homosexual tendencies." The media still describes Mateen as "conservative," but that seems a peculiar adjective for a gay Muslim who, by the way, also happened to be a registered Democrat.
Nevertheless, all tragedies must be useful for the left, and they will make it so, no matter what. Here are just a few examples of them making it so:
- There have been articles like this one insisting that the Orlando attack is a good reason to reevaluate religious freedom laws. What does the massacre of 49 gay people have to do with Christian bakers refusing to bake cakes for gay weddings? Quite a lot, apparently.
- Another article titled "Religious roots of hatred resurface in Orlando" quotes Eliel Cruz, executive director of the deceptively-named Faith in America organization, openly comparing faithful Christians to ISIS operatives: "This isn’t isolated to Muslim beliefs. It’s seen in Christianity and it’s just as deadly.”
- A lawyer for the ACLU openly blamed the "Christian Right" for the actions of the Islamist fundamentalist, explaining that we "created the anti-queer climate" which led to Sunday's massacre.
- A column in the Huffington Post, published the morning of the attack, drew a direct line connecting religious freedom laws to "the dangers LGBT people live with everyday."
- A post in the Independent declared that "what drove" a gay Muslim Democrat to murder his fellow homosexuals "is the same hate that drives" Republicans and conservatives.
- An editorial in the Globe and Mail accused conservative Republicans of perpetuating an ideology that's "shockingly similar" to jihadism.
- The New York Times reports that leading gay activists are beginning to "wonder" whether fights over "transgender" bathrooms and religious liberty could have sparked the increase in anti-gay violence. An increase that they "sense" but cannot statistically prove, outside of the massacre in Orlando.
- Even some Christian leaders, like this bishop in the United Methodist Church, have taken the opportunity to blame Christians and the Bible for the actions of a man who followed the Koran.
- A Catholic bishop in Florida wrote an op ed in the Washington Post declaring "it is religion, including our own" that "targets and breeds contempt for gays." The good Bishop did not even bother to offer the disclaimer that faulty individual interpretations of religion "breed contempt." Rather he announced that religion itself, including the Christian religion, causes these kinds of evils. One wonders why he remains a Bishop if that's how he feels about his own faith.
And so on.
For years, leftists have said that Christians are fomenting violence against gays when we quote the Bible and affirm the truth of man-woman marriage. Now they finally have their violent episode - even if it came to us courtesy of a Muslim - and they are not going to let it go to waste.
As Christians, we should not surprised by this development, nor should we be surprised by whatever happens next. I fully expect that this terrorist assault will give birth not only to gun restrictions but restrictions on religious practice as well. And not just Muslim religious practice. Christians were already being punished for their religious expression on the basis that our very beliefs infringe on human rights. Now that the opponents of our faith have a real life tragedy to wield against us - no matter how they must contort the issue to connect it to any religion other than Islam - we can anticipate severe repercussions. Before Orlando, it was considered horribly offensive for a Christian to promote the Biblical definition of marriage. After Orlando, it will be tantamount to a hate crime.
But what I really fear, even more than these inevitable consequences, is that sincere and devout Christians will become so beaten down by the accusations that they'll begin to think there may be some truth to them. It's hard for a human to remain confident in his beliefs when, everywhere he goes, the world is foisting guilt and shame upon him. It has a disorienting effect, and after a while he might start to believe that the guilt and shame is really his to bear.
These fears were only deepened by another email I received, this one on Monday afternoon, from a self-professed "conservative Christian" who appears to be at the end of his rope:
"...Everyone tells me it's bigotry to oppose gay marriage or criticize the gay lifestyle and I'm at the point where maybe I'll say "ok you're right." I tried to say on Facebook after Orlando that Christians didn't "contribute" to this like everyone says and I was attacked by literally all my friends. Maybe I'm just sick of having this argument. If I am contributing to violence I don't want to do that..."
We can't succumb to these tactics. The truth of God is not to be blamed for any act of evil. We can be faulted for the sins we commit on our own, and if we have ever directly encouraged others to commit sin then we are also guilty of scandal. But in so far as we have held fast to the Gospel and stood firmly by the truths it contains - all of the truths, including the truths about marriage and sexual morality - we ought to feel no remorse. The truth never causes evil. It is deception that gives birth to sin, not truth.
If we are staying true to our faith, then we are warriors against evil. All evil. The evil of murder and the evil of sexual immorality. It is possible to oppose both. And opposing one does not mean you have caused the other. As Christians, if we are faithful, then we can continue in the confidence that we are lights of love and truth in the world. We are satellites orbiting the Son, reflecting His light. We should never make any apology for that.
Now, if you have defied your Christian faith and actually gone out into the world preaching that gays are subhuman monsters who should be killed, then you certainly should repent of your terrible crimes against truth and God. But, outside of the Westboro Baptists and a few other obscure and irrelevant nutcases, I have not heard any Christians say anything even close to that. Contrary to the popular narrative, "bigotry" does not appear to be the most common stumbling block among believers in the west.
More often, for the average American Christian, our sin is not that we speak too harshly or too violently against evil, but that we do not speak against it at all. The media paints a picture of a country overrun by radical, fundamentalist Bible thumpers roaming the land, shouting, "Repent, you sinners!" But most of us look around our half empty churches and scratch our heads wondering where we might find these mystical creatures. We know we're much more likely to happen across a Christian shouting, "There is no such thing as sin! Let's party!" Or words to that effect.
The crisis in western Christendom is not intolerance. It is indifference. That's the illness we should be primarily focused on treating. But if you are one of the rare specimens who cares deeply for your faith, attests to its truth, lives by its tenets, and proclaims the Word in all its glory - even the parts that are politically incorrect and inconvenient - then feel no shame and make no apologies. You're doing what you have to do and what you're called to do.
The world will indeed lash out against you because of it and blame you for all sorts of things, but that's how it's meant to be. Remember, when you're burdened with sins that are not your own and made to pay the price for crimes you didn't commit, you're in good company. Christ has already been there and done that. Now it's our turn.
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