Who has a right to speak out about homosexuality after the Orlando Gay Bar massacre, and what should be said? It is tempting for Christians who hold to the biblical condemnation of homosexuality to go silent, but is that right?
One group that does not hesitate is ISIS, which from the beginning has openly claimed responsibility, describing the gunman as one of its heroic fighters. Various Islamic spokesmen, like Fahad Qureshi, admitted in 2013 that the desire to see homosexuals killed was a belief held even by “moderate” Muslims. Just weeks before Orlando, Muslim cleric Sheikh Farrokh Sekaleshfar, during a sermon at an Orlando-area mosque, called for gays to be executed “out of compassion.” In the same vein, the front page of an Islamic Turkish newspaper (with links to the country’s President Erdoğan) justifies the killing, calling those who died in the Orlando mass shooting “perverts” and “deviants.”
Others who speak out are homosexual activists, believing that this slaughter provides the occasion to encourage the rightful spread of homosexual practice. Author Karl Soehnlein, when hearing that the murderer’s anger was provoked by seeing two men kissing in “an expression of love,” has vowed to “flood the world with images of men kissing…fight back with love.” President Obama, avoiding any open accusations of Islam, implies that the real problem is how we think about LGBT practice. He exhorts the nation: “We need the strength and courage to change our attitudes toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.”
Inevitably, biblical Christians are singled out as promoting violence via “violent” speech. Describing Tony Perkins of Family Research Council as “an anti-gay hate group leader,” a group called “Faithful America” is seeking to get him barred from speaking on national television. The left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center long ago designated FRC as a hate group. Time Magazine employed a “homosexual Christian” to affirm “What Christians Must Do in the Wake of Orlando,” blaming Christians for causing “deep, lasting pain in LGBT people’s lives,” asserting that “Unless you’ve long been a vocal advocate for LGBT people, you’ve likely contributed to that suffering—intentionally or not.” The article implies that anything but acceptance creates a climate of mass killing. Liberals within the church agree. Florida Catholic Bishop Robert Lynch blames the church for playing a part in the massacre. “Sadly, it is religion, including our own,” he says, “that targets, mostly verbally, and often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people.” This weak explanation in no way accounts for the violence of Isis.
Clearly, Christians must pause to ask if their speech expresses hatred. Alas, there are “Christians” who, like radical Muslims, exult in the slaughter. The pastor of Verity Baptist Church, Sacramento, CA, Roger Jimenez, praises the massacre, claiming to be upset that the gunman did not finish the job! He states in hateful terms: “As Christians we shouldn’t be mourning the deaths of these fifty sodomites because the Bible teaches that these sodomites are all, every single one of them, a predator.”
Indeed, the heartless bloodshed in Orlando is a reminder to Christians that our response must be a combination of love and truth, involving both the human situation and the being of God.
The Christian calling is to make known the good news that God loves sinners for whom Jesus paid the ultimate price. Inasmuch as we are all sinners, we may not define anyone as beyond the reach of God’s mercy.
But we must first and foremost speak the truth about this loving God. This will be the theological message of our conference in October 7–8, 2016, in Escondido, CA, “Two Loves: A Biblical Response to ‘Gay Christianity,’” to which, dear reader, you are invited. Alas, many do not understand that the normalization of homosexuality undermines the person of God who, as Creator, made human beings male and female to reflect his Trinitarian image (Gen. 1:27). For God’s honor and for true human flourishing, this truth must be maintained.
Christians may not play the part of God, who alone is the ultimate judge. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord” (Heb. 10:30). In pleading to God for Sodom, Abraham says what all believers must affirm: “Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Gen. 18:25). In the New Testament the church is never given authority to impose civil physical justice on the culture, a role given explicitly to the duly-appointed magistrate (Rom. 13:1–4). Spiritual excommunication of church members is the only response to blatant, unrepentant sin—of believers.
Christians must warn of the final judgment, which no one escapes. Yet we also have a humble, marvelous truth to announce from the rooftops: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim 1:15).