Orlando makes my heart hurt.
The LGBTQ community is near and dear to my heart. My closest friends and several of my family members identify with and are a part of this community. I’ve been an Ally since I was 16 years old.
Such an act of pure hatred and senseless violence is beyond my ability to empathize with.
After every additional act of mass gun violence, there is a temptation for Americans to polarize on gun control legislation– because, duh, guns were used to perpetuate hatred. Yet again.
But, I think that’s too easy.
When we try to reduce this pervasive problem of violent acts in such a way as to deny the very human problem of being motivated to violence against others, we fail to address the real issue. Access to firearms factors into this– absolutely. But it is far from explaining the whole.
What is it that motivates someone to do something like this?
What is it in our own culture, and in the human condition, that leads a fellow human being to villainize other human beings in such a way as to desire to murder them? And then commit to doing so?
This isn’t a novel problem specific to the post-modern world. History tells us that the problem of mass homicide is as old as humankind itself. But that hardly explains why it exists in the first place.
Every major religion has struggled to understand and explain this phenomena. And I dutifully fall back on my own Religious Tradition to gain clarity.
But instead of trying to explain human evil away, or blaming the implements used in perpetuating it, Christianity seeks to address it firsthand:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Matthew 5:43-48 (NRSV)
In reflecting on this today, I was dumbstruck by the profundity of these statements. Jesus admonishes us all to avoid falling into the same human trap as our ‘enemies’. Which is to challenge the idea that anyone who shares a part in humanity could possibly remain an enemy in light of Eternity, when God sees every human being as of value.
It’s tempting to believe that acts of violence like those in Orlando are perpetuated by inhuman beings. Or merely mentally ill ones. Christianity counters: you are still a human being, deserving of the same dignity and respect as every other part of the human clan– even if you choose evil over goodness.
Essentially, Jesus turns our propensity for violent retribution into this beautiful truth:
Our enemies are, still, our real brothers and sisters. They have just lost sight of this. Let’s not make their same mistake.
The solution then, is not in casting the blame outside of ourselves, but in recognizing that we all have the capacity for hatred and evil. Even if we cannot empathize with what someone has chosen to do, we can still treat them with the same compassion we’d, ideally, treat any other member of our human family.
That’s easy to say from a distance. Much more difficult to live out when you are the one dealing with the consequences of human evil.
I, for one, would never try to judge the responses of the family and friends of the 103 victims of the Orlando tragedy. I pray for their comfort amidst much pain and grief. I believe God stands at the ready, with enough Grace to cover a multitude of sins. I hope they are able to use their intense grief constructively. My thoughts and prayers are with them.
But, for the rest of us, it’s important to remember that impartiality is one of the hallmarks of Divine perfection (per Jesus). So, if we try and turn this into ANY kind of polarized debate, we’ve failed our human family.
And we’ve failed it miserably!
How can a tribal mentality facilitate Divine perfection? It can’t! When our response to tragedy is one to draw lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’, we (as Christians) are doing it wrong. Period.
My prayer for the rest of us is that this tragedy encourages us to show more compassion when we are presented with new opportunity to do so. That we stop separating ourselves into different tribes, and instead seek to maintain the integrity of the whole of our human tribe. That we decide to embrace those different from us, rather than eye them with suspicion, because our diversity as human beings is our strength– not our weakness.