Following the terrible mass murder in Orlando, Jason Ball, Greens candidate for the seat of Higgins, has criticised those who offered prayers for the victims and their families,
“This week, media commentators who have previously vilified us, leapt on the unspeakable atrocities in Orlando and used our grief as a battering ram to prosecute their own agenda against another minority.
Then they wring their hands and offer us their ‘prayers and sympathy’ whilst conveniently ignoring the fact that acts of hate and violence are the logical conclusion to a public ‘debate’ that maintains we are abnormal and not worthy of the same rights and respect as our fellow citizens.”
Like many people I gloss over most words that I read online, but Mr Ball’s comments stood out and made me put on the brakes. As a reflected on his words, I found several different threads of thought running through my mind, some conflicting:
Does genuine grief depend upon agreement? The thing is, I do feel great sadness for those who have been personally affected by the Orlando massacre. It was a display of evil for which there is no justification. Am I being hypocritical for thinking this?
On the one hand, the Muslim community has been criticised for their lack of public outrage over the attack, and yet Christians offering prayers for those affected are being told to keep quiet? It feels as though we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
Is it true that the logical outcome of not supporting same-sex marriage is hate and violence?
Is it right to pray for a group of people if they ask us to desist?
Should we only pray for those with whom we have congruity of thought? Is our common humanity not enough?
What can Christians do to overcome the view that not supporting SSM does not equal hating LGBTI people?
The same article reported how Mr Ball has had campaign material smeared with hateful words, ‘fag’, and so understandably he is skeptical of certain peoples’ words of support for the victims in Orlando. More so, it takes a callous person to dismiss the fears and grief many LGBTI people are experiencing in the wake of Orlando.
A question I am wrestling with is this, as a Christian, how should I respond? Should I remain quiet? Do I ‘repent’ of my understanding of marriage, as one commentator has argued Christians must do? Are our only options, conformity to or exile from the public sphere?
The fact that you are reading these words probably gives away my answer, although I have taken several days to ponder the question before writing. The reason for writing this piece is to try and communicate, albeit somewhat clumsily, that Christians do care and are concerned for the LGBTI community. It is not hate that drives us to speak and pray.
Jason Ball may be right, there are people using Orlando, ‘as a battering ram to prosecute their own agenda against another minority’. In fact, I’m pretty sure he is right. This horrendous event is being utilitarianised by several public figures to silence all manner of minority voices. There are haters in our community, including individuals who detest LGBTI people, and we stand with you against them.
Hate and violence derives from commitment to a worldview that cannot tolerate difference. This worldview may be of a religious orchestration; its shape may be that of secular humanism.
Jesus once said that it’s relatively easy to love those whom you like; it takes grace to love those with whom you disagree. We all fall short of this ideal, which would well leave us hopeless, except there is one who lived the ideal without ever misstepping.
“After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:27-31)
Jesus calls those who would follow him, to be like him.
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36)
A Christian cannot hate because we have been on the other side, we have belonged to the crowd who have hurt others and thrown stones of hate, pride, and greed. Christians, if they are Christian, confess their spiritual and moral destitution, and yet we have come to experience the undeserving and loving grace of God who forgives our trespasses through Jesus. Once the human heart has experienced Divine forgiveness, we can not walk back into old attitudes of disdain for other people, nor hold onto some cold and languid acquiescence toward popular moral thought. When God replaces hate with love, it is a commitment to affirm what is good as defined by God. Can not love lead us to disagree with fellow human beings? Can a desire to see people flourish not include aspects of nonconcurrence, as we find in the life of Jesus Christ?
I do not hate you. I would willingly stand alongside you against those who have insulted you and graffitied your campaign posters. Clearly though, we have much work to do. I don’t know if Jason Ball will read this piece, and if he does, what his response would be. But I hope and pray he and others hear, and not only hear, but come to experience that Christians do not hate them. We must do more to love others as Christ has loved us.
I’ll finish with two examples that I have come across of where a Christian voice is trying to speak into the awfulness of what took place just over a week ago.
The American chain restaurant, Chick-Fil-A, is known for its conservative values and for not opening on Sundays out of observance for the Sabbath. Following the shooting, they broke their rules and opened on the Sunday to serve their community. They gave food to firefighters, police and volunteers, and they handed out sandwiches to those donating blood.
Last week, a service was held at the Anglican Cathedral in Sydney, and in his address Archbishop Glenn Davies said,
“As Australians, we abhor violence in all its forms—domestic violence, street violence, xenophobic violence, religiously motivated violence, and especially violence against members of the LGBTI community. As the leader of the Anglican Church in Sydney I want to affirm my stance against all such outbreaks of violence, and if any members of our churches have participated in such acts of violence against women, against young people, against ethnic minorities, against religious minorities or against those from the LGBTI community I offer my heartfelt apology.”
“Yet we must all search own hearts, as evil resides in each one of us. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. None of us are without fault. Words of derision, mockery and exclusion so frequently fall from our lips when directed against persons who are different from us. This is especially the case for members of the LGBTI community, who have suffered the verbal abuse that so deeply cuts into a person’s soul. Where we have been guilty of such words, I also offer my apology on behalf of the Anglican Church in Sydney.”
“God’s love knows no bounds. He extends his love to all without distinction and without prejudice. Therefore when one, let alone 49, bearers of the image of God are murdered, God grieves. When a further 53 are injured and hospitalised, God grieves. For our God is a God of compassion and grace, and in the depth of our sorrow and pain, he offers to carry us ‘through the valley of the shadow of death.’”