I didn’t want to comment on the murder of 49 people in Orlando, not because I don’t sympathize with the victims or condemn the killing, but because I dislike getting tangled up in politics on this blog.
If a Christian commits an illegal act, we often separate him (or her) from “our” Christianity, or even claim that the perpetrator was not a Christian at all. From local history here in the Pensacola area, I recall Paul Hill who committed murder here at the entrance to an abortion clinic. Paul Hill was an ordained (and later defrocked) pastor. He built his view on principles that were held by a large number of Christians. Yet when he went so far as to take two lives because of those views there were those who said he wasn’t really a Christian.
That’s a claim of convenience. It keeps us clean. It prevents us from having to examine ourselves, and that is very unfortunate, even dangerous.
On the other hand, we have the problem of someone looking at Paul Hill and saying, “See! That is what Christians do! Paul Hill was a Christian and he was also a murderer. So also all Christians!” That is an equally dangerous view. A faith tradition as broad and varied as our own is bound to have some people who go off the rails. If some Christians are opposed to abortion as murder, someone is bound to decide to become a vigilante and “fix” the problem. This isn’t an argument against the view that abortion is murder. Rather, it tells us that human beings will carry things too far, or perhaps jump the rails to something completely different.
In fact, we can have similar results in society as a whole. I am always concerned when legislation is proposed and passed in the heat of emotions following an event. Rarely, I believe, is such legislation the best choice. We are capable of passing immoral laws because we are outraged by evil. Evil can generate more evil.
Neither blaming the entire group of which a person is a part, nor excluding that person from your own group will help. A person who, up to yesterday, you would have called part of your own religious (or other social) group has now committed a crime does not become something else when he commits a crime. He was something else while living among you. The terrorist, murderer, or child molester of tomorrow may be sitting down the pew from you in church. There are evil people out there and there are triggers waiting to start them on doing evil deeds.
The same is true of other faiths and social groups. There are Muslims who are appalled by acts of terror. There are Muslims who are evil. Just as we would wish to have the evildoer separated from our faith, and don’t like the idea of “Christian terrorist,” so Muslims would like to have terrorists separated from their faith. We don’t want to have all Christians blamed for the Paul Hills of the world. Muslims don’t want to all be blamed for the actions of one man in Orlando.
This is not a matter of numbers. Some will point out to me that there are more Muslims espousing terror and violence by far than Christians. I’m not going to argue the statistics. I recently spoke at an interfaith event along with a number of other people, including a Muslim Imam. He’s a fine person and an advocate of peace. He doesn’t cease to be those things because others commit acts of terror. He is who he is, and so are millions of others.
We need to grant them the courtesy we want people to grant us. We are each who we are apart from what other people who may claim the same label(s) does. Where attitudes of our group contribute, we need to fight that. In my experience, peace advocates tend to fight just such attitudes.
And then there are the victims. It was interesting watching who mentioned what. The victims were from the LGBT community, gathered at a place where one would expect to find them. It appears that the perpetrator of this act of terror hated and despised gay people. This is also a fact and needs to be mentioned. LGBT people are targetted these days for who they are. It’s monstrously wrong to do so and we need to be aware that it is happening and conscious of what makes that happen. Think: What is it in my language or behavior that might make someone else think a gay person is less of a person than I am? Then don’t do or say that.
We need to sympathize with those who are injured, and in doing so, we need to be willing to name them and to name the reasons they were targetted. We need to condemn evil, and at the same time give the same courtesy we would expect to the innocent.
About a year after 9/11 I was traveling and rode in a taxi with a driver who was a Sikh. I made bold and asked him whether he had been threatened following the attacks because of his appearance. I recognized him as Sikh, but he might easily have been misidentified as a Muslim (some Sikhs were). He told me that for several months he could not wear his turban because of the threats. It was unfortunate that a man with no connection to Islam, much less the terrorists, was treated in this way.
But it is equally unfortunate that Muslims with no connection to the terrorists are treated in that way because of hate for their group. We make every effort to be separated from evil acts by those who call themselves Christians. We should be equally sympathetic to those in other religious groups who are trying to do the same thing. It’s easier to blame the group. It’s more productive to be precise and accurate.
Not to mention more Christ-like.