USA (MNN) — Early on Sunday, a gunman opened fire on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida killing 50 people and injuring 53 others. This is the deadliest mass shooting in United States history.
The gunman, Omar Mateen, called 911 before the shooting and declared allegiance to ISIS. Since then, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the massacre.
As the United States mourns this severe tragedy, Greg Jao with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship shares how the Church can respond.
“One thing I think we can do is communicate to the LGBTQ community that we stand with you in this time of fear. That we, without question, denounce acts of violence or hatred directed towards them.”
This massacre comes on the heels of ISIS spokesman, Abu Mohammed al Adnani, calling on ISIS followers to bring a “month of hurt” to the United States and Europe during the holy month of Ramadan.
In extremist ideology, the response to those they disagree with is violence. Hence the executions of moderate Muslims in Iraq, the burning of Christian churches in Nigeria, and now the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida.
Even in our society, often the assumption is that if you disagree with someone, you must fear or hate them. Therefore, in order to love someone, our culture denotes that you must accept everything about them.
However, Christians believe as Genesis 1:26 illustrates, all of mankind are image-bearers of God. Because of this, Jao says one can hold to faith convictions or disagree with someone while maintaining a genuine spirit of love and humility towards that person.
“For many in the church, we have relatives and friends who are members of the LGBTQ community. So let’s extend to a community the same love and compassion that we would extend to a family member we disagree with. I think in fact, Christ calls us to demonstrate love and understanding and humility to those that we don’t necessarily agree with.”
One tangible way you can demonstrate love and encouragement is by reaching out in your own neighborhood.
“Where appropriate, and where you have some relationship, pick up the phone and say, ‘What can I do to help right now?’ Particularly in Orlando, but in any place where there is an LGBTQ community center,” says Jao.
“I think also at the same time, we should be prepared for [the LGBTQ community] to come to us and say, ‘It’s a little hard to hear this from you now given either the disinterest or disdain we’ve often experienced from you in the past.’ And we have to accept that graciously and with some humility because that’s been true.”
In addition to the LGBTQ community, Christians need to reach out to our Muslim neighbors during this time.
Muslims make up 0.9 percent of the American population, with around 2.75 million Muslims in the nation. There is worry among Muslim American communities that this shooting could create more backlash and fear.
“They are both an ethnic and a religious minority in the United States. It’s obvious in the current political campaign environment, the status and welcome of Muslims and Muslim Americans is being contested,” says Jao.
“I think Christians should clearly indicate that–given our commitment to religious liberty which we ask for ourselves and therefore should offer to other people–we should be particularly vocal about standing against and speaking out against any religious-directed political speech that isolates one community because of their religious beliefs.
“It’s an issue of integrity on our part in terms of religious freedom, and I hope it will actually open doors to authentic relationship and communication with the Muslim American community, which I think is a precursor to us ever being able to speak about something like the Gospel.”
Christians have an important role to play in these moments of crisis, especially since the two communities directly affected by the shooting are an often-overlooked mission field by the Church.
“They’re longing to hear the Church speak clearly and loudly both in the aftermath of this shooting and those deaths,” says Jao. “It’s an incredible opportunity for the Church to witness [as] people of clear conviction and deep compassion at the same time. And in that, I think we model ourselves after Jesus who came with both grace and truth.”
Please take this time to pray for our LGBTQ and Muslim neighbors, and be a loving witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ–for we are all image-bearers of God. Please continue to pray for hope and healing.
Jao encourages, “Let’s intercede for the LGBTQ community that obviously experiences great fear right now, as well as for Muslims in America who are wondering if their neighbors and coworkers and friends will turn on them. Let’s pray that they encounter God’s love through us in this moment.”