June 13, 2016

A Tsunami in Orlando

The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami that killed a quarter of a million people stopped a decades old military conflict in its tracks.

When that deep, dark, evil wave rolled over the disputed Indonesian providence of Aceh it extinguished a fiery conflict between the Free Aceh Movement and the Indonesian Government.

Faced with a tragedy of that scale, the will to  fight was washed away, with the official end to hostilities just eight months later in August 2005.  28 years of conflict ended – just like that.

Of course other political factors were involved, but the tsunami dwarfed everything.

The tsunami that engulf Orlando yesterday has dwarfed the culture war in the West at the moment.  There is horror from all sides at what happened.  And the fact that I have to say “all sides” reminds us that we are riven by seemingly intractable cultural conflicts; conflicts which raise the question of whether we can live alongside each other with our deepest differences.

There is Trump and Clinton and Brexit and Islamic terror and Islamophobia and marriage definition conflict.

And, yes, let’s be honest, there is homophobia.  We have to name it, don’t we?  As Christians committed to truth telling, let’s tell the truth about it. There was a thoughtful article in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper today by Michael Koziol.  He begins this way:

The worst mass shooting in modern US history has been described by leaders, including Malcolm Turnbull and Barack Obama, as an attack on all of us.

In some ways, that’s true. Most of us cherish our freedoms, most of us hope to move about the world without meeting violence, hatred and terror.

But this was also a homophobic attack. Omar Mateen chose a gay nightclub as the theatre of his warfare. He had expressed disgust at gay affection. This was a hate crime – and we should say so.

He’s right.

Yet hardened by round after round of the culture wars, it could be easy for many Christian groups to go quiet, hoping the moment passes, shaking our heads silently at the horror, whilst nevertheless hoping it does not tip the scales against us in a plebiscite on same sex marriage or whatever. If that’s you, don’t.

We see the rainbow coloured lights go up around the world on all of the public buildings and we face the temptation to mute our responses, lie low, just in case we cede ground by showing sympathy, support and prayers. If that’s you, don’t.

Christians are committed to truth, and not just to truth, but to revealed truth that, when assented to, will lead to human flourishing.

So when Koziol states that we should say so, we should say so. We believe in “truthiness”  after all, as Stephen Colbert memorably put it.

Koziol goes on to say, without any rancour:

Straight white Christians should be as hurt and angry about this atrocity as any subway bombing or school shooting. And yet it seems it is difficult for some people to empathise unless the attack is generalised and nationalised, post hoc, into a broad-based act of capital-T Terrorism.

I wrote to him after reading this to tell him that I was hurt and angry.  And that the vast majority of us are.

Now it is time to declare truth in relation to what Orlando was – a homophobic act by a violent, hate-filled man towards a community that, in the West at least, has moved from the margins to the centre with astonishing speed.

That some of us may not like that change does not take away from why Mateen did what he did – he hated gay people with, what turned out to be, a murderous hatred.

Our disagreements over lifestyles pale into insignificance at the carnage meted out upon those whom God created and loves. Human flourishing will also be aided by us demonstrating how to publicly love people even at the cost of our cherished positions.

Jesus says that we must “love our enemies” and “do good to those who persecute you”. Our cultural enemies are created Imago Dei; images of God who therefore have great value, dignity and worth.

That is both the lowest and highest common denominator among humans. Imago Dei is the only safety valve our culture truly has – even if it has forgotten that truth.

And perhaps, the deep, dark, evil wave that washed over Orlando yesterday, can somehow be an Aceh moment as we seek in Western culture to live – and to let live – with our deepest differences.


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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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