Anyone familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan may recognize the title words to this post… They are Christ’s conclusion to a convicting and instructive exchange between Christ and a religious leader of His day. Church...we need this instruction today. We need to sit with the words of Christ as we reflect on the recent tragedy in Orlando. We need to obey the words of Jesus in response.
One week ago, in the early morning of June 12, a gunman murdered 49, and wounded an additional 53 people at Pulse, a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Pulse is a gay nightclub. The attacker specifically targeted the gay community. This is the worst mass shooting in US history. This is an unimaginable tragedy.
As my wife and I have tried to absorb the magnitude of this event, we have watched the response online as different segments of our society have tried to process the horror of what has happened. As a minister, as one who loves people in the gay community, as one who has wrestled with same-sex attraction, and as someone who speaks to church about how to engage with this community with truth and love, I have found myself profoundly struggling this last week.
I have read more responses by Christians to this event than I care to count. It seems like many in the church are wanting to show the gay community that we care, and that we don’t hate them, and that we are hurting with them. I have seen Christians update their Facebook pages with pictures that reflect sympathy, prayer, or support for Orlando. In the end, however, these responses seem self serving or shallow. They seem weak. They seem somewhat intangible. And that has really disturbed me. Right now the families and loved ones of those murdered, and the wounded victims fighting for their lives, or their recovery, are dealing with profound pain, grief, despair, and loss. If those of us who love Jesus simply stop with our simple attempts at showing “support”, than how are we any different from the priest and the levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan? They saw the man ravaged, wounded and bloodied on the side of the road, and just passed by. Make no mistake, our Facebook posts are a digital equivalent of passing by… they are not actual demonstrations of support. And posting #prayfororlando is not actually doing anything of significance. These things cost us nothing… They have no relational weight, and they provide nothing for those directly impacted by this event. Should the Christian community devote sincere and fervent prayer to this tragedy...YES, of course we should! Should we tell this community that we are grieving with them, and that we stand against violence done to them...YES!! We should absolutely be doing that!! Should we rebuke those within our own camp when they say reprehensible things in response to this… YES... But Church, we also have to figure out HOW to TANGIBLY stand with, and support the victims of this tragedy.
As I was wrestling with this, and trying to process my feelings and frustrations, my wife shared with me how the airline Jet Blue has responded to this tragedy… Here are a few words from their website:
Like many of you, we continue to watch reports of the Orlando nightclub shooting with great sadness. Our thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones.
This weekend’s events are felt by all of our 19,000 crewmembers, many of whom live in, work from and travel through Orlando – one of our focus cities – at Orlando International Airport, our Orlando Support Center and JetBlue University.
We want to do our part to help the victims of this tragedy, as well as support the Orlando community through this difficult time.
JetBlue is providing free seats on its available flights to/from Orlando for immediate family and domestic partners of victims who were killed or injured. Those family members and domestic partners requiring travel assistance can contact 1-800-JETBLUE for details.
A fee waiver is in place for customers traveling to/from Orlando who need to make last-minute changes to their travel plans.
For JetBlue crewmembers impacted by this event, we have activated resources to assist and are offering a donation program. Crewmembers can visit our internal website, hellojetblue, or talk to their crewleader for more details.
JetBlue will make a charitable contribution to support the victims and their families.
As I read their website, I could almost hear the words of Jesus resonating in my ears “You go and do likewise”. Jet Blue, and many other secular groups and organizations are demonstrating the very thing that the samaritan did in Christ’s parable. They are demonstrating tangible love for the wounded and traumatized “neighbor”, and they are doing so better than many in the Church.
So here is my conviction and my challenge to my brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. First off, victims who survived are going to have medical bills. Families of those who perished are going to have the unimaginable task of funeral expenses on top of grief and loss. We can help, tangibly, with these needs. If you are a pastor or church leader, please consider taking an offering and giving to the victims. If you are an individual with no influence in your church, than give individually. It is really that simple. The National Center for the Victims of Crime have program called the National Compassion Fund, and are working with Equality Florida to collect and distribute funds to the victims and their families. You can donate here. This fund is set up to go directly to help the victims. Although it is in partnership with a Equality Florida, a gay rights group, the National Compassion Fund ensures a victim centered approach. If you have concerns, check out their FAQ’s.
Some in the church may have a difficult time giving through this fund because it is working with a gay rights group to administer the funds. Here is my thought on that… you can take it or leave it. This group is connected with the community that has been affected. There is not additional emotional weight for the victims receiving aid from a organization within their own community, however, aid that comes from a church or denomination that is not “affirming” of the gay community may be difficult for victims to receive. Some may object to giving through this organization because they want the Church visibly represented in the aid being given during this tragedy.
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
We do not need the victims of this crime to know who is giving to them… We need to cultivate in our own hearts compassion and empathy for this community. The act of giving to this fund will help the victims of this crime, but it will also challenge our own hearts to sacrificially move towards this community. Church, we need that!! We need to do more than just say we are hurting, or that we care… we need to demonstrate it. And even if no one in the gay community ever knows that we, or our church, gave to this fund, that doesn't matter… because this tragedy is not about us. We don’t need recognition. We don’t need to have the gay community know that “we care”... we just need to tangibly care (at least more than a post on our wall.)
Another thing we as the church MUST begin to do in response to this tragedy is to move towards relationship with people in this community. I was frustrated to see a number of articles posted on how “the church” can be more welcoming to the gay community. These articles ran the spectrum with different levels of blame and shame, to calls to the church to be “fully embracing and accepting”. But the common thread that ran through most was the call for “Sunday Morning” church to be a safer place for those dealing with either same sex attraction struggles, or fully identified in that community. Admittedly, it is true that “the Church” needs to work to be a place where anyone from any sin background can come and be met with love… but there is a basic problem with this thinking. “The Church” does not need to be a more welcoming and safe place… WE need to be SAFE PEOPLE. Our living rooms and our dinner tables have to be places where we invite people from the LGBTQ community to be welcomed and valued. We need to demonstrate that we love these people… Not just post our condolences after the worst mass shooting in US history.
Allow me this challenge as we sit with this tragedy. Unless you live in or near Orlando, chances are that you are not going to have a chance to personally touch, hug, or speak with someone who was directly affected by this horrific crime. However, we have people in our own communities, our own families, and our own sphere of influences in the gay community. This event HAS affected them. Can we purpose to engage, tangibly and lovingly, with those in our own lives who are a part of this community. Not just because of this tragedy, but because they are men and women created in the image of God. Because they are worthy of respect and value, and because Christ has called us to love!! And then, around our dinner tables, or over a cup of coffee, can we simply listen to how this event has affected them? Can we learn to relate, to value, to respect, and to love them? Can we become more tangible?
When the samaritan saw the wounds, the pain, and the needs of the half dead man on the side of the road, he stopped, and at his own expense, and breaking the mold of the cultural prejudices, he demonstrated compassion. Church, can we listen to the words of Jesus and apply them today? Can we look at the ways the world is outshining the church in response to this tragedy? Can we see what they are doing to address the pain and the loss? And can we obey the words of Jesus: You go and do likewise.