TLC: Think like a Christian

The Orlando Mass Shooting

Why prayer is our best option – right now

By Jeffrey A Schooley

Like most pastors (I suspect), I did not have the time or the skill to rework my sermon yesterday to incorporate the tragic events that happened at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. And so all I could do was pray. And while it sounds glib, our first and best response to this attack is still prayer. Prayer for the victims, their families, the city of Orlando, and – yes – because our Lord tells us to pray for our enemies, even for Omar Mateen. I did not, of course, want to pray for Mateen, but I did so out of faithfulness to Jesus Christ. So I prayed for God’s justice and grace for Mateen. What, specifically, “justice and grace” means, I leave in God’s hands.

Yet as we go about our prayers, I want to encourage Christians to another task: avoid the simplification and reductionism that will abound in our politics, media, and social media. Already Mateen’s motives are proving more complex than the simple “psychopathic, loner gunman” narrative that so often proliferate after these events.

I’m not here to adjudicate these motive claims or declare what his primary motive was. I am here, however, to encourage Christians not to rush to a singular, simplified answer. We cannot rush to such an answer because that answer will immediately be subsumed by politicking and any chance at a unique, authentic Christian witness will be lost; it will just join the clanging cacophony of voices.

Furthermore, when we push beneath the surface of those who will seek to politicize this event, we find a grotesque, repulsive sinfulness. For example, if we reduce the complexity to a simple case of homophobia, we treat those whose lives were lost as a means to an end. Christians already have good cause to fight homophobia. We didn’t need Mateen’s actions to tell us that. Worse yet, the news cycle will do its magic and in a matter of a week or ten days, we won’t be talking about this. And if someone has banked their entire resistance to homophobia on this event, then as soon as it falls out of vogue, the motivations for resisting homophobia will be lost. And losing motivation to resist homophobia is sinful.

Similarly, there will be those who use this as an opportunity to condemn ISIS or, more generally, Islam. They’ll try to claim that this is why we must resist ISIS. But, again, if you didn’t already know that ISIS needed to be resisted before Omar Mateen killed 49 people, then this event isn’t going to do that for you. The case against ISIS doesn’t need more evidence; it needs better strategies.

Others will say that this is still all about mental health. But almost all of the mass shootings since Columbine in April 1999 (and probably before) have at least revolved around issues of mental health. And while we – clearly – need better care for those with mental illness, we also know that mass shootings have yet to produce positive advancements there. Turning this event into a call for mental health – again – treats the victims as a means to an end. And all people – especially victims – deserve better than to be treated as a means to an end. Such actions sin against them all over again.

Over the next few days, a primary narrative will arise. It will then be challenged by others who want to promote another narrative because it serves their political purposes. This will then allow the news media to “objectively” report on these two competing claims. This, in turn, will keep people glued to their TVs – maybe even through the commercial break! – and all of this tragedy will be reduced to mere fodder to sell you on the virtues of [continuing-your-education/buying-Dove-body-wash/a-career-in-long-haul-truck-driving/a-new-health-pet-food-option-for-your-dog/Greek-yogurt-and-its-positive-impact-on-your-intestinal-health].

Christians, don’t participate in this. Don’t allow the great gift of your life – a gift you might appreciate more in the face of such senseless death – be reduced by the machinations of politics and media. Don’t allow yourself to be dragged into mindless Facebook debates. When you see your Uncle Rick post some nonsense about “the evils on Islam,” pray for Uncle Rick; don’t fight him.

“But Jeff,” some of you might be saying, “we have to do something. It was our failure to do the right thing before that allowed this to happen.”

Maybe. But whatever it is you want to do – advocate for better mental health care in our country, change the laws forbidding the gay community from giving blood to help save the lives of their injured gay brothers and sisters, fight for better gun regulations, pursue an agenda to eradicate terrorism, etc. – write it down on a slip of paper. Then mail that slip of paper to me with your return address. In three months time, I will mail your slip of paper back to you with an encouraging note. I will encourage you to take on the task you find so important now. If it is still good and holy and just to take it on, then take it on for the sake of its virtue – not as a guilt offering to the dead.

In the meanwhile, just join me in praying. If you’re more advanced in prayer than me (and I’m sure you are), then maybe your prayers will match the complexity of this terrible event. If you don’t know the words to pray, then maybe my prayer for “justice and grace” will be good enough.

Jeff Schooley
Center Presbyterian Church
255 Center Church Rd.
McMurray, PA 15317