On Sunday morning, June 12, a terrorist opened fire in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It was the most deadly mass shooting in American history. In the aftermath, many of our LGBT neighbors are worried for their safety, and many of our Muslim neighbors are worried about how they are perceived. As always, evil and sin have brought about discord, and many Christians find it difficult to navigate the complexities of modern life.
When should we keep silent?
When should we speak?
And when we do speak, what should we say?
These are simple questions, but to answer them requires intricacy and nuance. In short, there is much to be said, but not all that could be said should be said all of the time. In order to help the Body of Christ respond thoughtfully, prayerfully, and graciously, the Sojourn Houston pastors submit the following guiding principles:
We should honor the image of God in all of humanity.
God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).
But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God (James 3:8-9).
We should be slow to speak and quick to pray.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Colossians 4:5-6).
We should befriend people unlike us, and like Jesus, we should not worry about sending mixed messages to Pharisees.
And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him (Mark 2:15).
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery... Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:3, 10-11).
We should pursue justice for all people.
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:7).
When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers (Proverbs 21:15).
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others (Matthew 23:23).
We should be a blessing to those who disagree with us, even those who disagree violently.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:14, 18).
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
We should love our neighbors as God has loved us.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5).
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (John 13:34).
We should find our justification in Christ, not in the opinions of others.
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:14-18).
We should follow Jesus’ example as a man of both conviction and compassion.
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it (Luke 19:41).
And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of robbers” (Luke 19:45-46).
There are times to speak, but our speech must never be reactionary or rash. As we pray for our neighbors, as we build relationships with people who are not like us, as we pursue the welfare of our city, as we seek justice, as we live quiet lives and take the Bible seriously, we remember that true peace and harmony are only to be found in Christ.
"Perfect love casts out fear. But fear travels far and fast, while love is local and slow."
We want our neighbors to know us and be known by us, and we accomplish this as we slow down our lives, put down roots, and give ourselves to a long-term, low-key, and relational everyday ministry. This sort of living embodies the love of Christ, and it provides a framework for understanding the seeming contradiction between our convictions and our compassion.
Often, we add to the noise and confusion with our blog posts, status updates, and tweets. But the Spirit of God can burrow deep within the hearts of our neighbors through a gentle, humble, and faithful compassion expressed within a context of human-to-human, real-life nearness and relationship, unobstructed by our devices. Let’s be this kind of people, local and slow, casting out fear as the perfect love of Christ works both in us and through us. And may every injustice cause us to long all the more for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of Christ (Titus 2:13).