After Orlando massacre, faith leaders decry politics and remind it is a time to mourn & comfort terror victims

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)People hold a vigil after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., on June 12, 2016. The signs were apparently made before it was clear that the attack was carried out by an operative of the Islamic State. The incident was called a "terror attack" by President Obama, but like the terror incident in San Bernardino, Calif., last year, he avoided using the words "Islamic terrorism."

ORLANDO (Christian Examiner) – If the terror attack in an Orlando, Fla., gay bar is confirmed to be the work of an Islamic State loyalist – and all indications so far are that the shooter pledged allegiance to ISIS before the incident and had been investigated by the FBI for ties to radical Islam – the shooting will offer another look at the key difference between Islam and Christianity, the pastor of First Baptist Dallas said in a video announcement via social media.

"We don't know all of the details about this shooting, but if, perchance, as some have suggested, this is tied to radical Islam, it is yet another demonstration of the difference between Christianity and Islam," Robert Jeffress said after the attack. "Radical Islam says, 'kill your enemies.' Jesus said, 'Love your enemies.'"

We don't know all of the details about this shooting, but if, perchance, as some have suggested, this is tied to radical Islam, it is yet another demonstration of the difference between Christianity and Islam. ... Radical Islam says, 'kill your enemies.' Jesus said, 'Love your enemies.'
- Robert Jeffress, First Baptist Church, Dallas

Jeffress expressed his condolences to the victims' families and said Christians are commanded by Christ to love their neighbors, even "those who are living a lifestyle with which you disagree."

"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted," Jeffress said, adding that the violence of this age will end when Christ returns to bring peace to the earth.

What is known so far is that 29-year-old Omar Mateen went to the club intending anything but peace.

He reportedly exchanged gunfire with an off-duty police officer before entering the Pulse nightclub. Exactly when all of those killed were shot is still not clear, but at the conclusion of the hostage crisis – which lasted three hours – Mateen was among the 50 dead. He was shot by SWAT officers who breached the wall of the building.

Aamaq, the media arm of the Islamic State, said the attack was "carried out by an Islamic State fighter." The terror group had also reportedly named Florida among its targets just days before the incident.

SENSELESS SHOOTING, TERRIBLE MASSACRE

Evangelist Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, said via social media this his prayers were with the victims of the "senseless shooting – now being called an act of terrorism."

"Life is precious, and we only have one chance to live our lives here on earth," Graham said.

The Vatican also responded to the shooting. According to Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardia, Pope Francis called the shooting a "terrible massacre" that left a "dreadfully high number of innocent victims."

Lombardia said the pontiff had condemned the attack and all of the Catholic faithful would be praying for the people involved in "this new manifestation of homicidal folly and senseless hatred."

"Pope Francis joins the families of the victims and all of the injured in prayer and in compassion," the statement from Pope Francis said. "Sharing in their indescribable suffering he entrusts them to the Lord so they may find comfort."

"We all hope that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence which so deeply upsets the desire for peace of the American people and of the whole of humanity."

Bishop John Noonan of Orlando, who was out of state for a conference, wrote in a letter to the city's religious leaders that "a sword has pierced the heart of the city." He said he would be working on ways to help minister to the community in the wake of the attack. 

CAIR CALLS OUT ISIS

The communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also issued a brief statement seeking to distance mainstream Islam from the extremism of the Islamic State. Ibrahim Hooper said the attack "is a hate crime, pure and simple."

He admitted, however, that Mateen was acting out of loyalty to the Islamic State.

"As Muslims, as Americans, now is the time to speak out and make it clear, we will not give in to hate and we will not give into fear," Hooper said. "I have a word for members of ISIS. How will you stand before God and answer for the crimes of the deaths of thousands of people? You do not speak for us or represent us. You are an aberration, an outlaw."

HOMOSEXUALITY PUNISHABLE BY DEATH IN ISLAM

However, the belief that homosexuality is still punishable by death is a part of many different streams of Islam, both Sunni and Shiite. In March an Iranian-based imam at an Orlando-area mosque said that homosexuals should be killed out of "compassion."

"Death is the sentence. We know. There's nothing to be embarrassed about this. Death is the sentence," Dr. Farrokh Sekaleshfar said at the Husseini Islamic Center in Sanford. "We have to have that compassion for people, with homosexuals. It's the same. Out of compassion. Let's get rid of them now."

PRAYERS FOR FORGIVENESS, FAMILIES

At least one church seems to have assumed after the attack that the shooting was the result of "our fearful xenophobia" or anti-gay intolerance on the part of the church and American society at large.

Rev. Laurie Ann Kraus, associate missions director with the Presbyterian Missions Agency of the PC (USA), published a prayer on the denomination's website calling the act one that stains "the floors of our places of fellowship, community and learning." She asked the "God of the rainbow" to forgive "our society which tolerates violence." She also asked for prayer:

"For those who have been lost: brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends,

Your [God's] children, enjoying an evening of music and friendship,

Whose lives were ended or maimed in a hail of hatred and gunfire."

Let's call our congregations to pray together. Let's realize that, in this case, our gay and lesbian neighbors are likely quite scared. Who wouldn't be? Demonstrate the sacrificial love of Jesus to them. We don't have to agree on the meaning of marriage and sexuality to love one another and to see the murderous sin of terrorism. Let's also pray for our leaders who have challenging decisions to make in the midst of crisis. Let's mobilize our congregations and others to give blood for the victims. Let's call for governing authorities to do their primary duty of keeping its people safe from evildoers.
- Russell Moore, ERLC

A less political call to prayer was voiced by Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Moore wrote that Americans, deeply divided over political, religious and cultural issues, should take time to mourn the loss of life without inserting partisan politics into the discussion. While he wrote that he understands that people will see the situation as a time to score political points on issues like gun control, there is time for those discussions after the victims and their families are cared for.

"Families who were waiting to see their loved ones are finding out today that they will never see them again in this life. That ought to drive us to mourn," Moore wrote.

"Let's call our congregations to pray together. Let's realize that, in this case, our gay and lesbian neighbors are likely quite scared. Who wouldn't be? Demonstrate the sacrificial love of Jesus to them. We don't have to agree on the meaning of marriage and sexuality to love one another and to see the murderous sin of terrorism. Let's also pray for our leaders who have challenging decisions to make in the midst of crisis. Let's mobilize our congregations and others to give blood for the victims. Let's call for governing authorities to do their primary duty of keeping its people safe from evildoers."

"And let's bear patiently with those who jump the gun, in arguing about the politics on social media. For many of them, the jump to talk about gun control or Islam or military preparedness or any other issue isn't so much about pontificating as it is about frustration. They, like all of us, want this horror to end, and they want to do something—even if that's just expressing themselves on Twitter."

Moore continued:

"As the Body of Christ, though, we can love and serve and weep and mourn. And we can remind ourselves and our neighbors that this is not the way it is supposed to be. We mourn, but we mourn in the hope of a kingdom where blood is not shed and where bullets never fly."