Christian leaders: Orlando victims were 'precious souls,' loved by God

by Gregory Tomlin |

(REUTERS/Jim Young)People gather for a candlelight vigil during a memorial service for the victims of the shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, June 13, 2016.

ORLANDO (Christian Examiner) – The president of the Florida Family Policy Council, which has lobbied against several gay rights initiatives in the state and same-sex marriage at the federal level, has issued a reaction to the Orlando nightclub shooting.

John Stemberger, an attorney who was also instrumental in founding an alternative to the Boy Scouts of America (Trail Life USA) after it decided to admit openly gay men as scouting leaders, said in a press release the people killed by ISIS-loyalist Omar Mateen Sunday morning were "precious souls."

"The people shot by the Islamic jihadist were sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. They were citizens and workers. They were precious souls. Most importantly, they were people who were made in the image and likeness of God himself. There were image bearers of the Creator and worthy of dignity, value, and respect," Stemberger said.

The people shot by the Islamic jihadist were sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. They were citizens and workers. They were precious souls. Most importantly, they were people who were made in the image and likeness of God himself. There were image bearers of the Creator and worthy of dignity, value, and respect.
- John Stemberger, FFPC

Stemberger's response may not be easily understood by many in the LGBT community who see the preaching of the gospel and the ethic of the Christian life as inherently "anti-gay." It communicates, however, the reason why all people – even terrorists – need the gospel of Jesus Christ, he said.

"This is an unspeakable tragedy and we should take extended time to mourn, to pray for the families of those murdered and injured, and to consider the depth of evil in the hearts of men that this senseless act represents," Stemberger wrote.

Stemberger said in a radio interview that he was in church when news of the shooting occurred. His pastor, he said, called on the congregation to pray and he was soon debriefed by Sen. Marco Rubio. He added that the nightclub was two miles from his law offices and near sites frequented by him and his family.

"The fact that this is a gay bar makes no difference. We are all especially broken at some level. These were human beings who were innocent and had their lives taken. I have just been physically sick to my stomach. These were our neighbors," he said.

Stemberger said he was received some "vitriol" via Facebook and Twitter from LGBT activists, but also he has seen LGBT activists blame Christians on CNN and in other media outlets. They have not been challenged on the claim, he added.

"The response I'm getting is, 'You're a hypocrite. You've hated these people. What are you talking about?'" Stemberger said. "Jesus kind of predicted this – persecution, being misunderstood – so this is very sad what is happening here."

In the meantime, Stemberger encouraged churches to continue to pray for the families of the victims, insisting that God is the only hope for the nation. The first thing Americans should do in the midst of such an attack, he said, is "drop to our knees and pray."

FBC ORLANDO TO HOLD CITYWIDE PRAYER MEETING

To that end, First Baptist Church of Orlando and several other churches in Central Florida are planning an evening of prayer for the city. The church's pastor, David Uth, said it is "time to be a light in our community."

"Terrorists want us to be scared, to cower, to hide in fear. But our Great God is our fortress, our shield, and our refuge. We will not fear. We are here to pray with all of those hurting, scared, and seeking an end to violence," Uth said.

Uth addressed the terror attack in his church's Sunday services, a statement from the church said. He directed the congregation to Psalm 46, which describes God as "our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."

The statement from the church also said the members of the church hurt for the LGBT community.

We condemn this horrible and unjustified act of violence against the Orlando community. We hurt and pray for our friends and neighbors, especially in the LGBT community, and we extend our deepest expressions of sympathy to all the loved ones experiencing grief today.
- David Uth, FBC Orlando

"We know God values and loves all people, as do we at First Baptist Orlando," Uth said. "We condemn this horrible and unjustified act of violence against the Orlando community. We hurt and pray for our friends and neighbors, especially in the LGBT community, and we extend our deepest expressions of sympathy to all the loved ones experiencing grief today."

First Baptist Orlando has planned its community-wide prayer service for June 14.

Not everyone is exhibiting a Christian response to the families of the terror victims. Westboro Baptist Church – which consists almost entirely of members of the late Fred Phelps's family and is known for protesting the funerals of soldiers – posted a barrage of Twitter responses to the attack.

Among those were claims that God "sent the shooter" to "execute wrath and mercifully chasten."

Another post read:

"Fresh bread. God sent the Orlando nightclub shooter and you and your 'gay pride' and prayers only make it worse."