Orlando & Our Only Hope

It seems an event gets our attention these days only if it offers something new. A dozen people could be killed in cold blood, but if it is not in some way unique or there is not some added intrigue, then it hardly gets a slice of our consciousness.

Something new has happened, and it’s all over the news. A gunman, Omar Mateen, claiming allegiance with the Islamic State, has killed 49 people and injured 53 others in an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Fla. It is, of course, grabbing our attention since it is a mind blowing amount of carnage. Forty-nine people dead and 53 injured! This is the largest mass shooting in the history of the United States (for perspective, the second worst death toll was the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, where 32 were killed and 17 injured). The Orlando shooting is also unique since it happened in an LGBT club. A further intrigue is that the shooter was an American citizen, born in New York, who was apparently radicalized and acting in the name of Islam. This last fact is, of course, not so unique, but it does add to the narrative, especially given the strong condemnation and prescribed treatment of homosexuals in Islamic theology and law. Putting two and two together, it appears as if this was an act of terror targeting the LGBT, driven by Islamic ideology.

Observations

I won’t here attempt a deep analysis of this chaos, but I do wish to make a few observations.

First, this is an obvious moral evil. Omar Mateen chose to commit a horrific evil. Full stop. There should be no qualifying, no softening, no putting a human face on what he did. He committed an unbelievable act of moral evil, and the repercussions of this will be felt for generations in the families affected.

Second, the politicization of these events is simply nauseating. The event played out, we blinked, and the discussion turned to gun control, Muslim immigration, LGBT rights, etc. I get it. We have a 24-hour news cycle, and these guys get paid to create angles. However, given that this is virtually all we hear, my concern is that this seems to suggest the solution to our problems is government action.

But please hear this. Government and more (or less or just different) regulation is not the answer, or at least not any kind of significant answer.

One group says the government should ban all Muslims immigrants. Will this work? Well, it wouldn’t have directly prevented the Orlando shooting since Mateen didn’t immigrate. Should we ban all Islamic immigration and intern all Muslims that currently live in our country? There you go, problem solved. No more domestic Islamic terrorism because they are all locked up. The only chink in this plan is that the solution will clearly and obviously be far worse than the problem it solves!

How about we push for stricter gun control? Another group thinks the major problem here is that there are just too many high capacity guns out there and they are too easy to get. If Mateen could not have obtained an AR-15, would this have prevented the event? It’s really doubtful. Maybe it would have slowed him down, and, who knows, perhaps sanity would have carried the day. But he seemed to have moved methodically, and my sense, at this point, is he would have found what he needed. I am not a gun expert, but the fact is many handguns are just as effective as the AR-15. Other handguns are only slightly less effective. Moreover, a majority of the shootings in the U.S. have not involved these sorts of rifles at all (e.g., the Virginia Tech shooter used two handguns). So it’s not clear banning the AR-15 and other rifles like this is going to do much at all. Maybe the government could seize all the guns. That would probably cut down on shootings, but, again, it would bring plenty of adverse effects. It would take the guns out of the hands of at least some would-be shooters, but it would also take the guns out of the hands of the millions of law-abiding citizens who have and will use guns to defend innocent life. Call me crazy, but I think it is a terrible idea for only the government and the criminals to have all the guns.

All of these propositions are attempting to solve extremely complex problems with clumsy solutions. But this, it seems, is just what you get with government, and this is all we’ll ever get with government. I’m not a complete skeptic. I have to think that smart legislation is possible, but it’s difficult to resist feeling like most legislation these days trades problems for problems.

Our Hope

At the end of the day, these things happen because we are fallen. We are all fallen. We all fall short all the time. The reality is that, in the grips of false ideology, fallen humans are capable of horrific evil. This, by the way, cuts across all worldviews. There are atheistic versions of this and theistic versions. Today the headlines are often about radical Muslims. In the 20th century, the major offenders were primarily atheists (Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Pol Pot, Kim Il Sung, etc.). Christians, too, have had their fair share of moral evil. The point is that no amount of legislation is going to change this fact of human nature.

But there is hope, and it’s amazing! I’m convinced that the only hope is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As carefully as I can, I’ve considered each of the major religions, as well as many of the big ideas in the history of thought and, in my view, there is nothing like the beauty and brilliance of the Gospel. It doesn’t tell us to just try harder to be good. It tells us that this sort of religious effort is hopeless! It is all about what Jesus has done on our behalf. It is this forgiveness and redemption that drives our moral behavior. We will, of course, still sin, but we will be transformed as we press in to the life of Jesus. This should, in turn, result in a life that mirrors Jesus’ own life, a very moral life indeed (this includes, by the way, deep compassion for the victims of horrific acts of evil even if we are critical of the lifestyles of those affected).

As I said, Christians have done their fair share of moral evil along the way. This is, in part, because Christians, too, are fallen and fully capable of moral evil. Christians, at times, do nasty things. However, sometimes people who claim Christianity are caught in the grips of false (explicitly unchristian) ideology too. Many so-called Christians, who have not even attempted to mirror the life of Jesus or anything remotely close to it, have done terrible things. These acts simply do not square with the life and person of Jesus Christ.

Our call is to be like Him. As a moral exemplar, I’m convinced that Jesus is peerless.

In sum, the Gospel is the only force on the planet that can set us right for a simple reason: the Gospel is the power of God for salvation to those who believe (Romans 1:16).


Editorial Note: The Southern Baptist Convention recently passed resolution “On The Orlando Tragedy“. Feel free to check out other SBC resolutions at www.sbc.net/resolutions

Travis Dickinson

Travis Dickinson

Associate Professor of Philosophy and Christian Apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Dickinson serves as Associate Professor of Philosophy and Christian Apologetics in the School of Theology. He is married to Shari and they have four children: Kaelia, Delaney, Emery, and Kade.
Twitter: @TravDickinson
Website: www.travisdickinson.com
Travis Dickinson

Latest posts by Travis Dickinson (see all)