Like you, I was horrified to hear of the tragic mass killing in Orlando last month. A man opened fire in an Orlando nightclub, killed 49 innocent human beings, and injured another 53. It was the largest mass shooting in U.S. history and the worst terrorist attack in the United States since September 11.
As with any tragedy like this, people wanted to know, Why? Many clues pointed to a familiar explanation: Islamic terrorism. The man was a Muslim, born in a Muslim family, and pledged his allegiance to Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS.
Despite the obvious connection to Islam, some people speculated that Christians were also to blame. Because believers hold to a man-woman marriage ethic, it was suggested, our Bible-based morality against homosexual sex and legislative efforts against same-sex marriage created a climate of hate that made it easier to demonize the LGBT community.
Although I strongly disagree with that analysis, some Christians (including a pastor and a prominent TV personality) added fuel to the fire by suggesting that since the victims of the Orlando shooting were all guilty of the sin of homosexuality, they deserved to die. These comments played into the worst of our culture’s impression of what Christians believe about the LGBT community.
Let me be perfectly clear. This tragic event had nothing to do with Christianity. Followers of Christ neither condone the killing nor believe those innocent people deserved to die. I know this because I know something about two things: the Bible and Christianity.
First, let me set the record straight about what Christianity says about the Orlando shooting. The Bible teaches that all human beings are made in the image of God. That means men and women who identify as gay or lesbian are intrinsically valuable. They are—just like every other person on the planet—the pinnacle of God’s creation. Nothing they do can remove their inherent worth because it’s grounded in the fact that they are image bearers of God. Therefore, there is never any place for degrading talk or dehumanizing behavior towards those who identify as LGBT. They are people to be loved and treated with respect.
Furthermore, though they may engage in homosexual behavior, which Scripture unequivocally teaches is sin (e.g. Rom. 1:26–27, 1 Cor. 6:9, 1 Tim. 1:10), their violation of God’s command does not make them deserve death. What the Orlando killer did was blatantly wrong, and nothing justifies his behavior.
It is true, though, that any sin you or I commit makes us deserve to be punished by God. In that sense, yes, we all deserve to die. That’s been the case since Adam and Eve. That punishment, though, does not mean we deserve to be gunned down or murdered. It means we’re to be separated from God for eternity. Further, the punishment is rendered after the resurrection and only adjudicated by God, the Creator and judge of our souls. God’s wrath is never to be taken into our own hands.
Some people have pointed to Leviticus 20:13, which says that people who engage in homosexual behavior, “shall surely be put to death.” But there are two extremely important qualifications about this passage. First, people who committed homosexual acts, under the Levitical system, were not the only ones killed. The same chapter commands that adulterers and children who curse their parents be put to death for their moral crimes. Homosexuals, therefore, were not singled out. Furthermore, the punishment was to be carried out only by Israel’s government. Citizens were never allowed to take the law into their own hands.
Second, this command (and the other 612 commands) is part of the Mosaic Law, a system of government under the theocracy of Israel. Today, we are no longer under that theocracy and, therefore, no longer bound by that covenant’s commands. It is true, though, that there are some universal morals that God expressed in the Mosaic Law that still apply today. That’s why similar commands are re-expressed in the New Testament. However, Jeremiah foretold that God will establish a new covenant—a new contract—between Him and His people (Jer. 31:31–34). That prophecy was realized when Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Mosaic Law and instituted a new covenant in His blood (Matt. 5:17–18, Luke 22:20). Therefore, today we are only bound by the law of Christ, the New Covenant, which not only does away with the death penalty for crimes against God, but also vigorously opposes murder.
Our response to homosexuals is not one of violence, vengeance, or malice. Rather, it is love. We’re called to love those who identify as LGBT. Love, biblically speaking, means that we care so much about them that we tell them about God’s message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17–20). Since every human being has committed crimes against God, every one of us deserves to be punished. That means we are all destined to be separated from Him. God, however, offers to pardon anyone who turns from his rebellious life and submits his life to Him. That message of hope is what Christians are commanded to share with all people, whether it’s the Muslim who fights for Allah or the one who identifies as LGBT.
No matter what we say or do, people may not believe that we love everyone, even those who identify as LGBT. We’re commanded, though, to be responsible for our part, which is to be faithful to tell about God’s offer of a pardon in a clear and compassionate way. The results, we leave up to God. It’s His job to convict people of sin and regenerate their souls.