It is a familiar story, told many times.
A woman is dragged out into the public square, condemned to die for the sin of adultery. A misguided mob of angry men encircles, rocks in hand, to violently end her life. Then a religious teacher intervenes to challenge the would-be executioners.
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.”
Struck to the core by these words, the angry men, one by one, drop their stones and disperse.
Alone with the victim, Jesus turns to her.
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
She replies, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
While Jesus clearly taught that adultery is a violation of God’s plan for human happiness, his response to the sinner is not hatred and violence, but love and forgiveness, along with a final command — “do not sin any more.”
Despite agreeing that adultery is a sin, no one blames Jesus for inciting the mob’s murderous rage.
Jesus disagrees with the woman’s actions but unlike the mob he loves her. Rather than seeking her destruction, he urges her to turn away from the sin that binds her and embrace a new life in following God.
This story comes to mind in the wake of the tragic events of June 12 in which 29-year-old gunman Omar Mateen opened fire in a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring 53 others.
From all reports, Mateen was a misguided sympathizer of the extremist group, Islamic State of Iraq & Syria (ISIS). This is an organization which routinely executes homosexual men and women (sometimes by stoning). According to some, Mateen believed homosexuality was a sin and intended, on June 12, to kill those who commit that sin.
In the aftermath of the murders a disturbing number of media outlets, no less than The New York Times’ entire editorial board, used the tragedy as an opportunity to blame the murders on those who uphold and seek to live according to the Judeo-Christian understanding of human sexuality.
The Times published a column claiming that the Orlando murders were “a reminder that in many corners of the country, gay and transgender people are still regarded as sinners and second-class citizens who should be scorned.”
Without naming specific churches, the Times went on to blame Mateen’s horrendous violence on those who create a culture of “hatred toward gays and lesbians.” The Times concluded that the 49 people killed in Orlando “need to be remembered as casualties of a society where hate has deep roots.”
The Times was not the only group eager to blame Christians for the Orlando tragedy.
According to a report from Catholic News Agency, shortly after the shooting, ACLU attorney Chase Strangio repudiated those who offered “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their families.
“You know what is gross — your thoughts and prayers and Islamophobia after you created this anti-queer climate,” he tweeted. He continued by blaming “the Christian right” for pushing legislation to protect the conscience rights of individuals and business owners who choose not to support homosexual practices.
This ideological rhetoric defames a large portion of the Christian population, while ignoring facts.
In truth, the vast majority of Christians have no hatred towards those who struggle with homosexual attraction. The Catholic Church explicitly affirms the dignity of those who experience homosexual attraction, and condemns any unjust treatment toward them.
Christian organizations around the world, many of them Catholic, run hospitals for AIDS victims, regardless of how they become ill. Charities, abuse and homeless shelters and countless other Christian outreaches serve people who identify as homosexual without prejudice.
In the hours following the shootings, Catholic priests and deacons in Orlando went to those who were suffering to pray for and support victims and their families and friends.
Catholics and many other Christians disagree with legalizing same-sex marriage and enacting laws that force organizations and businesses to publicly affirm homosexuality. These laws run contrary to human flourishing and we must oppose them. But that is where it ends.
In a civil society we must be free to disagree with someone because of their life choices or beliefs without being blamed for inciting hatred and murder.
What happened in Orlando was a human tragedy and it runs contrary to all that we hold true as Christians.
Christ loved those 49 men and women who were violently ripped from this world in spite of whatever sins they may have committed. As Christians strive to follow this lead in caring for those with whom we may strongly disagree. This is the measure of love.
— Joel Davidson, editor