Orlando shootings: There's only one answer to people who peddle hate

ReutersDemonstrators at a vigil in front of the White House held up signs.

I can count the number of times I agree with Pastor Steven Anderson on the fingers of one foot.

He's the minister of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona, who has made something of a name for himself attacking gay people from his pulpit, in the most objectionable terms.

In his latest offering, in a YouTube video, he reflects on the deaths of 50 people in an Orlando nightclub at the hands of Omar Mateen. He's not, he assures us, a vigilante himself: "Obviously, it's not right for somebody to just, you know, shoot up the place, because that's not going through the proper channels. But these people all should have been killed, anyway, but they should have been killed through the proper channels, as in they should have been executed by a righteous government that would have tried them, convicted them, and saw them executed."

However, he's really worried about the consequences of Mateen's crime – not for the victims, but because it might be used to advocate gun control. Not only that, but – and here's where I totally agree with him – "I'm sure it's also gonna be used to push an agenda against so-called 'hate speech'. So Bible-believing Christian preachers who preach what the Bible actually says about homosexuality – that it's vile, that it's disgusting, that they're reprobates – you know, we're gonna be blamed. Like, 'It's all extremism! It's not just the Muslims, it's the Christians!'"

Anderson has nailed it. Yes, you are going to be blamed, and rightly so. People who use language like that, who fill their supporters' hearts with hatred in the name of a perverted faith that's come completely adrift from its religious moorings, have turned to the spiritual dark side. They have become, in the scriptural sense, demonised. Under the influence of Satan, who was a liar from the beginning, they are peddling lies. And this is true whether they are Muslims, Christians, Hindus or whatever.

Anderson is not alone. Westboro Baptist Church is at it too. The "church" that has picketed the funerals of dead soldiers and celebrated the deaths of gay people tweeted: "God opened His armory to deal with proud fag america (in mass shooting at #Pulse nightclub)."

And the usual array of haters and trolls have come out to play on the internet: here's 'Cavalier', opining: "Faggots getting shot is perfectly right and good. God be praised for #OrlandoShooting." 'Lit Pino' was more conflicted, saying: "Yea Fags are disgusting. its terrible what happened to them in Orlando tho."

We need to be absolutely clear about this. Christians who call for the deaths of gay people are abhorrent. They don't speak for the Church. They have denied the gospel of grace. When they are face to face with Jesus he will say, "Depart from me, I never knew you." They have betrayed their calling. They need to repent.

It's not enough for Christians to condemn the Islamist ideology that led Omar Mateen to kill those people in Orlando. We need to recognise that some of our own co-religionists have the same dark and twisted ideology. They have divided the world into the righteous and unrighteous, based on nothing but their own blind prejudice. They feed on hatred, and they feed hatred.

Nevertheless: there's a difference between someone who'll pick up a gun and kill people he doesn't like and someone who argues that the state should do it for him. It's that rather fine point that makes Steven Anderson slightly morally superior to Omar Mateen. But their attitudes spring from the same place. It's hate; though why homosexuality should provoke such hatred in them is anyone's guess.

Here Muslim and Christian, Mateen and Anderson, are on common ground. They find in their respective faiths a justification for their beliefs, and they find it because they deliberately go looking for it.

There is a difference between loathing what someone does and loathing that person. But it's a difference that can easily shade over into indifference. There are many Christians who loathe homosexuality. They are decent and kindly people. But the transition from loving the sinner and hating the sin to hating both of them is far too easy.

So how about removing hate from our vocabulary altogether? How about becoming the sort of people who simply do not use that sort of language, and who publicly call out anyone who does?

Evangelicals, particularly in America and particularly during this election period, have won a reputation for themselves so unenviable that one prominent member of the tribe, Russell Moore, has said he's come to disown the word. Evangelicals are the people who hate transgender people, gays and lesbians. Even the notorious 'bathroom wars' of North Carolina and other states, where the only argument that counts is the one about public safety, have become poisoned by religious ideology.

The Church has one answer to Steven Anderson, Westboro Baptist Church and the rest of them, just as it has one answer to Omar Mateen and to Islamic State. It's to stop hating – hating anyone – and start loving. We disown Anderson and his ilk, just as Islam disowns Mateen and his. They don't speak for Christians, and if they represent us, they represent the worst of us rather than the best.

And now comes the hard part: we have to love them too.

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods 

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