Shortly after the 9/11 terror attacks, my wife and I realized that her only brother, Douglas, used to work at the World Trade Center. Was it possible he was among the victims?
Tragically, although he no longer worked there regularly, he was doing a trade show there that day and he perished along with 3,000 others, leaving behind a wife and two young children.
Four years ago, a graduate from our ministry school was assassinated by Islamic terrorists while serving in an impoverished Muslim community in the Middle East. He was like a spiritual son to us, and he also left behind a wife and two young children.
So, I write these words with pain and with empathy for the victims of this latest terror attack, the deadliest on our shores since 9/11. I also write these words knowing that these deaths will be politicized for better or worse in the coming days. How should we respond to this tragic carnage?
1. Our first response can only be shock, grief, and outrage.
It doesn't matter if these people were at a gay club or in an office building. They are fellow-human beings who were murdered in cold blood. Whether they were murdered in a straight bar, a sports stadium, or a park they were murdered nonetheless and without any justification.
If you tell me that the punishment for homosexual practice is death, I'll tell you that the Bible prescribes the death penalty for all kinds of other sins practiced by Christians all the time (see Romans 1:29-32; the list includes gossip and envy).
Now is not the time to point fingers.
A young woman who works in our ministry texted me moments ago. For a number of years she lived as a lesbian and often performed in that very night club.
She wrote, "I think I'm in shock. I feel like some of my friends had to have been victims."
Yes, these were family members, friends, and co-workers, and before we politicize this massacre, we must grieve over it. May the Lord have mercy on the wounded and on the family members of those slain.
2. We must take Muslim terrorism even more seriously without condemning all Muslims.
At Muhammad Ali's funeral service, leftist rabbi Michael Lerner said, "We will not tolerate politicians or anyone else putting down Muslims and blaming Muslims for the actions of a few people."
A few people, as in perhaps 200-300 million Muslims worldwide who are sympathetic to radical Islam? A few people, as in the few responsible for the 28,576 deadly Islamic terror attacks since 9/11, including 60 in the first 7 days of Ramadan, resulting in 472 deaths?
Reports indicate that the Orlando murderer, Omar Mateen, "became a person of interest [to federal authorities] in 2013 and again in 2014," and the FBI "at one point opened an investigation into Mateen but subsequently closed the case when it produced nothing that appeared to warrant further investigation."
Similarly, the San Bernardino killers were missed by federal authorities, resulting in another bloodbath.
At the same time, there are plenty of peace-loving Muslims in America who are not only appalled at this violence but who now fear for their own lives.
Our response must be measured.
Whatever it takes, we must devote more energy and resources to rooting out Islamic terrorism from our land (perhaps Israel can help us with this?), even if it means making some Muslims uncomfortable. They can show their good will by working aggressively with American authorities to expose Islamic terror, while those who are not so forthcoming will thereby mark themselves for further scrutiny. At the same time, we cannot demonize all American Muslims.
Again, our response must be measured.
3. We must renounce all rhetoric that leads to violence without restricting freedom of speech.
It is one thing to say, "You gay vermin deserve to die, and I've got a bullet waiting for you!" It's another thing entirely to say, "I love you as my neighbor and I'm committed to your well-being, but I believe marriage is the union of a man and woman."
Unfortunately, in a climate in which religious freedoms are already under serious attack, this terrible massacre could have a chilling effect, further restricting our freedoms, as God-fearing, people-loving Christians will be lumped together with radical, murderous Muslims.
A Christian colleague of mine posted on Twitter, "Just read reports of the act of terrorism at the night club in #Orlando. I'm so grieved by this. Come Jesus." Someone responded, "Your work creates a culture that dehumanizes us. That makes it easier for people to kill us. Don't grieve, repent."
You can expect comments much more intense than this in the coming days from political leaders, journalists, social media experts, and entertainers, as if Christians who renounce violence but who teach that homosexual practice is sinful in God's sight were complicit in the slaughter of men and women in a gay bar.
Not surprisingly, someone posted on my Facebook page, "I blame YOU and people like you for the tragedy in Orlando. As of now, 50 people are dead, 53 injured, including at least one police officer, due to homophobia. And you, and your ilk spreading your messages of hate daily directly contribute to senseless tragedies like this. . . . SHAME ON YOU!"
I responded, "You're attacking the wrong person. I get death threats and death wishes on a regular basis from the LGBT community, but I will continue to preach the love of God."
Our words must be guided by truth and love.
The recent guidelines passed by the European Commission in conjunction with Microsoft, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, while well-intended, could also have a dangerously restrictive effect, as they target "racism, xenophobia, and all forms of intolerance."
What exactly is meant by "all forms of intolerance"? As I've documented for years now, calls for "tolerance" often result in acts of extreme intolerance towards others.
4. We have an obvious gun problem in America, but gun free zones are not the solution.
I personally don't believe that when our Founders guaranteed our right to bear arms they envisioned our inner-cities being war zones and police being outgunned by criminals and terrorists. At the same time, as in many mass murders in America, the Orlando massacre was in a gun free zone.
Is there some middle ground that can be found between the two positions? If we forget about our political viewpoint for a moment and simply talk about common-sense safety, is there no solution we can find? I am no expert in this area, but I have to believe that there is a better way.
Having said all this, let's return to where we started.
This is a time for mourning and pain. May God have mercy on America. We are a broken nation in need of massive restoration and repair.