Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Fear and Death in Orlando

The writer of the creation story in Genesis gives a highly-nuanced account.  The author writes:  “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness [1:3-4].”  God does not eliminate the darkness, rather God places boundaries on the darkness.

Watching the news of the slaughter in Orlando Sunday night, I again wished that God had simply eliminated the darkness, but that is not what the text says.  The wording acknowledges that there is still darkness in the world.  The image of darkness in the Bible carries a lot of baggage.  Darkness represents what is not of God, what opposes God’s will, what is contrary to God’s purpose in creation.  This careful choice of words makes clear what we already knew:  there is an element of creation that is in full scale rebellion against God.  The killings in Orlando makes clear anew that evil is alive and on the move in our world.

The Genesis writer makes clear that the darkness is contained; boundaries have been imposed upon it.  God is preeminently the ruler of creation; evil does not and will not have the last word.  The writer makes clear who has imposed limitations on whom.  But for now, evil is afoot in God’s good creation.  The Genesis account recognizes this unsettling reality.

Believers must name these killings for what they really are: evil.  There is some discussion as to whether this was an act of terrorism or a hate crime.  This is a distinction without difference.  Acts of terrorism are grounded in the hatred of those who are different, others who are not like us.  Hate crimes are designed to terrorize groups of people, to make then afraid and anxious in their own land.  This killing was born of a hatred of the LGBT folks.  The killer targeted a particular LGBT club in order to terrorize this broader community of people.  Hate and terrorism are inextricably linked.

To call these killings evil does not necessary point out a path to a safer and more loving world.  Naming this slaughter as evil could lead to a passive resignation, to saying there is nothing we can do.  It does not have to lead to this.  We can see these killings as a vivid outbreak of a broader cloth of hatred and fear in the human community.  I say fear because I think that a good bit of hatred is born of fear.  We are afraid of that which unsettles us and makes us uncomfortable, and that fear spawns hatred as a coping mechanism.

God, not evil, is the author of creation and is preeminent.  Thus there is no need for believers to fear people who make us uncomfortable, who challenge our worldview, whose experiences have been different from ours.  In other words, there is no credible excuse for hatred among God’s followers.  Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). .  God does not hate because God does not fear. 

Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister-American Baptist Churches of New York State