We woke up yesterday to the horrible tragedy in Orlando. I wrote a Cultural Commentary calling on Christians to pray with passion, honesty, and hope.
But the pain is just as deep today. And the threat of further terrorism is just as real.
Omar Saddiqui Mateen was born in New York and lived in Ft. Pierce, southeast of Orlando, Florida. He worked for nine years as a security guard and apparently sought a career in law enforcement. He even took a picture of himself wearing a NYPD t-shirt.
Then, somehow, he became radicalized. The FBI investigated him in 2013 and 2014 after he made comments to coworkers in support of the Islamic State. Yesterday he perpetrated the largest mass shooting in American history, the worst terrorist attack since 9/11.
According to authorities, there is no indication that Mateen was in touch with overseas terrorists or that his actions were directed by others. Nor have officials found evidence that others helped or encouraged him.
This is actually bad news.
Mateen seems to be precisely the kind of “lone wolf” terrorist that so worries authorities. If no one overseas contacts a potential terrorist in America, there are no conversations to monitor. If no one at home helps them, there are no networks to track. A person acting alone, attacking a soft target like a nightclub, will always be difficult to stop.
And that is what worries Americans today. With good reason.
ISIS has drawn global jihadist support primarily because it claims to be the “winning side” in the war on terror. Now that forces in the Middle East and Libya are seizing territory from them, the terror group is desperate to prove its strength and relevance.
That’s why an Islamic State spokesman called for escalating attacks against Western targets during Ramadan. After Mateen made a 911 call pledging allegiance to them, they claimed responsibility for Sunday’s massacre. They would like to claim many more in coming days and weeks.
Here’s how we can respond with faith rather than fear.
First, look for practical ways to help. Many donated blood yesterday, but more will be needed in coming days, especially rarer blood types. CNN lists several organizations that have set up sites for financial donations to help cover the funeral and medical costs of the victims. Let us be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22).
Second, stand in solidarity with those who are suffering. Mateen’s father says his son was angered by seeing two men kiss, perhaps explaining why the murderer targeted the Pulse nightclub. But as recently ISIS-inspired shootings have shown, Mateen could just as easily have attacked an Orlando church with thousands of worshipers or fans entering yesterday’s baseball game in Tampa Bay.
Baptist ethicist Russell Moore was right when he tweeted: “Christian, your gay or lesbian neighbor is probably really scared right now. Whatever our genuine disagreements, let’s love and pray.” As Ted Cruz noted, “nobody has a right to murder someone who doesn’t share their faith or sexual orientation.” If we claim to love God, we must love those he loves (1 John 4:20). And he loves us all (John 3:16).
Third, turn your fears into faith. Be careful and vigilant, but live with bold passion and triumphant trust. Every time fear attacks, name it. Describe it specifically to God. Ask his Spirit to give you courage. And you will discover that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13).
In coming days, as we learn the stories of lives ended and families shattered, we will be tempted by despair. As we face the threat of further terrorism, we will be tempted by dread. But as believers, we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). Because no matter how bad things get, our Father is Lord. And he is love (1 John 4:8).
I just finished reading Brennan Manning’s autobiography, All Is Grace. Manning made famous a statement he preached for more than fifty years: “God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.”
Let’s claim and share such grace, to the glory of God.