Civil strife has been blamed on Christians since the days of Rome.
Christians with mouths agape at being made to share the guilt for the recent massacre at a gay nightclub in Florida would do well to consult history.
Scapegoating the followers of Christ for outbreaks of civil strife is nothing new. A millennium and a half ago it inspired St. Augustine to write his classic defense of the church’s role in society, The City of God.
Of course, no one is actually saying it was a Christian who pulled the trigger on the assault rifle that killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. The murderer was obviously Omar Mateen — a Muslim with a troubled past and, apparently, a conflicted view of his own religion and sexual proclivities.
Instead American Christians are being blamed for something much more damning. They’re accused of fostering a climate of bigotry and hate that necessarily produced a homicidal monster such as Mateen.
As the editorial board of the New York Times declared: “[Mateen’s] bullets and the blood he left behind that early morning 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.”
Or as gay advocate Matthew Vines advised his compatriots in Time magazine: “It is legitimate to be angry not just at the shooter, but also at all those who have caused you to feel afraid and ashamed of who you are.”
Elusive Safe Space
Added to this collective fingerpointing are laments that, despite all the gains gays and lesbians have made in legal standing and general acceptance, the fact there remain some in America who disapprove of their way of life means they can never feel safe.
Harsh words, to be sure, but again — not without precedent.
When the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 — wrecking, pillaging and raping — many who survived blamed the calamity on the empire’s growing Christian church. Some critics argued the new faith displeased the old pagan gods; other insisted that Christian tenets (ideals such mercy, compassion, sobriety and self-denial) undermined the more militant values that helped fashion Rome into a world power.
Augustine countered these accusations with a double rejoinder. Christianity, which mandates respect for authority, regards life as a sacred gift, and commands adherents to love their neighbors, is still better for society that any other worldview. But ultimately, Christians are not as concerned about molding the perfect social order in the here and now as we are about preparing the way for Christ’s triumphant kingdom in the world to come.
On the other hand, Augustine wrote, the pagans who accused Christians of ruining the peace did so not because they truly cared for the greater good but because they resented the disruption of their own petty pleasures:
“Depraved by good fortune and not chastened by adversity, what you desire in the restoration of a peaceful and secure state, is not the tranquility of the commonwealth, but the impunity of your own vicious luxury.”
His words still resonate, considering how a number of current pundits described the Pulse club — according to Google a place to find “tantalizing libations” and where roving drag queens help provide “an unforgettable night of fun and fantasy” — as a violated “sanctuary.”
Message of Equality
But gays and their ilk who complain that the disapprobation of Christians leave them feeling vulnerable and oppressed are being more than just thin-skinned. They’re missing the point entirely.
Yes, the Gospel of Christ is divisive. No one likes to hear that they’ve offended God and stand in danger of judgment.
But as The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway reminds us, Christ’s message is also the most loving and fair we will ever encounter.
Indeed, if and when Christians condemn anyone, it only serves to remind us of our own guilt and need of redemption.
“We’re all sinners who deserve death, but in Christ Jesus, we receive forgiveness and eternal life,” Hemingway writes. “Now who’s got standing to be self-righteous? Not a single one of us.”
Again, this message may not be popular, but it has one sure thing in its defense. It’s the truth.