In the hours following the mass murders at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., social media filled with expressions of shock, sadness, condolences and prayer.
One statement read in part:
“The people shot by the Islamic jihadist were sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. They were citizens and workers. They were precious souls. Most importantly they were people who were made in the image and likeness of God Himself. They were image bearers of the Creator and worthy of dignity, value and respect. This is an unspeakable tragedy, and we should take extended time to mourn, to pray for the families of those murdered and injured, and to consider the depth of evil in the hearts of men that this senseless act represents.”
That compassionate response came from John Stemberger of the Florida Family Policy Council.
But because Stemberger’s organization stands for traditional marriage and Biblical values, his statement triggered an immediate and venomous backlash. People wrote:
“How about you stop advocating hate.”
“You mean the precious souls you encourage your supporters to hate.” “You spew hateful rhetoric.”
Journalists, who to a large extent have become advocates for liberal views, spouted similar scorn. CNN’s Anderson Cooper badgered Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on the air for several minutes, suggesting that it was hypocritical for her to oppose same-sex marriage and yet to provide assistance for family members of the shooting victims.
Speaking on The Eric Metaxas Show, Christian journalist Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist pinpointed the absurdity of Cooper’s rant: “What Anderson Cooper is suggesting is that if you disagree with someone politically or if you have a different sexual ethic than them, then you wish them dead, and that you have no right to mourn them or work to help them or their families if there is an attack on them.”
The polarizing rhetoric drew attention away from what should have been the main point: the love being shown by many—including Christians—in the aftermath of the massacre.
“I hate to think people make this political,” said John Harris, associate pastor at Orlando’s Downtown Baptist Church. “This is a tragedy. … It should be calling us to the spiritual answers to these questions. And to ask the people, ‘What are you doing about eternity? Life is so precious; how are you going to handle it? Are you ready to face eternity? Are you ready to face God?’ And we want to do that in the most loving and caring and compassionate way.’”
Dr. Michael Cheatham, chief surgical quality officer at Orlando Regional Medical Center, is a member of the heroic team that treated 44 of the shooting victims. As a follower of Jesus Christ and a member of the Samaritan’s Purse board of directors, Cheatham says he considers his medical skill a God-given gift.
“The opportunity to be able to provide life to someone who would otherwise succumb to their injuries is immensely gratifying,” Cheatham said. “I feel it is my responsibility, based on the opportunities and the skill set that God has given me.
“I’m not here to judge people. I’m here to care for them in God’s name, and I’m here to tell them about Christ. And then it is up to them to respond in whatever way they will.”
Cheatham said patients and family members often respond to the small cross he wears on his lapel. The grandmother of one shooting victim saw it and immediately told Cheatham that she had been praying for the medical staff.
“We have developed quite a bond as we’ve taken care of her grandson over the last couple of days,” Cheatham said. “I don’t know if that would have occurred had she not recognized that her grandson was being cared for by a believer.”
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team deployed quickly to Orlando, where chaplains brought the love of Christ to many. Chaplain coordinator Al New approached a woman at a memorial site outside the Performing Arts Center and asked if she would like to pray. She did.
New invited the woman to begin the prayer, and she prayed with such passion that others came and joined in. “When we finished the prayer,” New said, “I looked around, and we had a whole crew of people laying hands on each other and praying. It just goes to show that God is love, and He was right there with all the mourners.” ©2016 BGEA