Orlando and the Kirk

A response from Scotland may be stranger than it seems.

I believe that the killing of 49 people in Orlando was evil. I use the word “evil”, but I could have said that I believed it was wrong, or wicked, or sinful. In the end of the day, there isn’t really any difference.

In saying that, and believing that, I am not alone. In fact, a lot of people have said it publicly, and many who have not felt any obligation to speak on the subject feel the same way. But I also suspect that there are some people who do not believe that it was evil. Perhaps there are some moral relativists out there who don’t think that there is any such thing as good and evil, who believe it is all a matter of perspective, and that while it was rather unfortunate for the dead, the injured, and their families, it can’t really be called evil because there is no such thing as evil. No doubt there are ISIS supporters somewhere who think that the killings were a good thing.

But I believe the killing of these 49 people was evil. I believe that there is such a thing as objective morality. Some things are right and some things are wrong and it isn’t simply a matter of opinion. And this was wrong.

So – what makes me believe that going into a club and killing a lot of people is evil? It’s not simply the fact that this is the generally accepted view in the country I live in. I often find that I’m in a minority in what I believe about right and wrong. It’s not the fact that the killing of these people has caused pain and suffering and grief. Punishment, for example, can (and usually does) cause pain, suffering and grief, but that doesn’t mean that punishing people is evil. It’s not simply about consent. Those who are punished don’t always consent to their punishment.

No. I believe that going into a club and killing a lot of people in the way that Omar Mateen did was evil because the Bible teaches that murder is evil. (Or sinful. Or wrong. Whatever word you choose.) Not everyone who believes that murder is wrong holds this belief because it is what the Bible teaches, but I, as a Christian, do. For me, the teaching of the Bible is the guide to what is good and what is evil. And that is basically the Christian position. The Bible tells us what is right or wrong in the eyes of God, and since God is the maker of our world, our world belongs to him, and it is up to him to say what is right and what is wrong. I admit that sometimes it isn’t easy to discern from the Bible whether something is right or wrong – but it seems to me pretty clear that murder is wrong, and what happened in Orlando was murder.

Now, imagine for a moment that some public figure – perhaps a leading politician, or a religious leader – was being interviewed about the Orlando massacre and refused to say that it was wrong. Suppose the person said that one would have to take different factors into account, or that we shouldn’t rush to judgement, or that we needed to be more broad-minded about killing people – or that while most mass-murders were undoubtedly wrong, there were some that might be right. Any person saying such a thing would be described (correctly) as an apologist for evil. And you can imagine the reaction.

Meanwhile, in Scotland . . .

Which brings me to a response in Scotland, as reported by the Glasgow Herald:

A group of evangelicals within the Church of Scotland has apologised over posting a statement about gay rights among ministers the day after the Orlando massacre at a gay club in which 49 people were killed and dozens injured.

The Covenant Fellowship Scotland, a protest movement set up in 2014 to stand against allowing ministers in same-sex relationships, said its statement was in response to the Kirk’s latest move towards ministers in same-sex marriage at its annual gathering last month.

The timing of the posting on its website, which has not been taken down, was described as “utterly incredulous”.

A senior clergyman connected to the liberal group OneKirk, formed by congregations who support same-sex marriage among ministers, said he was astonished the statement had been put up 24 hours after the Orlando atrocity when a gay club was targeted by gunman Omar Mateen”

The words to notice are these: “congregations who support same-sex marriage among ministers.” The group OneKirk is described as supporting same-sex marriage among ministers. In other words, OneKirk believes and proclaims that sexual relationships between people of the same sex are not wrong, but are quite acceptable.

Is this correct? Well, if one doesn’t believe that there is any such thing as right and wrong, that is a reasonable position to take. And it is also a reasonable position to take if one believes that what is right and what is wrong is to be determined by the prevailing culture, or if one believes that what is right and what is wrong is determined by whether it causes grief and pain, or whether there is consent between the individuals concerned.

However, if one believes that what is right and what is wrong is determined by what the Bible teaches, OneKirk is simply incorrect. Just as the Bible teaches that murdering people is wrong, it teaches that having a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex is wrong. The Bible is clear in its teaching on murder. And it is also clear on its teaching on sexual relationships between people of the same sex.

In other words, OneKirk is involved in publicly condoning what is wrong. Or, to put it another way, they are apologists for evil. From the perspective of the Bible, they are in the same position as someone who publicly condones the Orlando shootings.

Of course, from the point of view of modern western culture, it doesn’t look that way. If one takes one’s view of what is right and what is wrong from what the leading figures in our society say, and what the newspapers say, and what our neighbours say, then what OneKirk is doing looks quite acceptable; it looks very different from publicly condoning the Orlando shootings.

But we in the Christian church are not supposed to take our views on good and evil from political leaders or the press or contemporary culture. We are supposed to base what we believe on the teachings of the Bible.

In the Church of Scotland today, doing what OneKirk is doing is, apparently, seen as being perfectly acceptable – and indeed, mainstream. But as I read the New Testament, and consider the church in New Testament times, it seems to me that the apostles would see things very differently. And it it’s not just the church in New Testament times. For most of the past 2,000 years, this open condoning of evil would have been seen as unacceptable – as unacceptable as condoning the actions of Omar Mateen.

The story in the Glasgow Herald shows that the modern western world has a completely different set of values from that of New Testament Christianity. The big story there is that people were horrified because the Covenant Fellowship issued a statement on ‘the wrong day’ – and that Covenant Fellowship apologised. I honestly wonder what the apostles would have made of that.

Of course, nobody expects the Glasgow Herald to take its values from the teaching of the Bible, any more than Christians in New Testament times expected the Greeks and Romans among whom they lived to share their beliefs about what was right and what was wrong. But it is still interesting to see just how big the gulf is between the values displayed by the Herald and the values of the Bible. And it is more interesting still to see how an act of evil in Florida should bring forth a response from those who are apologists for evil within the Scottish church.

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