Monthly Archives: June 2016

Gays, Guns, and the Gospel

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gays and gods planLast week, amidst all the outcry against zoos and irresponsible parents after an endangered gorilla was killed, I posted about the similarities between that situation and the gospel: “the innocent dying that the guilty might be made innocent.

Yesterday, the world awoke to news of a different kind…and a different response: 49 people (not a gorilla) gunned down by Omar S Mateen (not a zookeeper) in a gay nightclub (not a zoo) in Orlando, Florida. Here was no sacrifice of one innocent to save many guilty; Mateen’s death—the 50th of the tragic day—was as inevitable as it was willing.

I confess that my own response troubles me more than any other. I read no news stories, watched no coverage of the event. Perhaps I’ve seen too many such headlines and have become callous to terror. Perhaps I’m weary of the arguments for and against guns that I know will result. I’m certainly leery of the political posturing that will take place—and already has—about Muslims in America. And I’m especially wary of the responses we’ll hear from those who claim to follow Jesus but will speak only of judgment on the victims.

But my ostrich-like silence could last only until this morning, when an email appeared with this challenging headline: “Orlando Shooting: Why Christians Must Not Stay Quiet.” Indeed, it was that headline and the article that followed that motivated this post. But what words could I possibly add that would be more than mere noise?

Perhaps the place to begin is to offer a confession on behalf of the Christian body of which I have been a part for nearly half a century. As would-be followers of Christ, we—and I—have shown far more condemnation than grace toward homosexuals. We have complained about “agendas” and “lifestyles” but have not invited conversation. We have judged and called for judgment but have not shown grace. We have argued for doctrine and against science (which need not be mutually exclusive, by the way). And I am sorry. We—I—have been wrong, have lived and loved so unChristlike. All of this is changing, at least in some circles, but not enough, and not quickly enough. (Note: I am not calling for a change of theology, but action.)

A shift in our thinking on guns is also needed. This is hard for me, perhaps the hardest point of conflict between my Christian faith and my American citizenship. I don’t own a gun, though I want to—ostensibly for protection, though I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve needed that level of protection, nor can I truly imagine a situation where I would need to protect myself or my family with a firearm. But I don’t want to give up my rights as a citizen even though I pray to a Savior who gave up not just his rights, but his life, for me. Friends have posted things like “it’s not about guns, it’s about our godless society.” That may be true at one level, but can I really share the gospel with a gun on my hip? Jim Elliot—whose life and death brought the Aucas to faith in Christ—already answered that question:

Jim Elliot reached for the gun in his pocket. He had to decide instantly if he should use it. But he knew he couldn’t. Each of the missionaries had promised they would not kill an Auca who did not know Jesus to save himself from being killed. (See a short biography here.)

Something needs to change, and I need to begin with me. Most of all, I need to live, speak, and share the gospel I say I believe. I am most comfortable around people like me—Christians. But comfort never sold anyone on Jesus. I need to get uncomfortable, to get around gays and Muslims and anyone who doesn’t know Jesus, then live in such a way that when the see me, they will see Him and want to know Him.

Man, that’s not going to be easy. Maybe you can help.

God, Gorillas, and the Gospel

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cincinnati-zoo-gorillaThe news made headlines around the world, sparking outrage and protests: a 17-year-old gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo was killed in order to save the life of a 3-year-old boy who had slipped into the animal’s exhibit. The story has all the elements of a literary tragedy, from the happy beginning to a disastrous ending, with a series of misfortunes leading from one to the other.

In another setting, perhaps, the public outcry may have been different. Had the toddler been camping with his parents and carted off by a grizzly bear, then perhaps the boy and his family would be receiving the lavish love of a relieved public—even amidst grief for the death of another endangered animal. But that’s not the story.

Instead, we have as main characters a boy being a boy, curious, adventurous, and predisposed to crossing a clear barrier erected for his own good. We have the boy’s mother, who—like any parent of a 3-year-old boy—undoubtedly gets exhausted just trying to keep his curiosity in check; who would love to keep her eyes on him every second of every day but just can’t (any better than you or I). There are the zookeepers, whose passions and careers center around loving, nurturing, and protecting the animals, and sharing that love with the people—even the ignorant, careless, sometimes stupid people—who visit the zoo. And, of course, there is Harambe, the central character, the majestic silverback gorilla born and raised—and now killed—in this very zoo. Some have suggested that, at least in the first moments, Harambe was even trying to protect the young, frightened, hairless ape who had fallen into his world.

Conspicuously missing from this cast is the nameless, faceless individual who took the shot; the one keeper who most had to face the reality of bringing death to the innocent in order to bring life to the guilty.

The parallels to our lives and the gospel are great.

We—you and I—are the boy. Few would call us evil; we are simply curious, wanting our own way, prone to wander, heedless of the barriers erected for our safety and protection. Or perhaps we are the mother: loving and caring, but tired; perhaps only a momentary lapse has reverberated throughout our lives, bringing guilt, shame, and even notoriety.

Jesus is (I never imagined saying something like this) the gorilla: innocent, loving, and offering safety from the certain death our wandering brings. God is the keeper of this human zoo in which we live. He is the one who gave His Son, Jesus (the gorilla), to live among us. He is the one who “took the shot,” as it were; who ultimately laid that Son on the cross: the innocent dying that the guilty might be made innocent.

And here the similarities end, for in Cincinnati and around the world, voices demand justice for the gorilla and judgment for the boy and his family. in the gospel it is Jesus, the innocent sacrifice, who is mocked and scorned; while the guilty crowds are celebrated in their wandering. In Cincinnati, the gorilla is gone for good; in the gospel, the sacrifice lives again, that the guilty may also live. 

In Cincinnati, calls are being made for changes in zoo practices; the gospel calls us to consider what changes we need to make in our own lives. Are you the wandering boy, ignoring the security barriers God has erected? Or are you the mother who turned her back for a moment, now weighed down by guilt and shame?

How can you use the story of Harambe, the silverback gorilla, to tell the story of Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb?