However, when an incident such as this occurs, we often find ourselves stepping back and trying to connect the dots. We wonder, "What led to this? How can people leap from debate across the chasm of civility to violence?"
Regardless of the scenario or your side of the political fence, we need to consider these actions within two frameworks.
The first framework is how the harsh rhetoric of our day sometimes overshadows the tragedies that have occurred (one example was the conversation just after the Tucson shooting in January 2011 where conservative commentators were quickly criticized for using perceived violent imagery like "targeting"). Rather than dealing with the motives and background of the attacker, the discourse -- to use a very generous term -- quickly turned accusatory toward people who did not pull the trigger.
The second framework I suggest we consider is the silence of many in cases of the suicides of bullied teens and young adults, many of whom are from the LBGT community. A quick news search will reveal a number of gay teens who, after relentless bullying, chose suicide as the best way to deal with their pain. This is tragic, of course, but there is an overwhelming silence from many evangelicals. If careless accusations in the wake of the Arizona shootings are morally wrong, it follows that the careful silence in the wake of bully-related suicides is morally wrong.
Both frameworks can be helpful and sobering as we consider issues of words and violence.
Of course, we often cannot pinpoint what causes someone to go on a shooting rampage or use brutal language and physical violence against a classmate. But we need to acknowledge that our words matter, and the further we move away from civil discourse, the more we open ourselves up to the potential for people to act out of their anger and bitterness toward each other. We must stop ignoring (or distorting) reality.
Here are some facts that seem to be confirmed from the shooting at the Family Research Council:
1. The Family Research Council is a non-profit group in support of traditional marriage and has advocated for initiatives like California's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in that state.
2. The Southern Poverty Law Center has declared the FRC a "hate group."
3. Many people have decided that being in favor of the traditional definition of marriage is a "hateful" thing (just witness the recent Chick-fil-A flare-up).
4. When people are considered "haters" they are easy to dismiss and marginalize, and sometimes disturbed people can turn to violence.
5. We don't know for sure what happened, though reports say an LGBT activist came into the building carrying a bag including Chick-fil-A sandwiches and wound up shooting the security guard. We do know that in almost all of these cases, the shooter does indeed turn out to be a disturbed individual.
Yet, if the left calls everyone who disagrees with them on homosexuality "haters" (about half of America, according to surveys), the loss of credibility is substantial. If news writers and pundits are happy to label those who support traditional marriage as "anti-gay," and label organizations that speak consistently for traditional marriage as "hate groups," it seems almost a given that someone eventually will decide to put down the "haters."
On the flip side, if those who support a traditional view of marriage remain silent as gay teenagers are bullied into suicide or suffer physical violence and act as if nothing is happening, they should not expect to be taken seriously when they decry violence against one of their own.
It goes both ways -- when we demonize others, someone may feel empowered to commit an act of violence. Perhaps the pundits will shout it this time as well. I hope they will shout accurately, should they decide to shout at all.
A collective of pro-LGBT groups released a statement saying they "utterly reject and condemn such violence." This is an appropriate response, and one that must remain consistent from both sides of the debate. However, if LGBT groups want to "reject and condemn such violence," part of the key will be in the language we use -- and it is time to stop demonizing people who believe they are living out their faith by believing and teaching its values with regards to morality and marriage.
Respectful and civil discussion of the issues is essential. We must be able to disagree without demonizing or labeling as "haters" those with whom we disagree. My hope is that we will all learn this (Christians, conservatives, liberals, atheists, LGBT, and more) before more violence occurs.
Ed Stetzer is president of LifeWay Research. This column first appeared on his blog, Ed Stetzer.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp). Read other resources about the gay marriage debate:
FIRST-PERSON (Daniel Akin): Is it true Jesus never addressed same-sex marriage?
FIRST-PERSON (Glenn Stanton): Why not legalize gay 'marriage'?
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