On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy died. I vividly remember a television commentor remarking that 60 people had also died that day in a horrific nursing home fire. In God's eyes, he admitted, those deaths were equally important, "but we are not God."
Death is all around us, every day. Some deaths move us more than others. To some extent, that's as it should be; if your own mother's death isn't more significant to you than the death of a random woman in South Dakota, there's something wrong with either you or your mother. I get that.
What I don't get is what moves the general media, and thus (sadly) the general population, to chose to highlight, amplify, and honor certain deaths for which most people have no personal connection. One child dies in a hurricane, and it's played over and over on the news. More than a dozen children die weekly in auto accidents, and rarely get airplay. Workplace or school shootings arouse great fear and anger, but gang-related violence is mostly ignored. The death of Travon Martin brought intense media attention from all over the world to Central Florida; the concurrent brutal death-and-burning of two young men on a bike trail nearby was all but ignored even by local media.
And then there are ostensibly minor events—like the Sandy Hook shooting, and Orlando's Pulse nightclub attack—which have taken on iconic status, with commemorations that amount to the feast days of some American secular religion.
I do understand that. Human nature, even that of hard-boiled atheists, needs a form of religion, and anything at all can spring into the vacuum created when more traditional forms of faith are abandoned. What I don't understand is why churches buy into it. I'm not even sure why churches celebrate Mother's Day, Veteran's Day, and other secular holidays—much less Super Bowl Sunday, which, no kidding, has been honored at some churches I've been in.
This is no commentary on what my own particular church does or does not do. I am on vacation in a place where the church celebrations are Pentecost and Trinity Sunday; I can't speak for what's going on back home. But if it's like previous years, churches all over Orlando will be talking about the Pulse attack, and tolling their bells 49 times. I don't think that's necessary, or even important. But for those churches who do choose to join in the secular remembrance, I have one plea:
Ring your bell 50 times.
You will hear again and again that 49 people died in the Pulse shooting. But the true number is 50. Any church calling itself by the Name of Christ must acknowledge that the 50th death—that of the attacker—is just as important, and just as tragic, as the other 49. As I wrote a year ago,
The natural way is not the Christian way. It is very, very clear that we are to love our enemies, which at the very least means mourning the violent, if necessary, death of this angry and unstable young man. He, as much as any of the other victims of this tragedy, was someone's son, someone's brother, someone's father, a human being, created in the image of God—no matter how distorted that image had become.
As that commentator acknowledged more than 50 years ago, we are not God. But if we are Christians, we should try to be more like him, and less like the world.