“Daddy, why are all those police lights on TV?”

My family and I were eating lunch in Birmingham, and my oldest noticed the CNN broadcast on one of the televisions in the background. My son’s question demanded the attention of my 5-year-old as well.

“Yeah, dad. What happened to those people?” he asked.

As the footage showed friends and law enforcement carrying the wounded away from the scene, “50 dead and 53 wounded in the worst mass shooting in US history,” scrolled across the screen.

I’d read the news on my phone, but I hadn’t seen the footage of the carnage. The 2015 attack at the Bataclan Theater in France immediately came to mind—shock, blood, limp bodies and confusion.

How do you explain that to little boys? How do you take all that hate, the pain, the hurt of so many families and boil it down into something a child can comprehend?

I briefly thought of brushing it off. Telling my sons that they need not worry about it, or providing some sterilized answer that didn’t address the death and destruction.

But I couldn’t.

My conscience wouldn’t let me. This is their world whether I like it or not, and it doesn’t seem to be moving in a positive direction. Should I mention to them that the attack took place at a gay nightclub or that the shooter was a Muslim? How should I address gun issues, radicalization or even ISIS?

“A hateful man shot and killed a lot of people because they were different from him.”

It’s all I could get out.

We talked about the biblical commandment, “Thou shalt not murder,” and evaluated the different contexts—self-defense, law enforcement and military—where shooting a person might be justified or even necessary. I explained that police might have needed to shoot the hateful man to stop him from killing anyone else.

That seemed to satisfy their curiosity, but I turned to see the deep sadness in their mother’s eyes. “I just can’t help but think we’re going to turn on each other,” she said. She feared for the retaliation that might be meted out against our Muslim friends. We wondered if others would be emboldened to attack gay Americans. What about a new age of terrorism in the American heartland without a clear face, group or nation behind it? There weren’t any answers at the lunch table.

Where should we go from here?

On our knees in prayer for our nation? On social media expressing our feelings? Learning self-defense and training on personal firearms? Taking away guns and increasing government monitoring? Maybe dropping bombs somewhere in the Middle East? Giving aid and shelter to refugees?

We might not be able to do much to stop individual attackers, but I do know that we can address our own character and what we teach our children.

If you’re forced to sacrifice the tenets of your faith to love someone, then it’s not a religion worth having. If you can’t extend your hand to a fellow man because of political principles, then you’ve misplaced your priorities.

Someone will offend you, they’ll hurt you, and they might even target you. That is the sad reality of our broken world.

But we’re not without a response. As for my family, people see what we believe by how we love one another. Love is unmistakably the most difficult response to those with different beliefs and values from our own. It’s even harder when it comes to those who would do us harm. But it’s more powerful than any weapon we’ll ever use or law we’ll ever craft because it strikes at the very heart of the hate that currently besieges us.

Unconditional love is a fundamental component of the character my wife and I are attempting to develop in our sons. It’s a complicated lesson involving the value of life, respect for our fellow man, and the reluctant but necessary use of force to combat evil.

I promise that you won’t lose your faith because you unconditionally love a gay person, Muslim or anyone else for that matter. You won’t become less liberal or less conservative because you treat people with respect and dignity even when you passionately disagree. Terrorists don’t win by the number of people they kill; they win by changing our way of life and interactions with each other. They’re victorious when we live in suspicion of our neighbor.

We have many choices before us, and they will speak more about our character than the clarity of our future. Reject the political opportunism from the horrors in Orlando and weep. Discard the saber-rattling and embrace the brokenhearted. We must wrestle with the required response to radicalized individuals and terrorists groups like ISIS but not before we care for our brothers and sisters wounded and frightened by such a hateful attack.

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