Twenty children and six adults were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012. It was a tragedy of such mammoth proportions, in terms of the number of people killed and the ages of the victims, that it caught the attention of most everyone in North America. Everywhere I went for the next few days, people wanted to weigh in on what had happened south of the border. I understand the need to talk about it. How do we go about our usual mundane business and trivial conversations as if nothing has happened?
The most important thing that Christians can do is to act in love. There will be time for talking and speculating later, but the priority should be to bring care and solace to those affected. That is why I was so pleased to hear that The Salvation Army in New England sent emergency response units to Newtown to provide food and support. This news was like a balm for my heavy heart. Not only was I aggrieved by what happened in Newtown, but the aching in my heart was exacerbated by the words coming from the lips of religious leaders.
First there was Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, who made the point that God was a “gentleman” who could not protect the kids in the school because he had not been invited in. He said that this type of violence didn’t occur when the Ten Commandments and prayer were allowed in schools. The insinuation was that it would not have happened this time if the school was open to Christian rituals.
Then along came Mike Huckabee, the Baptist minister and former presidential hopeful, who said something along the same lines. He later posted a video to correct the public’s understanding of what he said. The video did nothing but reinforce Fischer’s belief that turning God away from schools and other facets of society contributed to these deaths. In my opinion, Huckabee’s comments came across as sarcastic and disingenuous.
Finally, there was Focus on the Family founder James Dobson giving his “Christian view” that the massacre was God’s judgment for, among other things, gay marriage.
My first reaction on hearing these remarks was disbelief. While I understand the need for evangelicals and preachers to maintain the connection between sin and judgment, I had to ask if anyone truly believed that if the Newtown students started each day with prayer and reciting the Ten Commandments then this could have been averted.
Let’s assume for a moment that the proposition of these leaders is true. Let’s assume that God could have intervened at Sandy Hook but didn’t because he had been excluded from the classroom. What does that say about God? It would tell me, perhaps, that God is somewhat malevolent and spiteful. Many of us struggle to understand why evil is allowed to exist in our world and why God doesn’t intervene when the innocent suffer. But to suggest that an omnipresent, omnipotent God would have been ready to help if only the school board hadn’t established a policy that somehow limited him is just too much for me to swallow.
Also, what do these statements by the religious leaders say about those at Sandy Hook (or in society in general) who follow Christ and their ability to represent God? At what point does God look at Sandy Hook and say, “Yes, it is Christian enough now. Now I can step in”? Finally, what does it say about the shooter? While I do not presume to know his situation, many people are pointing to the fact that he had a mental illness. If that is true, does it benefit those in our communities who may have psychological disorders and who may have a propensity for such criminal activity to simply label Sandy Hook as societal sin and judgment?
It’s too bad really. It’s not often that members of the media want to know what Christians think about something. This time they did. But instead of showing kindness, sympathy and love, some of our representatives opportunistically pounced on this issue to portray God as a petty deity who would see 20 children die to prove a point. Thank God The Salvation Army just sent food trucks and counsellors.
Major Juan Burry is the executive director of Victoria’s Addictions and Rehabilitation Centre.