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.


On Wednesday, March 13, 2013, Juan Burry said:

Hi Gary,

Thanks for the feedback. You have a point. My observations were about those segments of Christianity, often represented by their leaders or mouthpieces, that make the issue about something else entirely. I never really experienced those expressions about gun control or the second amendment coming from Christian leaders or organizations. By "leaders" I mean those people who represent organizations or figure prominently in the media. I am sure there were probably a number of SA officers, as well as other Christians, who blamed either gay marriage or the NRA for what happened. If I had experienced those other views, I could have made the piece more balanced in that regard.

You are correct that there was politicizing going on from many on the left and the right. It was opportunistic. And while I am sure that those advocating for gun control and blaming the NRA would argue that their position is in fact one of love and care for society, I can almost as easily guarantee that the men that I mentioned in my column would also argue that their positions are rooted in love and concern. It's a good reminder that it isn't nearly as important to talk about love as it is to act in love.

Thanks Heather. I appreciate the support.

On Wednesday, March 13, 2013, Heather Allington said:

Congratulations to Major Juan Burry for his wise words about the misguided opinions of some Christian leaders. The fact that he doesn't name everyone who made such comments does not invalidate his remarks. The public needs to know that there are Christians who have a different view of God. The final paragraph made me proud once again to be a Salvationist. Congratulations to "Salvationist" for printing the article!

On Wednesday, March 13, 2013, Gary Compton said:

Thanks to Major Juan Burry for his thoughtful article concerning the Sandy Hook shootings. At the school where I work in Florida, the reality of this event has already been made apparent. We have initiated safety measures as a direct result of the tragedy, and have practiced drills should such a situation ever arise.

While Major Burry is quick to judge some in the Christian community here in the US, such as Mike Huckabee and James Dobson, I see no such admonishment for his fellow SA officers, many of whom blame the National Rifle Association, the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution, Republicans, and conservatives in general. This type of knee-jerk reaction is just as misguided as blaming a lack of God in schools. That one can find this all over facebook is even more appalling, particularly when it doesn't even involve Canadians, let alone Canadian Salvation Army officers. Is this now official SA policy, or are these officers speaking as individuals?

Perhaps the answers are not as simple as either party might wish to believe. As a father with two children attending American public schools, it's a bit more personal for me.

On Wednesday, February 6, 2013, George Cooperrider said:

I may not be as wise as these men claim to be, but I do not see my God allowing this type of violence to occur to punish our nation for its sins.
From the time we were created in the Garden of Eden, man has had free will to either follow God's laws or rebel against him.
Sadly Adam and Eve chose to listen to the serpent and thus rebelled against the laws of God. Since that time we have been free to do as we wanted, either in compliance with God's laws, or by following our own sinful inclinations.
God did not allow these events to occur.
He has given us the option to follow his rules and live a life of relative peace, or continue to follow the laws of the world and have tragedies such as this. We, as humans, brought this on ourselves.
The wondrous thing about this is that even after all we have done, that he continues to love us; that he is there for us when we need him, and that he sends his angels to provide comfort to us during our time of grief and struggle!

On Wednesday, February 6, 2013, george kean said:

lets face the facts none of you people have a clue about why it happened.try and tell the parents who lost there children that god was in some way in charge or it was his will grow up people.

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