By Alan Bean
The Sandy Hook tragedy has sparked deep reflection nationwide. President Obama served as Pastor in Chief when he prefaced his remarks in Newtown with a quotation from 2 Corinthians 4:
. . . do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away . . . inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.
The president knew he couldn’t fix what happened last Friday, and he didn’t try. But he spoke the words of comfort that were his to speak. That is all any of us can do.
And then there are all those other guys.
If this was just about the latest outrage from the twisted souls at Westboro Baptist Church (must they call themselves Baptists?) I would let it slide. By now, we are agonizingly familiar with their shtick. “God hates fags and everybody who doesn’t hate fags as much as he does.” Yeah, we get it. The church has decided to picket the funerals in Newtown . . . a new low, I suppose, but not by much.
But it isn’t just folks on the fringe who feel honor-bound to make nasty at such a time as this.
Governor Mike Huckabee, preacher, Fox News celebrity and perennial presidential hopeful, just opined that God declined to stay the hand of Adam Lanza because “we’ve systematically removed God from our schools.”
Not to be outdone, James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame, gave us his take on “what’s going on.” America has been complicit in the murder of 54 million babies since Roe v. Wade, and “the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition”, “so I think we have turned our back on the scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us.”
Huckabee, Dobson et al aren’t sure exactly what pushed God’s buttons. It might have been gay marriage. It might have been abortion. Or maybe it was the 1963 Supreme Court decision making school prayer was unconstitutional. Most likely it was a combination of all three–the trifecta of evil. But at some point God decided to punish America by ordering the slaying of twenty innocent first-graders.
Really, guys! That’s the God you worship. Herod the Great slaughters innocents; the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ weeps for them. Jesus doesn’t have much to say about hell except when he’s talking about those who mess with his “little ones.”
Of course, these guys aren’t saying that God was directly responsible for the death of school children. It’s just that he could have stopped it and declined to do so. The Creator could be charged with being an accessory after the fact, but not with murder.
That’s comforting. God tells the lost soul with the assault weapon, “Normally I’d put a stop to this, but these people need a wake up call, so, do your worst.”
That is precisely what the preachers are alleging. So let’s get one thing straight: That is not God. God is not that. In the First John we learn that God is love . . . full stop. Or, if we wish to quibble, “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”
The God of Huckabee and Dobson would be familiar to Darth Vader and his legions. The preachers appear to have slipped over to The Dark Side.
How do we explain such strange talk from esteemed holy men? The Apostles of the Religious Right have so consistently equated gay bashing, opposition to abortion, and school prayer with holiness that God has been subsumed under these headings. For four decades, the culture war has reshaped American evangelicalism so successfully that abortion, gay bashing and school prayer have consumed all other concerns.
Don’t get me wrong. The Sandy Hook tragedy should provoke serious moral reflection. Violence works for the entertainment industry just like culture war wedge issues work for the Religious Right. In both cases, an ugly product is hawked in the market place because it sells. We have been raised on a steady diet of violence. We love the stuff. It shapes our culture, our national identity, and all too often our foreign policy. We’ve got a problem. We need help. Badly.
But God is not responsible, directly or indirectly, for the slaughter of innocents. That’s on us. God is Love. God is Light and in him there is no darkness at all. None, whatsoever!