The Rhetoric of Public Christians and the Role of the Church in the Aftermath of Newtown


December 17, 2012 by jmar198013

After a tragedy such as what we witnessed in Newtown, CT last Friday, there comes the inevitable stampede of public Christians who blame the carnage on our society dis-inviting God from our public life.

So Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas gubnor and onetime GOP Presidential candidate. Said Huckabee: “We ask, ‘Why is violence in our schools?’ but we systematically remove God from our schools.”

Eric Hovind, son of imprisoned Young-Earth Creationist and Romans 13.1-7 disobeyer Kent Hovind, tweeted: “Are you happy now that the shooter grew up in a school without God?”

And then there’s American Family Radio host Bryan Fischer, who said, “The question’s going to come up, where was God … when all of this went down? And here’s the bottom line: God is not gonna go where he’s not wanted.”

Okay, here’s the deal.

First off, these guys are a disgrace to the church and a humiliation to God. As Paul would say, “God’s name is blasphemed among the nations on your account.”

It’s true. Over at the Addicting Info blog, the story goes like this:

God, who usually is helping overpaid burly thugs get open in the end-zone for a touchdown pass and making sure that some drunken bar-hopping escapade didn’t result in a pregnancy, is now apparently sacrificing the lives of innocent children and adults because our founders implemented a separation of church and state … For those considering Christianity,  however, Fisher’s words should be taught by clergy as the worst example of opportunism ever.  At least he didn’t blame gays this time.

And at the site Atheist Revolution, an author writes:

When you prevent public school employees from reading Christian prayers over the PA system each day to our children, many of whom are not Christian, you invite mass murder. At least, this seems to be the argument a few Christian extremists are making in the aftermath of the tragedy in Connecticut … If we want to blame ourselves, or at least acknowledge our own role in tragedies like this, we need not look toward school prayer. We have become so thoroughly desensitized to school shootings and similar crimes in the U.S. that we are unable to have intelligent discussions about how to reduce their occurrence.

Meanwhile at the more irenic blog, Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta chimes in:

Of course, Christians are already welcome to pray to their God as much as they’d like to in our public schools. What’s not allowed is forcing all children, regardless of background, to worship the Christian God. Huckabee’s God would be a despicable creature if He existed, anyway. Apparently, God is so sensitive about not having a formal role in the school day that he sat back and let all those children and adults die. What sort of monster would do that? The same monster Huckabee and his acolytes believe is a “loving” God.

At a time when Christianophobia is a very real presence in our world, it is worth noting that it does not obtain in a vacuum. In a very real sense, it is a byproduct of the public actions of fundamentalists like Huckabee, Fischer, and Hovind. They are the ones stirring it up, as the world tends to view Christianity through the lenses of the guys out front making the outrageous claims, much as we Westerners tend to do to Islam. This is why I make the claim that God’s name is blasphemed among the nations on account of these fellows.

One frustrated blogger opines: “You’d think someone would explain that a God who will go to Nineveh won’t stop at a school room door. You’d think that some influential Christian would explain that Christians don’t worship a God that petty.”

Someone already has, though I don’t know what sort of large-scale influence he has. United Methodist elder Jeremy Smith posted the following at his Hacking Christianity blog:

So the basic proposition by them both [Huckabee and Fischer] is that because God has been removed from the public schools, then this happened. If God was in the public schools, and the people were immersed in his way, then this would not happen.

I think the people of East Texas in 1937 would disagree.

In 1937, the vast majority of people attended Church. It was the Depression, churches were the cultural crossroads, prayer was in the schools, churches were full, it was rural TEXAS for crying out loud….there couldn’t be more God-talk in the place.

And yet in 1937 in rural Texas, an oil pipeline filled the underneath crawlspace of an elementary school with natural gas and was ignited while the building was occupied. Somewhere around 300 people died in the resulting explosion, the vast majority of them children. After this, the public responded by adding a chemical smell to natural gas (which otherwise is odorless). It was the highest loss of life in a public school in history.

To these two men who represent Christianity on the cable news channels, if there was more God then there would be less random deaths. But that charge would not hold water to the people of rural Texas in 1937 whose horrific experience captivated an entire nation (and world…Wikipedia said that Hitler himself sent condolences…Hitler!!).

Perhaps if the airwaves had fewer voices of this theologically vapid form of Christianity that crowds out more reasonable understandings of God, then people would better be able to know a God who loves, who is present, who is grieving, who is weeping, who feels what we feel (and then some), and wants a better world for our children. Because that God is more real to me than the God proclaimed on cable TV.

It is not lost on me that Smith points out that Adolf Hitler responded to the 1937 tragedy in Texas better than those two very prominent Christians, Mike Huckabee and Bryan Fischer.

The larger issue for me is that I do not see Western governments, particularly in the U.S., no longer privileging Christianity as a negative thing. I view it as God’s gift, graciously freeing us from secular power so that the church can be itself. These men and those like them, who go forward agitating the public with a vindictive caricature of God, cannot see this gift for what it is. The more they continue to foment vitriol, the worse it will be for the church as a whole. The rest of us should take heed, and meet the collective grief and fear of tragedies such as the one in Newtown with the gifts of virtue God gives his church through the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5.22-23). These were not virtues on display in the ill-considered remarks of Huckabee, Fischer, and Hovind.

One thought on “The Rhetoric of Public Christians and the Role of the Church in the Aftermath of Newtown

  1. […] 3. The Rhetoric of Public Christians and the Role of the Church in the Aftermath of Newtown (12.17.12). […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s



Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 186 other followers

%d bloggers like this: