Saturday night, after reading New York columnist, Ross Douthat’s article, “Loss of the Innocents,” I went to bed angry at our Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leadership. Their news pronouncement about the killing of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, had only a little compassion and faith compared to their immediate jump to advocacy about gun control. Several different writers wrote in stark contrast to the PC (U.S.A.) article. Douthat, who is a devout Catholic, used the writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky and his novel, “The Brothers Karamazov” to write of God, tragedy and faith.
He dealt with the clear biblical understanding that tragedy is not always explained but faith in a benevolent God exists despite the darkness. And in that case faith shines. As Douthat puts it:
The counterpoint to Ivan [an agnostic who uses the suffering of children to prove his point] in “The Brothers Karamazov” is supplied by other characters’ examples of Christian love transcending suffering, not by a rhetorical justification of God’s goodness.
Albert Mohler, in his article, “Rachel Weeping for her Children—the Massacre in Connecticut,” writes with compassion about the children and their biblical position before God. He takes the time to deal with hard questions. Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote, “School Shootings and Spiritual Warfare.” Moore addresses the hatred of Satan toward the child Jesus and therefore against all children:
Throughout the history of the universe, evil has manifested a dark form of violence specifically toward children. Not only did the Canaanite nations demand the blood of babies, but the Bible shows where at points of redemptive crisis, the powers of evil have lashed out at children. Pharaoh saw God’s blessing of Israelite children as a curse and demanded they be snuffed out by the power of his armed thugs. And, of course, the Christmas narrative we read together this time of year is overshadowed by an act of horrific mass murder of children. King Herod, seeing his throne threatened, demands the slaughter of innocent children.
So I went to bed angry, even embarrassed. What is wrong with the leaders of my denomination! In their article, “In the Aftermath of Two Mass Shootings This Week” there is no dealing with the sorrows of the particular event of 20 children killed. It is simply a bit about every recent killing and then advocacy for their cause and their particular programs. Advocacy isn’t a bad activity, it has after all helped in numerous causes: Sudan, human trafficking, the killing of unborn babies, and much more. But with this pronouncement there has been no pastoral care.
There is a lack of intellectual, theological and human concern; every disaster that rears its head is immediately met with advocacy for a cause as though leadership is unable to tap into the biblical text, the great themes of redemption, the very real human dimensions of grief and God’s love in the face of that grief. An open letter of compassion and care should have first been published. And then, later, such a pronouncement as the one published could have been used.
I believe that it is fair to say that too much of PC(U.S.A.) leadership has taken on the image of the bureaucratic institutionalists of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novels such as The First Circle and Cancer Ward. They are so tied into the way ‘we do things’ that they fail to see what is missing. But beyond that they have failed to be concerned with pastoral care and spreading the healing touch of Jesus.
They have inherited their father’s wasteland, that is, nineteenth century liberal theology and an over zealous activism. The liberal ministers were rightly concerned about poverty but too quickly jumped to advocating for eugenics. They missed a beautiful tree because all they could see was a forest. Today, leadership in the PC (U.S.A.) while looking at such things as poverty, violence and rights has missed the beautiful tree, the cross, and thereby are skipping over personal and redemptive care for people. We need a return to our roots which grow from the reformation and early Biblical community, teaching, and devotion.