Two Ways Christians Have Utterly Failed at Responding to the Newtown Tragedy

Since Friday, when the news began to break of a shooting at an elementary school here in Connecticut, I have been struggling to think about how to even articulate a response to this tragedy.

On the one hand, this entire state feels weighed down with unbelievable grief at the tragedy that has happened in our backyard.  On the other hand, I can’t help but feel that a tragedy like this should never have happened, that there are things we as a society could and should do that would prevent this pain from being felt again.

I have wanted to write about both of these feelings a great deal in the past few days, but I haven’t been able to find words of my own, so I have largely resorted to absorbing and sharing the words of others.

In the course of this, I have had many conversations with other Christians and have been astounded by the number of times that I have encountered two responses to this tragedy which utterly belittle both the grief that is felt by those it affects and the ability of our society to learn from it.

The first response is to belittle this tragedy itself by making reference to what is, in the minds of those writing, a bigger tragedy.

I have seen numerous memes/posters/images and status updates online that say something to the effect of “I’m sorry that 20 kids got killed the other day, but xxxxxxxx number of kids get killed every day by abortion and no one seems to mind.”

However large of a tragedy the epidemic of abortion may be in this country, the effect of this statement is to say to someone who is grieving that their grief doesn’t matter.  That you don’t care about their loss, their child being ripped away from them in such a violent manner.

To be quite frank, reading these words makes me disgusted and ashamed to claim the same faith as those who utter them.

If we are to be those who show the light and the love of God to a fallen and broken world, how can we tell those who are grieving such an unbelievable grief that their loss doesn’t matter, or at least doesn’t matter as much as some other loss?  Why are we even engaging in the ranking of evils?  How can we possibly justify being so callous when people need us to offer them hope?

The second response I have seen from many of my Christian friends is to minimize anything that can be learned from this tragedy or done to prevent future tragedies like it by arguing that “human sin” makes such things inevitable.

The logic seems to be that because people are sinful they will always engage in despicable and horrible acts.  We can’t fix that problem apart from the grace of God, so rather than try to enact preventive measures, we need to turn to God as a nation and repent.

While I believe very much that humans are broken and damaged by sin, that we have done and will continue to do terrible things to one another because we are sinful beings, and that the grace of God is needed by all of us as individuals and collectively as a nation, I don’t think that this means we are unable to learn or to do anything in response to tragedies such as this one.

I refuse to accept the logic that because we can’t solve everything we should give up on trying to solve anything.

And I refuse to accept the double standard that says that we should push hard for laws to prevent or restrict access to abortion because it is a sinful plague on our nation, but we shouldn’t make any moves on preventing violence against children because people are sinful and will always do sinful things.

As Christians, we have to take seriously the idea that God has called us to shed light in a dark world, to bring hope to those who need it most, to show love to those who feel lost and alone.  In times of tragedy like this one, that means grieving with those who grieve and showing wisdom as our society attempts to make sense of the madness it has just experienced.  If we cannot do that, we have failed in our calling.

9 responses to “Two Ways Christians Have Utterly Failed at Responding to the Newtown Tragedy

  1. Pingback: A Response to Two Ways Christians Have Utterly Failed at Responding to the Newtown Tragedy « Austin's Blog·

  2. Your words echo the halls. I agree with you in so many ways. As Christians, we should grieve with those who grieve. We should be there for them when all seems lost. This is not the time to make a public stand on abortion or how humans have sinned.

    Grieving people need loving people. We don’t have to say a word… just be there for them. Blessings to you.

  3. Amen. I have also been saddened at the way that many Christians have handled this tragedy. The Bible says that they would know us by our love. Can we really claim the title of “Christian” if we aren’t showing that love?

  4. I will agree with you that this tragedy may not have been handled in the best way by some believers. Perhaps the people who have written the arguments you’ve read did not state their arguments well or were so passionate the seemed calloused to the matter at hand – but I do think both of these points have a very important place in dealing with the tragedy. I am terrible with words, but I do feel these positions deserve a defense – one that is compassionate to the situation, but faces reality.

    2nd point 1st…making moves to prevents violence against children instead of hiding behind “just turn to God.” I don’t know what moves you can make.

    I’ve heard a lot about gun control. First of all, mentally ill people and criminals are not ones to follow the law. I worked at DSS for a while and learned that these people will get their hands on whatever they want regardless of laws, lack of resources or consequences. There are a million other places that argument could go…but I believe that in response to this tragedy that is the most important. Second, let’s assume that gun control works. Last week in China, a man stabbed a similar number of children – should we take all the knives away too? In domestic violence cases in America more people are killed with baseball bats every year than guns – can we take all of the baseball bats too? The sad and simple truth is that people who have the mind to act out these tragedies will find a way to act them out – no matter what is restricted. The unintended consequences toward the general population have to be considered as well.

    Another way to protect the children would be the complete opposite – train and allow teachers to carry at school. I’m actually in favor of this – but I do see huge downfalls to it too. What if a teacher loses it one day – being a professional does not protect them from mental illness? What if somebody gets their gun?

    The other other argument I’ve heard about measures to protect the children is increasing security at school. This may be a good plan – the only barrier would be logistics, which is why I think a lot of people have reverted to option 2.

    This is the simple truth…the only REAL solution is for America to turn to God (or at least moral law) – as cliche as it sounds. You cannot treat and teach children the way we do and expect different results. You can’t teach them this way, completely ignore morality/God, and then call on the promises of the happy verses in the Bible. Now, when my husband and I were talking about this he said it sounded like I was saying that those 20 children deserved to die. That is NOT what I’m implying. This was not specifically their consequence. It is a consequence of the road we have been on though. A shocking consequence that we wish wouldn’t have happened – yes, but a natural consequence none-the-less.

    Which is where your first argument comes in…abortion. Abortion devalues human life. Devaluing of human life has consequences. Our society in recent years has even questioned whether or not post-birth abortions should be legal. If so what would be the cut off age for this “procedure,” infant…toddler…who knows? I don’t think people who make this argument are trying to compare tradegies…they are simply pointing out a double standard. Where is the outcry for MILLIONS of babies?

    I’m sure I haven’t been eloqent or thorough…but I hope this helps.

    • Mary, thanks for your comment!

      To try and clarify a couple of things:

      I think there are a variety of lessons that can be learned from this tragedy. Rethinking our policies around gun-control is one such lesson. So is improving access to adequate mental health care. So is confronting a culture that generally accepts and promotes violence in our news and entertainment media, and I’m sure we could learn many other things from this as well.

      I’m also fully aware that on all of those issues there will be a variety of opinions that differ on everything ranging from the smallest details to the structure of the entire conversation. I’m more than happy to have a conversation about gun-control in which a lot of different points of view are brought to the table and we consider a variety of arguments and different perspectives. What I’m disappointed in is not that people disagree with me about gun control (or mental health or any other of these issues), I’m eager to talk through those disagreements. What has upset me is the move by many of my fellow Christians to shut down the conversation entirely because the problem of “sin” makes it not worth having, ensures that whatever comes out of such a conversation will only be a “partial” solution. What has upset me is the suggestion that even talking about gun-control, access to mental health, etc. in our society isn’t a “Christian” solution to our nations problems and so should be dismissed outright.

      Along those lines, I certainly think that abortion is a tragic aspect of our culture, however complicated the factors surrounding it may be. I think Christians should be on the front lines trying at the very least to reduce the number of abortions in this country and elevate the dignity and value of human life. But that said, using the tragic murder of school children as a spring-board for pushing an agenda not directly related to this tragedy strikes me and many others as a cheap-shot and causes Christians to look incredibly distasteful and uncaring in the face of extreme grief and mourning. My point is that it is simply not helpful and not the right time to bring that up.

      • Thanks for your reply!

        I agree mental health and crude entertainment are huge issues. I’m still not sold on gun/weapon/any more control. It is unfortunate that some believers will not consider steps toward success while trying to advocate for their beliefs.

        I do understand their point of view – billions of dollars have been wasted on ideas that obviously haven’t worked, while society tries to reap the benefits of Christianity without caring a flip about what it prescribes. As an example…I just finished reading The Maker’s Diet, and it is all the more clear to me that the Creator’s plan works – you simply can’t get around it. I’m convinced this would cure all of our mental health ills. Then again, it’s not going to happen in present day America, so I am willing to look toward any sort of progress we can muster. It is exceedingly frustrating though – to know that something so easy would work, and we as a country are willing to waste so much time, so many resources, and most importantly countless “sick” people’s lives trying to find a politically correct compromise that will deliver partial results at best.

        Crude entertainment should be an easy fix – people should refuse to watch it, and when the industry is no longer profitable it would dissolve. Unfortunately, our society is obsessed with this sort of thing. If every company stopped producing this afternoon, there would be more in operation by tomorrow morning.

        This is a sensitive time and I’m sure there have been countless inappropriate comments made comparing this tragedy to abortion. But, I really think the issues are very closely related. Once some human lives are devalued, it’s hard to stop that train of thought in some people’s minds (especially sick people). This could be a strategic opportunity to bring an issue to light that is so easy for people to ignore when there are no pictures of children to mourn. A delicate balance for sure.

  5. Alex,

    I completely agree with the bad response by many Christians to this tragedy. That is one reason I have not posted anything on FB or elsewhere…these families and communities deserve our respect, love, and compassion. I only wish the media outlets, politicians, and other grand-standers would do the same.

    Mary,

    Your thoughts were very eloquent and well stated. A tragedy such as this can’t be blamed on a single issue (abortion, gun control, etc.). We have become a society that looks to blame everything but the person(s) who are accountable.

    There are far too many questions to be raised in a single response, but I do look forward to meaningful discussions about all of the issues involved. Knee-jerk reactions and rhetoric do nothing to address the problems in our society; as Christians, we should be leading the way in modeling Christ to our fellow man. Only through His redemptive work on the cross, evidenced through the lives of believers, can we provide any hope to current and future generations.

    Thanks,

    Ben

    • “There are far too many questions to be raised in a single response, but I do look forward to meaningful discussions about all of the issues involved. Knee-jerk reactions and rhetoric do nothing to address the problems in our society; as Christians, we should be leading the way in modeling Christ to our fellow man. Only through His redemptive work on the cross, evidenced through the lives of believers, can we provide any hope to current and future generations.”

      Thanks for the comment, Ben! I couldn’t agree more! Hope you are well, miss you guys, need to make it back down your way sometime soon!

  6. Pingback: New Year’s Eve: 2012 Blogging Year In Review | Musings and Philosophizings·

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