Forego Pronouncements

In Times of Tragedy, Forego Pronouncements 

JimCoffinBy James Coffin

Clergyman-turned-politician-turned-presidential-candidate-turned-talk-show-host Mike Huckabee definitely got my attention with his comments following the December 14 school massacre in Connecticut.

And just what did he say? That those dear little children and their dedicated teachers died because we no longer allow such things as teacher-led prayer in public schools. “We . . . have systematically removed God from our schools,” he said. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

The Reverend Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association was even more pointed: “We’ve kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us, ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve got to invite me back into your world first. I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentleman.’”

With a gentlemanly God like that, who needs an ungentlemanly devil?

What a tragedy that while reporters and commentators of the much-maligned mainstream media were wrestling with gut-level emotions rarely seen in broadcasts, men of the cloth were piously pointing the finger of guilt rather than comforting.

I wonder how such purveyors of piety explain the forever-altered lives of the pedophile-clergy’s victims. In those cases, the youth and their families had gone to churchesspecifically to invite God into their world. So why didn’t God protect them?

Let’s momentarily suppose that these men are right–that a miffed God deliberately chose not to protect those little children. Suppose God is still seething because a 1960s U.S. Supreme Court decided that people should pray privately (Matthew 6:6), of their own volition, rather than to be subjected to state-sponsored prayers in public-school classrooms.

Had God zapped a few black-robed justices back then, it might seem fair. But to withhold protection so six-year-olds can be slaughtered fifty years later? What about God’s own promise that “the son will not share the guilt of the father, nor the father share the guilt of the son” (Ezekiel 18:20)?

And what about the extreme concern Jesus showed for children? What about his comment that anyone who corrupts a little child should be “thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck” (Mark 9:42)? Clearly, Jesus wanted children to be protected.

So I face a dilemma. I’m a supporter of religious diversity, freedom of thought and freedom of speech–which means I’m extremely uncomfortable to be saying publicly that I find certain comments from my fellow Christians to be–let me say this gently–disconcerting.

These men’s assertions erode Christian credibility, I feel. And the loss of credibility for one religion inevitably diminishes the credibility of religion in general. But an even greater concern is that ill-considered pronouncements incite unbalanced people. For a minuscule but lethal group, there’s precious little distance between developing certainty about God’s anger and “volunteering” to mete out God’s judgments.

Such is the dilemma that the moderates of all religions face when relating to the radicals and zealots within their midst. I can assure you that a vast array of Christians don’t agree with the Reverends Huckabee and Fischer on this topic.

James Coffin is the executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.