Since last Friday I’ve seen a number of my Christian friends posting variations on the notion that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happened because we’ve removed God’s presence from schools – from Bryan Fischer’s remark that “God doesn’t go where He’s not wanted; He’s a gentleman,” to Mike Huckabee’s explanation that “We’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be surprised, then, that they’ve become a place of carnage?”, to the t-shirt that says,
Why do you allow such violence in our schools?
-A Concerned Student
I’m not allowed in schools.
This idea that by making public schools a place where Christianity is not endorsed, we’ve nullified God’s ability to work in them makes me deeply uncomfortable. (I’ll save the tangent about how refusing to institutionally endorse the hegemonic religion is not the same as persecution for another time.) I find this notion that we’ve somehow “disinvited” God from our schools or our culture or our country to be on pretty shaky ground, theologically. It makes God into something like a vampire who has to be invited in before he can enter, or a genie who has to be summoned with just the right incantation before he can do anything, rather than what He is — the omnipotent, omnipresent God. Is He so puny that if we fail to invoke Him properly, He won’t show up? Is He so petty that if we don’t all pray to Him at the start of the school day, He’ll flounce out of the building? Certainly not — He is Emmanuel, God with us, whose love is so tremendous that nothing can separate us from it.
Also, speaking statistically rather than theologically, open endorsement of Christianity does little to deter violence or crime. The US has a much higher number of professing Christians than most European nations, and also a much higher incidence of mass shootings like the one in CT, and of violent crime in general. And as James McGrath wrote, “Consider all the places where God is formally recognized, invoked, and addressed in prayer, while people within the congregation, in some instances even a pastor or priest or other member of the church’s staff, engages in sexual or other forms of abuse against children.”
The tragedy in Newtown certainly says something about us as a society, although it’s almost impossible to get any two people to agree on what that something is. But what it does not do is prove that we’ve somehow tied God’s hands against intervening in our schools or our culture or our lives. His light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
Rachel Held Evans wrote beautifully, as always, on this same topic here. You should pretty much just read everything she writes, ever.