When the Sandy Hook massacre happened in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012 Three Lakes Evangelical Free posed a question. Is God judging America? This post came about due to the comments made by people like James Dobson and Mike Huckabee. I offer some feedback and respond to what is stated by this EFCA church in Northern Wisconsin.
“Unintelligent people always look for a scapegoat.”
“The biggest cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid people are so sure about things and the intelligent folks are so full of doubts.”
Then Jesus wept.
John 11:35 NLT
The problem of evil and the way some Christians view God punishing the United States I find to be warped. I recall when Jerry Falwell blamed September 11, 2001 on atheists, feminists and gays and claimed that God was punishing the country. That was upsetting to me, and I am quite sure that if you asked anyone who survived the Al Qaeda attack on the Pentagon or the World Trade Center that it would bother them. Before I get into today’s post lets look at a community and an Evangelical Free Church in Wisconsin.
Three Lakes is a small town in northern Wisconsin. In the 2000 census the population was listed at 2,339. When the Great Chicago Fire happened in 1871 it was this small Wisconsin town in the north woods that supplied the wood that helped rebuild the city. During the Great Depression President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the New Deal which consisted of alphabet soup politics. One of the programs to emerge is the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). In the area the CCC began to replant the forest after heavy logging. Logging is an important industry but tourism is also probably most key to the area. Three Lakes Evangelical Free began in June of 1984 when 40 people started to meet in the Three Lakes Elementary School. The first pastor of this church was Dan Grell who also pastored nearby Conover Evangelical Free Church which is also in the EFCA denomination. The first full time dedicated pastor to Three Lakes was David Addington who came on-board in January 1985. I am wondering if he is related to T.J. Addington who is well known in the EFCA denomination. The sanctuary at Three Lakes Evangelical Free came about in January of 1986.
Today this EFCA church is led by Niall Philyaw who is the senior pastor and Ian Stewart who is the youth and family pastor. Here is the background on both individuals. Niall grew up in Chillicothe, Illinois which is near Peoria. According to Linkedin he attended Moody Bible Institute from 1998 to 2002 where he picked up a B.A. in Youth Ministry. While attending college he worked as a law clerk for Condon & Cook in Chicago. His first ministry job out of Moody appears to be at Waushara Community Church in Wautoma, Wisconsin. While a Youth Pastor he decided to go back to school and pick up his M.A which he did at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He eventually served for over 10 years at Waushara. He is married and has four children and is involved in the other official religion of Wisconsin. That of worshiping the Green Bay Packers. Ian Stewart started serving at Three Lakes in September of 2017. Ian met his wife Cami in high school where he ran track. They both are from Port Edwards, Wisconsin and married in 2015. Ian attended Moody Bible Institute. His wife attended North Central in Minneapolis for three semesters. They both are into hiking and kayaking and rumor has it they are addicted to Settlers of Catan and this is the best location for it in the North Woods.
So let’s look at the issue at hand and then I will explore the article on the Three Lakes Church blog. For the record this is not the first time I have written about the Sandy Hook and theology. I wrote another article that took what John Piper said about Sandy Hook and used that to illustrate how Neo-Calvinism makes the problem of evil worse. Why? It basically teaches a sovereignty that is nothing but determinism. You can read that in, “How Reformed Theology/Neo-Calvinism Make the Problem of Evil Worse: John Piper, Adam Lanza and a Massacre in Connecticut.” When Sandy Hook happened there were some evangelical Christians who said some things that were deeply disturbing. Mike Huckabee claimed that the shooting in Connecticut happened because God has been removed from schools. This is how Mike phrased it on Fox News. “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?” Huckabee said something similar after the Aurura, Colorado movie theater shooting as well. James Dobson who is known for his role in Focus on the Family for years also weighed in. Sandy Hook happened Dobson claims because America has turned is back on God and is in sin. Specifically he referenced abortion and the fact that marriage is being redefined by gay marriage. You can read more about what James Dobson said here. Next week I plan on doing a post about the history of Focus on the Family and lay out some questions that this blog hopes to answer in time. While Dobson is out of the role of leadership he still carries influence today. What is also particularly disturbing is that when it comes to James Dobson I remember when he was vocal against Bill Clinton and called for his impeachment and removal from office because of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Compare and contrast that with Dobson defending Donald Trump and praying that the Lord would protect him from impeachment. As the details of an alleged affair with a porn star continue to emerge just the other day I was reading that the next phase of the discussion by Stormy Daniels appears to be on what Donald Trump’s penis looks like. You can read about that in political reporting here. It will be interesting to see how James Dobson explains away and spins the information. So to sum this all up there were some evangelical Christians who proclaimed that the Sandy Hook massacre happened due to sin or the United States turning its back on God. Against all that, Three Lakes Evangelical Free wrote the following post below. The name of the post is called, “Is God Judging America?” I am going to comment on it, and my comments will be in red.
I presume many have heard comments from famous evangelical leaders that the tragedy at Sandy Hook was directly related to the immorality of our country. I do not disagree that we need revival in America for the darkness is great. I do not disagree that our morals are in disarray.
Are we really using spiritual discernment in expressing these opinions? Do we know the mind of God so completely that we can claim to understand why He allowed this tragedy? Is the Bible even being used to defend such opinions? If Job saw the need to remain silent on the tragedy that was his life (Job 40:4), then why not us? God has a purpose in all things, but we do not always understand it.
I honestly wish many Christians would stop and actually listen to what James Dobson, Mike Huckabee and so many like minded individuals actually say. Have they really listened and contemplated what is actually said? What they often say is so profoundly cruel and more about advancing a political cause through tragedy than anything else. James Dobson and Mike Huckabee can be deeply cruel and their behavior after Sandy Hook illustrates that fact. God is a God of justice and love and to use such a situation for such gain is twisted. Whoever wrote this second paragraph I deeply appreciate them doing so. Does James Dobson know the mind of God? Can he actually speak specifically why? How did James Dobson hear that? Did he get a phone call, text message or an email that said,
“Hey James, God here…here is why Sandy Hook happened. I am pissed off that gays are getting married in Chicago and New York. In return since you rejected me I decided to send Adam Lanza as my prophet to do my will in an elementary school.
Did James get an email like that? In times of pain and mourning there are times to speak and times to be silent. The reference to Job 40:4 is well done in this section. But does God have a purpose in this? That last sentence I find troubling. It would be better if that were left out.
To suggest that God allowed this for the purpose of judgment assumes we know God’s motives. What those leaders are saying is that God is mad about abortion (He is) and homosexuality (He is), SO in response, He will indirectly cause the deaths of kindergarteners and teachers, some of whom may have been believers. What? Let me be sarcastic for a moment. If these pronouncements are true, then God must not be as mad about pornography, abuse, human trafficking, pride, adultery, and other evils in this country. Let’s not choose our top two sins. Depravity is rampant. God’s wrath is real! Jesus is our only hope!
I appreciate that the writer thinks about this in the context of other issues. The fact that the writer compares and contrasts that God is angry about one sin and not the other is part of the issue. People like James Dobson cling to one sin and one sin only and most likely that is all they care about. Adultery destroys marriages and causes pain. So does theft, embezzlement, alcoholism, drug addiction, and so many other issues. I would suggest that James Dobson really doesn’t know what sin is when you think of how he responds.
Let’s consider a biblical example of catastrophe. This is Christmas season, so let’s remind ourselves of King Herod’s murder of all those Jewish baby boys in Matthew 2:16. Do we read that story and say that God is judging Israel? Maybe He is, but it reads to me as if Herod was furious that he missed his chance to kill baby Jesus. Herod, who was full of darkness, was trying to extinguish the “Light of the World.” That darkness resulted in the deaths of many.
This tragedy is, in some ways, self-explanatory. On the face of it, we can see that evil is alive and well in America. We want to blame video games, parenting, horror movies, mental illness, gun availability, and who knows what else. But evil is at the root of this (James 1:13-15). And evil does pervade many movies, video games, parenting choices, and how we use firearms. Evil has frequently resulted in death (Cain and Abel for example). And God does not always intervene to stop this evil, but one day, He will!
I appreciate what is being communicated about King Herod. Its a good question to ask and it shows the problem in James Dobson’s theology. Was God judging Israel? I have not heard of that situation in that context. I have never taken that story in that frame of mind. I have always viewed the story of King Herod as a man who is angry, tyrannical and who wanted to preserve his power and that he missed his opportunity to kill Jesus. After all the Three Wise Men did not comply and not notify Herod where Jesus was at if my memory serves me correct. Evil in many ways is everywhere. Its my claim that the single best reason to reject Christianity is due to the problem of evil. That said I will also differ from the author in that I also believe mental illness was an issue in Sandy Hook as well as gun availability. The mental illness contributed to the disaster. Not all mentally ill people commit crimes, actually if you familiarize yourself with NAMI they have good stats and information on mental illness. Gun availability is also an issue here, specifically assault weapons. 28 people were killed in this tragedy. I don’t think Adam Lanza cold have killed as many with a knife. He certainly could not have shot through doors if he was armed with a knife. But I also want to acknowledge that yes, evil was involved here.
Let’s consider one more example. When Jesus foresees the destruction of Jerusalem in 70A.D. that occurs as judgment from God, He…weeps (Luke19:42). It breaks His heart! He longs that the circumstances were different. The church’s love and compassion ought to be on full display in light of this tragedy. Most Americans already know the evangelical church’s stance on abortion and homosexuality. We do not need to drive those points home at a time like this. These dear families need our love, prayers, and support. Americans need to know that this shooting grieves the heart of God. Jesus was born to save us from the evil we see every day on the news and in our own lives.
I believe it honors God and the victims’ families to declare that there is great darkness in the world, but Jesus has come to bring light and life to all humanity. Let’s declare with the angels…
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
I appreciate the writer closing out the post by calling on people to offer support, prayers and love. Reminding people that this mass shooting grieves God is the proper and correct thing to say. To speak of a time to mourn, support and love needs to happen more. Many parts of Christianity today are devoid of empathy and love. Too many people act like Job’s friends and cause pain by ridiculous things they say in difficult or painful times. Now here is the other problem that needs to be addressed in this post. Evangelical Christians are terrible at this. People like James Dobson need to be called out and challenged. When Dobson spoke people should have contested and pushed back. Since Dobson is one of the anointed for many evangelicals they often give him a pass when they should be calling him out. Here is the problem that exists, when Christians stay silent many people assume that people like James Dobson speak for the evangelical faith. They think that what he says is what many evangelical Christians believe. When Christians stay silent they continue to give James Dobson a platform. I sincerely hope both Niall Philyaw and Ian Stewert watch that atheist video that starts out this post. It also spends time talking about what Dobson and Huckabee have said during Sandy Hook. And it also reminds people that individuals like Dobson are creating atheists in many ways. That is something that many people aren’t considering and that needs to be discussed. Three Lakes Evangelical Free I enjoyed reading your post and giving you feedback. For the most part this was a good post in pushing back against some toxic thinking. I will be writing more about you guys in the course of time. Know that I love you guys!