A useful reminder for how not to respond to tragedy and sin

Dear Christian with a microphone,

I know. It’s tempting. Very tempting.

Everybody is looking for someone who has something to say. An expert. And it’s tempting to get on your soapbox when bad stuff happens and talk about how it’s judgment for sin, not an example of the cost of sin.

But the two are different.

Even if there’s a correlation between sin and judgment, where the negative consequences of sin (given that sin falls outside of the design for human flourishing so naturally has bad results) are an immediate form of judgment for sin, I’m not sure you can jump from the individual to the corporate – from the judgment the individual experiences after their sin to bad things happening, where people are hurt and some sort of nefarious or malicious intent on God’s part. There’s something very Old Testament about the idea that a nation’s fortunes are tied to their obedience to God’s law – but America isn’t Israel. Nor is Australia.

This is the God who hates sin and injustice so much that he sent his son to experience injustice and start the process of dealing with sin. At the cross. This was still evil, though good happened as a result.

You might want to link sin and judgment and death. And where better than when they’re all happening at once. You might want to point out that the world is broken. But I’m not sure that putting forward a solution, or a proposed cause, other than that all people everywhere have turned away from God and do bad things to each other as a result, is particularly sensitive.

Now is not the time to push your particular special interest. Especially if it looks like point scoring. Even if it’s right. Now is not the time to point score. But to comfort. To love. To empathise. To condemn. To support. To offer hope.

I know there’s a robust theology of God’s sovereignty behind your statements. I know people would be better off if they followed Jesus (that’s pretty much how I responded yesterday).

Sometimes it’s not obvious who to blame – so you might be thinking that a tragedy presents an opportunity to further your only tangentially related cause (or, more cynically, sometimes the people who give you lots of money might be looking for alternative scapegoats). But the blame game is the wrong game.

This is a horrible political road to travel – and it’s worse if you’re trying to play the political game as a Christian.

If that’s you, you’re not going to get people to follow Jesus by cashing in on events like this for your political cause – it doesn’t matter if you’re trying to ban video games (as the ACL did with the Norway shootings), or, as is the case with Mike Huckabee, trying to (re)introduce school prayer. Or, more charitably, to restore or salvage some sort of public role for Christianity in a post-Christian world.

“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?

“Maybe we ought to let [God] in on the front end and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.” – Mike Huckabee

You may have a point. The world might be a better place if people were more like Jesus. That’s pretty much what I said yesterday. But that’s not going to happen if you systematise Christianity. If you legislate it. If you make it compulsory. And it’s certainly not going to happen if you try to make some political mileage towards that goal off the back of a tragedy.

Changes of action follow changes of the head, and the heart.

The head and the heart are only followed by the hands if you’re some sort of totalitarian control freak dictator looking to the kind of emotional response that produces Stockholm Syndrome, or Pavlovian responses to bad experiences.

That is not how the Holy Spirit works, which is essential to the process of making people more like Jesus.

Your theology is wandering off into dangerous territory if you think the answer to bad stuff is to set about systemically introducing Christianity, not having Christianity, through the church, systemically working to making things better by loving and protecting people through the political process. The two are different.

It doesn’t matter if you think that there’s a particularly heinous amount of immorality going down in the world right now (see this 2009 example from Danny Naliah, and just about anything Westboro Baptist say) – that’s a judgment call that requires you to ignore 2,000+ years of post-Jesus human history, and focus on a particularly narrow definition, or manifestation, of sin…

The correct response is not “we” or “they” deserved this, or in any way earned this, as a result of God’s judgment. You might make that theological case in general – the Bible is pretty clear that sin and death aren’t part of how God made the world, and one leads to the other, for all people. But you can’t take that to the specific – and link particular, disconnected, sins, to particular deaths, and you probably shouldn’t be making that case at this time. It looks cheap and unloving. Even if you’re trying to be loving.

It’s not particularly loving to victims of sin and tragedy, and their families, to be trying to score from their misfortune – no matter how well intentioned you are. Or how right your cause may be.

If you do. If you give in to that temptation and jump on that soapbox, you are an idiot who is damaging the gospel and making people think less of Jesus.

UPDATE – Huckabee has clarified his statement a little.

“A specific act of violence is rarely the result of a specific single act of a culture that prompts it. In other words, I would never say that simply taking prayer and Bible reading from our institutions or silencing Christmas carols is the direct cause of a mass murder. That would be ludicrous and simplistic. But the cause and effect we see in the dramatic changes of what our children are capable of is a part of a cultural shift from a God-centered culture to a self-centered culture.”

Christ and Pop Culture has a great post offering a balanced critique of Huckabee’s statement, which links to this Rachel Held Evans post that I liked.

Cyclone Yasi

I’m a bit concerned for my Townsville friends (and friends scattered throughout North Queensland) as they prepare for the imminent arrival of Tropical Cyclone Yasi. My first day selling Townsville to the world was the day of Cyclone Larry – this is heaps worse. So North Queensland is going to need a lot of help post cyclone – not the least of their worries is getting tourists back into towns dependant on the tourist dollar.

But images like these are going to make that job difficult. This cyclone is massive and scary. And makes me glad that just over a year ago (1 year and 5 days) we moved south.


Image Credit: NASA

This cyclone is the same size as the US. Almost.

Praying for those I know, and those I don’t, staring down the barrel of this incredible weather system. And thinking about praying that a dislodged branch may fly from North Queensland and strike Danny Naliah down for the stupid dribble he brings out at times like this

It is very sad that this dark chapter in Australia’s history is led by an atheist Prime Minister in Julia Gillard and an openly homosexual Greens leader who seems to be the Deputy Prime Minister by default, both who have no regard for God nor Prayer.

Catch the Fire Ministries president Dr Daniel Nalliah said Julia Gillard was not elected by the majority of the Australian people, but rather the personal decision of two power hungry independent MPs who catapulted Ms Gillard to the top job.

“Are we Aussies all paying for that decision? It is very well known that throughout history, in a time of national crisis, Kings, Prime Ministers and Presidents of countries around the world have turned to God, irrespective of whether they were Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim and asked for help or at least called the nation to pray for protection and for the victims of the disaster,” Dr Nalliah said.

“However, for the past several weeks, right through the flood crisis across Australia, I have not heard our Prime Minister call the people of Australia to pray and ask God for protection and for help for the tens of thousands of people who have become victims of this major disaster,” he said.

I’ve said it once. I’ve said it twice. The man is Christianity’s equivalent of an ambulance chaser. With the same propensity for cashing in on people’s misery in order to benefit himself.

How to lose friends and alienate people

Catch the Fire Ministries have a knack for getting in trouble. The Christian orthodoxy, myself included, were right behind them in their muslim bashing court case. Religious groups must be free to criticise other religious beliefs – provided we afford those other beliefs the same right to criticise us. That’s true freedom of religious expression.

Perhaps in a most appalling case of nominal determinism “Catch the Fire Ministries” have inflamed the Victorian bush fire situation with the most ideologically inappropriate piece of third party commentary ever released. From the SMH. And here’s their own media release.

“The Catch the Fire Ministries has tried to blame the bushfires disaster on laws decriminalising abortion in Victoria.”

But that’s just editorial from a left of centre anti Christian rag you argue. No. That’s pretty much the sentiment of what Pastor Danny Nalliah had to say.

“Pastor Danny Nalliah, claimed he had a dream about raging fires on October 21 last year and that he woke with “a flash from the Spirit of God: that His conditional protection has been removed from the nation of Australia, in particular Victoria, for approving the slaughter of innocent children in the womb”.”

I’ve mentioned before that I’m anti-abortion. I think God is anti-abortion too. But I don’t think the fires are his judgment on the state for its abortion stance. I think that judgment will come later.

I think the fires are an example of the pain and suffering we’re told we’ll all experience in a world frustrated by sin. Biblically we should expect natural disasters. We certainly shouldn’t run around ascribing God’s judgment to situations like this where everybody, Christian and non-Christian, has been hit.

Here’s some more from Mr Nalliah:

“Asked by the Herald if he did not believe most Australians would regard his remarks as being in appallingly bad taste, he said today: “I must tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.”

He said it was no use “molly-coddling” Australians.

Asked if he believed in a God who would take vengeance by killing so many people indiscriminately – even those who opposed abortion, Mr Nalliah referred to 2 Chronicles 7:14 to vouch for his assertion that God could withdraw his protection from a nation.

“The Bible is very clear,” he said. “If you walk out of God’s protection and turn your back on Him, you are an open target for the devil to destroy.”

In the New King James version of the Bible, 2 Chronicles 7:14 states that: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

He quoted a headline describing the fires as “The Darkest hour for Victoria”. “A few months ago the news media should have reported `the darkest hour for the unborn’, but unfortunately the `Decriminalisation of Abortion bill’ went through parliament and was passed, thus making many people call Victoria `the baby killing state of Australia,’ ” Mr Nalliah said.

Pastor Nalliah said there may be criticism. But he said he did not send out his media statement thoughtlessly. “We spend two days working on it.”

He had previously said drought and the world financial crisis could be partly blamed on human sin.”

I’m sorry Danny Nalliah, you’ve lost my vote. This is terrible PR and it’s terrible theology. It’s just bad. The Herald does mention that Nalliah is putting a large whack of resources in to fighting the fires and helping those affected. And lest you think my problem is purely that it’s bad PR and he should be out there calling a spade a spade and a bushfire the “judgment of God”… here’s what Jesus had to say about natural disasters and loss of life (in Luke 13:1-5)

“1Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Death hits us all. We all need to be ready. But those who are hit by disaster are no more deserving of it than the rest of us. Nalliah is making a leap of logic that Jesus himself rejected. Funnily enough, just before this bit, in Luke 12, Jesus has a dig at people who use the obvious situations around them to justify particular arguments or beliefs, like say picking an economic crisis or fires to say something profound about God’s judgment…

54He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?