It’s been about two weeks now since Dylann Roof, during an evening service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, shot ten parishioners, killing nine of them, including state senator and senior pastor Clementa C. Pinckney.
So much has been said about this incident. Allegations of (and plenty of evidence for) racist motivations have been discussed at length. The public discourse even went so far as to bring the good ol’ southern heritage of being proud of a time when the black man was subjugated beneath the white man, with the so-called Confederate flag being all over the news, its contemporary appropriateness being examined from every possible perspective.
I’ve said enough about the sociopolitical/racial aspect of the incident over on Facebook, so I won’t dwell on that aspect of the situation. I also wanted to allow a bit of time to pass so that the more urgent discussions could be had before adding my voice on a slightly more obtuse aspect of the incident to the zeitgeist.
There have been 108 school shooting incidents of some kind or another just since January 2010 and just in the United States. Let that sink in for a moment. In five and a half years, there have been over 100 life-threatening incidents within schools — a place we expect to be safe for our children! That’s over twenty per year, at least one a month on average!
Granted, we don’t usually hear about these. For these instances to break into the mainstream news reporting, it needs to be deadly enough to not be considered — and I hate to even call it this — “business as usual.” Sandy Hook, Columbine… Those and others like them are what we hear about, what we heartbreak over, and what we promise ourselves “never again” over (until the next time, right?).
Without fail, you’ll hear some people of the Christian persuasion make the accusation that the shootings wouldn’t have happened if we would just let God back into our schools.
It’s a nice thought, I suppose: It not only reaffirms their faith in a protector god but also places the blame nicely on the secular nature of public schools, which of course lets those of the faith seem superior because, well, theirs is the way of lives saved. This “gotcha” revelation that bad things must be happening because God has been “banned” from schools isn’t just something that gets passed around in the newspaper opinion comics (see above) or in Facebook posts; every now and again, it’s expressed by notable Christian apologists, such as creationist Eric Hovind, son of “Dr. Dino” Kent Hovind himself:
Are you happy now that the shooter grew up in a school without God? #thinkAboutit
— Eric Hovind (@erichovind) December 14, 2012
This sort of sentiment is actually worthy of being published in the religious literature, too:
But does it make sense to blame the banning of God/prayer/Jesus/the sacrifice of your finest sheep/whatever from schools for the terrible things that happen?
No, for a few reasons.
First, school shootings aren’t a tragedy unique to godless public schools. Private religious schools have them too.
Second, God, both as a concept and (if he is real, which he most probably isn’t) as a person, is not banned from schools. I refer you to the Bible:
The psalmist rhetorically wonders to God where he could possibly flee to be free of God’s presence, and the answer, of course, is “nowhere.” God, as theologians say, is omnipresent, or present in all places everywhere at all times. Because God is said to transcend reality, he is just as present at Alpha Centauri today as he is at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in 945 BCE.
Long story short, theologically speaking, God is in the schools, whether he is “banned” or not.
Also, is God not sovereign? Again, theologically speaking, God gets his way, and he does so in all areas, meaning of course that, nothing that happens happens apart from God working it for his own purposes:
So if everything is worked by God according to his own plans AND if he is everywhere at all times, do you really think that God can simply be banned from schools?
Didn’t think so.
Yes, it is true, in public schools teachers are no longer allowed to teach the Bible or other religious books as fact, nor can they lead students in religious activities such as prayer. If you want those things, there are private school options! Still, despite those restrictions, students can still certainly pray (it’s supposed to be a private, individual thing anyway [see Matthew 6:6]), and in their own time, such as study periods, they are more than welcome to read the Bible.
Back to Charleston…
Now, what does all of this have to do with the tragic church shooting in Charleston?
Simply this: Christians cannot blame the “absence” of God from public schools for school shootings without facing the reality that tragedy is going to happen anywhere, even among groups of Christians — groups in which, we could be reminded, Jesus is supposedly present (see Matthew 18:20).
We see throughout the Bible repeated proclamations that God is a protector, such as in Psalm 91. These proclamations aren’t “well, if he’s in the mood…” No, to the contrary, God being a protector is spoken of as a certainty.
So where, then, is God? Where is the “Good Shepherd” when his sheep are attacked, gunned down in “God’s house”?
We can’t blame atheism. We can’t blame secularism for “banning God” from church.
Instead, God’s seeming absence despite the assurance of his protection argues for secularity.
And to be clear, I’m not saying that to belittle what happened at that church — it was a heinous, immoral act and should rightly be condemned.
I want to merely say that the time to trust in invisible gods for our protection is passed. We needn’t be sheep under threat of slaughter with no saving shepherd in sight.
We are humans. We’re alone on this rock we call Earth — no higher powers, no transcendent beings watching over us, intervening to stop terrible things from happening. And we can either choose to continue trusting our fates to things which don’t exist as our ancestors pioneered so long ago, or we can embrace the secularity of reality and maybe, just maybe, start getting along with each other for humanity’s sake.
“Why didn’t God stop the shooting?”
“Because God is…”
…uninterested? …unwilling? …unable? …unaware? …nonexistent?
Certainly not “banned.”