One of the worst things about the internet is that it has given to the most irresponsible of people the ability to publish at will. At any given moment there are thousands of pundits on social media with ready fingers to tackle the next big story. Whoever is first to weigh in, gets the spotlight. The bigger the story, the greater the opportunity to advance whatever has become the agenda of the day. In the process, it doesn’t matter if someone’s name is trampled underfoot, if a reputation is destroyed, or Jesus’ church is scorned, so long as the moment is used to exploit the situation with whatever is considered to be a threat to the culture’s dominant agenda.
The recent shooting at the Chabad synagogue is a one of these painful examples. The shooter, a member of local Reformed church, took a rifle and, in an action of pure hate, shot up the synagogue, killing Lori Kaye. Why did he make this choice when he was reared in a loving home and taught in a church that takes seriously the command to love one’s neighbor? Our culture wants answers—now. The family and church were quick to condemn the action and state positively their position on loving one’s neighbor regardless of one’s ethnicity.
It didn’t take long for fellow Reformed pastors to weigh in. In a Washington Post article dated May 1, 2019, Rev. Mika Edmondson is quoted as saying: “he was radicalized into white nationalism from within the very midst of our church.” Rev. Duke Kwon made the same claim: “He has, in some ways, been well taught in the church.” The author continues to describe Kwon’s views, “It wasn’t the white supremacist ideology taken from online chat rooms, totally foreign to the church, that chilled him most. It was the familiar theology, the parts where the writer showed he did believe what he’d been hearing in the pews as well…”
The premise of the article is that the shooter has been radicalized with “a certain stream of Christian theology” that shaped his worldview. Please read the article to see that in this context, the pastor’s comments are used in support of the idea that the Christian views the shooter received belonged to his radicalization. The shooter’s hatred of Jews and the subsequent shooting has some direct tie to white nationalism that he learned from the pew. The problem, therefore, is the church.
This syllogism should not be unfamiliar to us. One day some terrible things happened to Job. In one day, he lost his livelihood, his children, and his health. These were great evils that had fallen on Job. His friends all felt the need to explain and to blame, right away. Why had these terrible evils happened? Eliphazasked, “who that was innocent ever perished? those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (See Job 4:7-11). Bildad replied, “See, God will not reject a blameless person nor take the hand of evildoers (Job 8:20).” Zophar, “If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, do not let wickedness reside in your tents (Job 11:14).”
Don’t miss the syllogism. Had Job’s fellow Reformed pastors been quoted in the Washington Post, it would have sounded like this: these calamities only come upon those are doing evil. Job has suffered these terrible calamites. Therefore, Job is at fault for this evil. The syllogism by many “Reformed friends” is the same. This kind of hatred only comes upon people who have been indoctrinated into white nationalism. The shooter attended a Reformed church and yet practiced this hatred against the Jews. Therefore, the blame must be with the church.
Of lesser concern is the terrible internet brain-washing the shooter was exposed to, the real blame must be with the church because that furthers the narrative about systemic racism in all forms of leadership.
The question is: how should we view such an action by the shooter? Anyone who is familiar with Christian teaching about the human heart should be able to answer this question. Jesus said that the first two things that come out of the heart are evil thoughts and “murder” (Matthew 15:19). It’s not what is brought in to the heart that creates this problem, it’s that by nature, murder is what naturally comes out of the heart. Sure, there may be external sources that channel in such murderous thoughts—in this case evil propaganda learned from the internet—but Christian teaching begins with the truth that, after the fall, the human heart is already a murder factory.
This is what makes the responses above so concerning. What an awful insinuation that such hatred was learned from a faithful church and pastor that has labored for years to faithfully preach the law and the gospel. The opportunity was completely missed to teach the world about the problem of sin, and the corrupt human nature with which we are born. At moments like these leaders should not join with the world in its goal of dismantling the church, but should see this as a way of leading people to the solution of forms of hate that is offered in the gospel.
Were there an assault on a synagogue in Paul’s day and you were to ask him why this terrible thing could have happened, he probably would have answered as he did to Timothy that there are some people in the church who have been snared by the devil to do his will (2 Tim. 2:26). Maybe someone would have accused Paul for creating the problem because of his hard words to the Jews for their unbelief (for example see Acts 28:24-28), but that would have been sheer slander. Everyone knew that Paul loved his countrymen and desired for them to be saved (see Romans 9:1-4).
What we need from leaders at moments like these are not pundit-like responses, advancing broader cultural narratives that are opposed to Christ and his gospel. Sure, such actions should be publicly condemned, but Christians, of all people, should guard their words carefully in the face of such evils. There are indeed terrible expressions of sin and evil that happen in this life that are so far beyond us that we should use great caution in answering the “why” questions that follow. To be frank, at moments like this, Christians would do well to be quiet before the public and pray before the throne of our King. We don’t need more of Job’s friends offering bruising assessments of our failures in the face of such evil. We need what the Heidelberg Catechism says we should be doing at moments like this, praying with tears, “Lord, Thy kingdom come.” We should ask our Lord Jesus to:
Preserve and increase your church. Destroy the works of the devil, every power that raises itself against you, and every conspiracy against your holy Word. Do all this until the fullness of your kingdom comes, wherein you shall be all in all.
This is a far more effective way forward in preserving the unity of Christ’s body in the face of such evil. The response of Job’s friends to this terrible episode reveals how great they think the power of the law is and how little they think of the power of the gospel. Job’s friends suffered from the same confusion. When providence mysteriously afflicted righteous Job, they preached the law instead of the gospel of the resurrection. It took the Lord himself to speak that good word to Job.
Christopher J. Gordon, Escondido, CA