The Corner

Conservative Christians Who Discredit Christianity


I recommend to everyone’s attention the eloquent and devastating response of our friend Peter Wehner to the attempt by James Dobson to blame the Newtown massacre on American political choices, including the recent victories of the same-sex-marriage movement:

Why is it that tragedies often bring out such callous statements — including from the very people you would hope would show some measure of grace, discernment, and perspective? And why are some of the most offensive statements made by some of the nation’s most visible (conservative) Christians? . . .

Since in the past I’ve criticized other Christian leaders for making similar statements, I wanted to explain why I, an evangelical Christian and social conservative, find them to be disquieting. It’s because they discredit a faith I cherish — and what these people say is not the expression of the faith I hold. For them politics, not faith, is their interpretive lens. Christianity becomes a blunt instrument in an ideological struggle. The result is that people of faith explain a brutal massacre by connecting imaginary dots. And the fact that doing so damages the Christian faith seems to bother them not at all.

Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris couldn’t have done it any better.

There need be no discussion here of the particular political issues Dobson mentioned. People can agree with Dobson on them and still realize that his theology — his view of God as the moral equivalent of a cloddish talk-radio host enforcing the shibboleths of right-wing political correctness — is wrong. Wehner says that it is also callous and hurtful to the victims, which I think is true, but not centrally important. Here’s how Wehner phrases the point:

Now, assume you were a parent of one of the children who was gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School and you heard a well-known Christian figure like Dobson declare that the worst thing you could possibly conceive of — the murder of your first-grade daughter — was a result of the wrath of God. If you believed this, it would only add to your grief. And if you didn’t believe it, it would only add to your anger. And what would Dobson say to the father of the boy who had just dedicated his young life to the Lord? Why was he the target of God’s judgment? Because Washington State passed a same-sex marriage initiative?

Yes, I agree with Wehner that Dobson’s statement is unspeakably heartless, in the insult it offers to the feelings of the grieving families. But to focus on this is to risk reducing Dobson’s offense to a mere crime against good taste, an impolite violation of taboos imposed by mere sentimentality — and thus risk elevating Dobson to the status of a brave truth-teller standing up against the shibboleths of left-wing political correctness. So what is most important to say about Dobson’s comments is not that they might hurt somebody’s feelings, but that he is simply wrong. Wehner explains why, quite concisely and effectively: The most important point, theologically, is that suffering, in the New Testament, is more often connected with doing God’s will than with opposing it; and Dobson’s “simplistic moral mathematics” do not do justice to the Christian understanding of God.

Too many people think they have to reject God and Christianity because of the horrible caricature of both presented by some who are trying, sincerely, to bring others to faith. But God is greater than we can imagine, and we can have faith that He will prevail even over the mistakes of those who most believe they are His friends. 

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