Friday, April 20, 2007

Christians Respond to Virginia Tech Tragedy

The Associated Baptist Press has an article on the responses of well known Baptist figures to the tragedy at Virginia Tech this week.

I think Jim Wallis hit the nail on the head:
"This is not a time to seek easy answers or to assign blame," he said. "It is, rather, a time to pray, mourn, and reflect. It's time to let sorrow do its reflective and redemptive work, to hold the hands that need to be held, to let our tears open our hearts to change those things that lead to such tragedy, and to trust our pain to the loving arms of God."
There were a lot of good responses in the article, but there are several that are so bad they deserve attention.
American Family Radio has raised a similar battle cry, claiming in a video that events leading to recent years' school shootings in places like Jonesboro, Ark., Springfield, Ore., Littleton Colo., and Blacksburg, Va., "started when Madalyn Murray O'Hair complained she didn't want any prayer in our schools, and we said 'O.K.'" That is an apparent reference to Supreme Court decisions that have outlawed government-sanctioned prayer and devotional Bible reading in public schools.
I have quoted this scripture before but I think it deserves repeating here:
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’ (Luke 13.1-5, NRSV)
Another response came from Dr. Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:

Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told students in an April 19 chapel sermon that if a shooter attacked the Fort Worth, Texas, school, students should "rush him."

Patterson told the male students in the crowd to raise their hands and told the men, "I'm counting on you."

"See, all you had to do was have six or eight rush him right at that time, and 32 people wouldn't have died," Patterson said. "Now folks, let's make up our minds. I know we live in America where nobody gets involved in anybody else's situation. That shall not be the rule here. Does everybody understand? You say, 'Well, I may be shot.' Well, yeah, you may. Are you saved? You're going to heaven. You know, it's better than earth."

So, Patterson's response is to call the male students at Virgina Tech cowards and blame them for the deaths? What message does that send to the families?

The final response comes from a Pastor that repeatedly ignores Jesus' commandment that we love one another:

And an anti-gay group infamous for protesting at the funerals of U.S. soldiers has announced plans to picket the funerals of the Virginia victims.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., said the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, was doing God's will by punishing non-Christians, CBS News reported. A church news release added: "God is punishing America for her sodomite sins. The 33 massacred at Virginia Tech died for America’s sins against [Westboro Baptist Church]."

The tiny church, whose paster if Fred Phelps, is not affiliated with any national Baptist convention. The CBS News report said police are expected to break up any such protest. Funerals and memorial services are included in Virginia's disorderly conduct statute.


Eric said...

I don't read that message into Dr. Patterson's comments. His comparison to VT, by saying "...all you had to do was...," serves more as an illustration by contrast in my mind. When I read those comments, the context I perceive is that of calling Christians to action, not of condemnation.

It is normal for people to look at events like this and wonder, "what will happen if it happens here?" I think Dr. Patterson is telling his students that they don't need to fear the consequences, for their salvation is (supposedly) secured. The call for men to stand up and be men is especially appropriate, for I believe that God ordained men to the role of the protector.

I think the context of his comments is what we would need in order to be sure that he was being critical of the victims.

Gil Gulick said...

Before posting this, I watched his entire address at, and for me it did not help. I read these comments to my Sunday school class this week, and they were equally as disgusted. We used this article in an opening discussion on how the church should respond to this type of issue. Our conclusion was that we need to be so careful to ensure that the victims are not blamed.

I also have to somewhat disagree on men being called as the role of protector. Who protected the spies in Jericho? Who protected the Jews in Esther? One of the things we really work on at Wake is trying to get beyond the influence that patriarchy has had on our faith, and look for examples of both the feminine characteristics of God and women who were able to move beyond the limitations their society placed on them.