Saturday, 22 December 2012

Shields of the earth

Timothy Dalrymple published a guest post by Peter Wehner calling out James Dobson over his comments on the mass shooting in Connecticut, USA. Dobson, in the midst of a much longer broadcast, said,
Our country really does seem in complete disarray. I'm not talking politically, I'm not talking about the result of the November sixth election; I am saying that something has gone wrong in America and that we have turned our back on God.

I mean millions of people have decided that God doesn’t exist, or he’s irrelevant to me and we have killed fifty-four million babies and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition. Believe me, that is going to have consequences too.

And a lot of these things are happening around us, and somebody is going to get mad at me for saying what I am about to say right now, but I am going to give you my honest opinion: I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on.
It is important to note the larger context of his talk. Dobson replays a talk from 30 years ago talking about the breakdown of the family. The entire talk is on the problems for children without stable families. Divorce gets most of his ire, though he is concerned about absent parents and several other negative influences on the family. He surmises that the murderer was likely affected by a negative family background. Dobson's words above about about the larger picture of the problems in the USA including, but not limited to, mass killings.

In Dobson's comment we can see that his comment about a redefinition of marriage refers to his prediction that things will become worse. Further that he believes that the USA is under judgment from God. Dobson goes on to say immediately after the above comments,
We're seeing things happen that didn't happen just a few years ago. And there's a reason for it, something has gone wrong in this country.

In Shirley's book Certain Peace in Uncertain Times she quotes a scripture from Psalm 47:9 that comes to mind and it says, "For the shields of the earth belong unto God." The shields of the earth—he protects his people and cares about them. And when we are faithful to him, when we revere him, when we read his word and try to apply it, when we are committed to our spouses and to our children, the Lord blesses us. And that's been the source of the greatest prosperity and the greatest blessing on this country of any nation in the history of the world. It didn't happen because we're just nice folks, it happened because we followed biblical principles. And if we walk away from them as we are doing now, and turn our back on the fundamentals of the faith that has guided our forefathers, there will be consequences.
I quote this to show that Dobson sees the problem as being at a national level. This is a corporate problem, not an individual one.

Wehner takes Dobson to task for trying to diagnose evil,
Some Christian conservatives seemingly cannot help themselves.  They have to try to find some deep theological explanation for the evil we witness in places like Newtown, Connecticut.  But often in doing so, they injure the very faith they seek to represent. 
My concern with the post is that it is confused.

Starting with the issue of suffering, Wehner is correct when he points out that the Christian life in the New Testament is intimately connected with suffering, ignoring that the Old Testament says the same things. Paul says that followers of Christ share in Christ's suffering (2 Corinthians 1:5). However, that the righteous may suffer does not negate that the wicked may suffer also. Peter tells us that we are to suffer for righteousness not wickedness (1 Peter 3:17). More importantly however, the argument conflates individual suffering for righteousness in an unrighteous world with God's judgment of nation and the resultant strife. God can certainly judge a nation and scripture testifies to this, both in the case of Israel and many other nations. As such, a righteous person within a nation may suffer if God judges a nation as we see with Elijah.

This appears to be what Dobson is saying above. Rejection of God at a national level will lead to God's judgment. Dobson is not claiming that the children killed (or their parents) were being specifically judged by God.

Wehner expands to this level and asks why the nation is not deteriorating if they are under God's judgment.
Violent crime rates in the U.S. are reaching historic lows. Since 1993, for example, the rate of violent victimization has dropped by more than 70 percent. Those findings undercut the Dobson thesis. If America has gotten less godly, why would God’s judgment (which Dobson believes manifests itself in violent crimes) be getting less, not more, severe? On the flip side, the number, rate, and ratio of abortions in America are lower today than in the past. So why would God lash out now, when the abortion rate is going down, rather than before, when it was going up? And how would Dobson explain why the murder rate was higher when same-sex marriage wasn’t even being discussed and more people believed in God? One can see how terribly confused Dobson’s argument is once it’s actually scrutinized.
What this suggests to me is that Dobson can read the story but Wehner cannot. One needs to have a longitudinal not a cross-sectional view of things, especially history. It takes time for fruit to develop. The consequences of behaviours take some time to work out. We need to look at several decades worth of data and a range of metrics. Accurate data for murder and violence, but also theft, sexual immorality, selfishness, nacissism; and economic issues such as debt. Further, in terms of judgment we need to remember God's patience. God refused to judge the Amorites for 400 years as their sin was not yet full (Genesis 15:16). Repentance would have brought relenting of such judgment as it did for the Ninevites (Jonah; Jeremiah 18:7ff). But repentance and the behaviour that follows has to be real. Wehner's link mentions an 8% drop in the abortion rate 2000–2008; while an improvement, at more than 1,000,000 abortions per year this is hardly a change in heart of the nation.

Wehner makes some other misguided claims. In his third rebutal he says,
Dobson assumes he knows the mind of God and what most grieves, angers and moves His heart.  But surely Dobson knows that Jesus mentions divorce more often than he mentions homosexuality (which Paul addresses but Jesus does not).  So why is same-sex marriage on Dobson’s list but divorce is left off?  And what about the other things that concern God – like indifference to the poor, not caring for the stranger and alien in our midst, a haughty spirit, and riches?  When I listen to James Dobson and I read the gospel accounts, two jarringly different portraits emerge.
Well we can know the mind of God as he has showed us in his word. We may certainly weigh the issues incorrectly as Wehner rightly says; though he then gives a questionable method: counting. While it is true that an issue that the Bible addresses repeatedly is probably important, failure to address things is not condoning them. Jesus addresses divorce a few times, as does Dobson thru-out the broadcast. Jesus does address homosexuality (Matthew 19:4), Dobson does once, and in the context of defending the institution of marriage. Jesus addresses the question of marriage as it was occasional; he was responding to a question. Homosexuality was condemned in Jewish society. It wasn't as if the various Jewish parties were disagreeing over the issue so they brought it Jesus. If homosexuality was condemned and divorce allowed in some circumstances, then if Jesus censures people for being too free with divorce how much more does Jesus reject homosexual practice. If a man may not even look at a woman lustfully he may less look at a man, let alone lie with him.

Other vices may also be a cause of judgment; when people reject God they reject a range of virtues, not just family. The other problems may be of concern to God in the activities of American citizens, though it is the love of riches, not riches, that should be in the above list.

Lastly, Wehner conflates truth and sensitivity.
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?
Truth is not sensitivity. It is fine to discuss the wisdom, or lack thereof, of saying these things at this time. Whether a grieving parent may find Dobson's comments hurtful does not tell us if they are correct or not. This is merely an emotional appeal by Wehner, made worse by misrepresenting a specific death as being due to God's wrath. Nor is this what Dobson said.

I am not a Dobson champion, I disagree with some of his ideas. Nor do I necessarily disagree with Wehner otherwise, I had not previously heard of him and found a couple of his other articles reasonable. Dobson's theology may not always be correct, but it is hardly callous.

Hat tip: MzEllen


  1. Good analysis. Thanks for the post. Brian Scarborough.

  2. I agree with your analysis. I also like what Joel Rosenberg said about the murders. . I also think the church is at fault. We have been soft on scripture and wanting to not offend anyone--being politically correct. If the truth was preached from the pulpit 1/2 of the church would leave, at least in the Seattle area. Social justice Christians have deceived themselves about abortion and homosexuality.



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