Our politics is sinful, but is it to blame here?

On the day of the shooting in Arizona, Diana Butler Bass posted a call for pastors to take on the issues around the shooting in the pulpit on Jan. 9. She admonished pastors not to leave the commentary on the news of the day to the talking heads.

At their best, American pulpits are not about taking sides and blaming.  Those pulpits should be places to reflect on theology and life, on the Word and our words.  I hope that sermons tomorrow will go beyond expressions of sympathy or calls for civility and niceness.  Right now, we need some sustained spiritual reflection on how badly we have behaved in recent years as Americans–how much we’ve allowed fear to motivate our politics, how cruel we’ve allowed our discourse to become, how little we’ve listened, how much we’ve dehumanized public servants, how much we hate.

I was uncomfortable with Bass’ suggestion when I read it because it assumes so much. Especially on the day of the shooting itself, we knew almost nothing about the man now in custody for the killings. We knew nothing about his motivation or his sanity.

Today, it seems no more clear to me than it did on that day that the man who pulled the trigger was acting from any motivation drummed into his head by our vitriolic political climate. It sounds like he was descending into the black abyss of insanity. If so, it is difficult to blame politics for his actions any more than we can blame Robert De Niro for John Hinkley Jr.

In writing that, I do not mean to say I approve of our politics. Fear and anger stalk our politics. Millions of dollars are spent turning fellow human beings into monsters and sub-human beasts. There is not an ounce of Christian charity in any of it. It has to change.

But I’m not convinced – for what it is worth – that tying this shooting incident to our political culture is either accurate or helpful.

Let people of faith pray. Let us mourn. Let us decry senseless pain and death. Let us praise God for the heroes and the caretakers.

And let us talk seriously about what politicians, journalists, and citizens who profess to worship God say and do. Let us preach against the sins of our political culture. Let us instruct each other how to love our adversaries and honor God even while engaged in a competition for votes. Let us honor and glorify God in all things – even politics.

But let us also have the patience and the prudence to learn the facts before we encourage pastors to take to pulpits and use outrage to fill the voids where our knowledge is incomplete.


7 thoughts on “Our politics is sinful, but is it to blame here?

  1. Isn’t it odd that she mentions fear, cruelty, dehumanization, and hate, but doesn’t mention the presence of evil and its influence on the shooter. Is he insane? Almost certainly not–he hired a cab, planned the attack, wrote about it, etc., etc. This guy knew what he was doing. Was it a political act? Doesn’t seem so, at least not in the writings that I’ve been able to find so far. I agree that we should preach about how to love each other better and more, and that we should honor and glorify God even more as well. But when are we going to recognize the presence of the absence of God, evil, in our midst and talk about that?

  2. You expressed well the reasons I did nothing other than refer to the incident in our congregations’ prayer time yesterday, asking for comfort for the grieving families, justice to be done, and ultimately redemption for the suspect. Making assumptions about the suspect’s motives, state of mind, etc. was all premature at that point, and using such tragedy in the raw moment for preaching to me somehow cheapens the lives lost. There may come a time for addressing the political climate of our nation in one’s preaching, but I don’t believe yesterday would have been such a time.

  3. So far I agree with all the comments made. Well said and the truth of the matter is that there has always been hype up speech in politics every since people began voting for their leaders. The media is blaming everyone but themselves for spreading hate and violence. I also only mentioned it in prayer section of service.

  4. I think your instincts on the matter are correct. In my experience, there are very few situations that warrant an entire sermon on them the day after the event.

    On the one hand, as you point out, we don’t yet know all the details. Anything you say is either too tentative or prone to correction later.

    On the other, it usually doesn’t hit close enough to home for a congregation to need that kind of immediate attention. If you’re living in Arizona or in the city in which it happened, then it probably should be addressed. But, if you’re in Indiana or Mississippi, it can likely wait till we know more – if we choose to address it at all.

    And that’s not even to get into why one is so quick to scrap a week’s worth of sermon prep for something that happened on a Saturday. Was the prepared sermon so bad? Was there a sermon prepared at all? Or was one simply scanning the news in search of something to preach?

    In the last ten years, I can only think of twice that I preached on a current event immediately on the heels of it. One was September 11th. The other was Hurricane Katrina (and that’s only because we were hit by it in Mississippi).

    Other than that, what I had prepared in advance was far better and more important than a last-minute audible for a current event. As the other’s have said, a quick mention during prayer time is often more appropriate.

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