Does Bible Affirm Parents of Shooter Sentenced to Prison?

Does Bible Affirm Parents of Shooter Sentenced to Prison? April 9, 2024

Today, for the first time in US history, its legal system has sentenced to prison the parents of their 15 year old son Ethan for his mass shooting that killed four of his fellow students at Oxford High School in Pontiac, Michigan. Parents James and Jennifer Crumbley, 47 and 46 years old, respectively, were sentenced to between 10 and 15 years of incarceration. They were charged with involuntary manslaughter for failing to prevent their teenage son from committing murder. Ethan already had pleaded guilty to 24 charges, including first-degree murder, and was sentenced to life in prison without parole, though he is eligible to appeal this decision.

The court cited several red flags to which the Crumbley parents failed to respond. It included Ethan having mental health problems, yet the parents purchasing for him a gun and his mother taking him to a shooting range to practice. Also, Ethan had drawn pictures of shooting people the morning of his mass murder. The parents therefore were charged with negligence and reckless conduct regarding their parenting of Ethan.

The Law of Moses in the Bible has commandments indicating that people are to be held responsible for damage caused by their animals. For example, him a rancher has a ox that is in the habit of goring other animals and perhaps people, that history makes the owner of the ox responsible to ensure that the animal cannot gore anymore, such as enclosing it with a fence. For, right after the Ten Commandments in the Bible, we read:

“When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. If the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not restrained it, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. If a ransom is imposed on the owner, then the owner shall pay whatever is imposed for the redemption of the victim’s life. If it gores a boy or a girl, the owner shall be dealt with according to this same rule” (Exodus 21.28-30 NRSV).

But what about people having children who are rebellious to point that they are dangerous. The Law of Moses cautions parents about this by saying something that is quite disturbing for parents that can put the fear in them and their children as follows:

“If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of that town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid (Deuteronomy 21.18-21).

This commandment implicitly makes parents liable to a certain extent for the conduct of their children. How so? What if the parents of a stubborn and rebellious are negligent about his misbehavior and thus do not do what this commandment says? Although the Law of Moses does not explicitly state anything about such a situation, this law implicitly does, thus making the parents liable.

So, I think this Michigan court ruling today–about the parents of Ethan Crumbly being held responsible to some extent for his murders–adheres to the intent of these two commands in the Law of Moses about people being held responsible for damages caused by their animals or children to other people, such as death. What do you think?

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