There is a lot of grief and rage on social media this morning, and I think rightly so. The bad things keep happening, as they will do until the Lord returns. Being upset about them is good and right. Nevertheless, this hot take well sums up a lot of what I saw, especially on twitter, as the day progressed:
The more that comes about this case, the more it all fits together: white evangelicalism and white supremacy and male domination and racism and sexism and patriarchy. All of it always goes together.
I’m not including the person’s name, nor the link, because I think the person should be a little bit embarrassed about tweeting it, but unhappily isn’t. I want to respond, briefly, because this sentiment, along with the idea that the doctrine of the SBC is clearly to blame, and that whoever the pastor of this person was is also clearly to blame, is so prevalent, and also very easily come by, as to be shared around a thousand times before one clear-headed response can be called into being. I want to pair it with the similarly destructive logic which someone tried to put as a comment on my blog but was inhibited by me:
Any church operating during COVID should be held accountable for any one of their parishioners who comes down with COVID.
These two sentiments are representative of a vast sea of muddled thinking, and I want to say three things about them. First, people don’t know what the words “responsible” and “accountable” mean and what they really entail. Second, people think that wickedness is something “out there” and not something that arises from inside the person. And third, the world hates the God who persistently calls himself “Father.”
Taking these three points very quickly in order, it is true that we are “responsible” for and “accountable” to each other. When Cain murdered Abel, he tried to pretend that he hadn’t. But, of course, God already knew, so that was an excessively foolish lie. Likewise, Adam had been “responsible” to tell Eve what God had said, and did a very poor job. In fact, we aren’t told what happened between the commandment to Adam and the creation of Eve. Did Adam add to the instruction? Did Eve? But when she fell, he was held “responsible.” At a very deep and terrible point inside of the human soul, we know that we are bound together and that though one person acts, other people might be implicated in that action, or share in the consequences of it, pressed down, shaken together, spilling over into our lives. This young man killed a lot of women, like Cain, trying to blame them for the wickedness that arose from within him. He tried to hold them “responsible” for what was really wrong inside his own soul. Holding his pastor “responsible” similarly misses the point, as if another person can go inside and put evil inside a human heart that wasn’t already there.
We all make choices about how to live and what to do. We all have to sort our way through the minefield of life, trying to decide whether to open the church doors or close them, to go through them if they are open. When a bad thing happens in a congregation, we all sip together out of the ruin that one person might make of his or her life, just as in a family. To say that we are bound together as sinners under the authority of Christ doesn’t let us off the hook for our own individual actions. Unless the pastor of that church stood up and said, “Murder is not a grave and terrible sin and neither is lust,” the blame for these murders lies fully on the person who did them. Likewise, unless the pastor says, “I want you to come in these doors and get COVID no matter the cost,” he can’t be blamed for where and how his parishioners get COVID. It’s amazingly easy to get COVID, but it is also pretty easy to slowly die from loneliness, isolation, and other kinds of sicknesses of the body and soul. We, as a congregation, have lost six people during the era of COVID. Only one had it, and did not contract it at church, but had been staying away out of fear, and yet died anyway. The other people died of natural causes (1), swift decline from isolation in nursing homes (3), and murder (1). It has been a terrible terrible year. Working out the practical implications of our “responsibility” to each other, to care for each other is, is literally how we have been spending the whole year. In all of this, Christ is our head, and we try to obey him, bringing the wickedness of our hearts into the light of day to be healed.
Second, human people are wicked. All people. ALL have sinned and fallen well and catastrophically short of the glory of God. All of the cries about white supremacy, white evangelicalism, patriarchy, and racism all illumine the very false and foolish idea that if you or I were able to fix “other” people, and the systems they inhabit, that all the bad things would not any longer happen. This is not so. When Paul talks about Jew and Greek, Slave and Free, Male and Female, I think many people imagine that this is talking about the freedom everyone has together in Christ. But, as someone very clever pointed out to me recently, what he’s really saying is that we are all–regardless of our ethnicity, gender, sex, or social circumstance–brought together under obedience to the Lord through his work to redeem us. We are “free” yes, but not free from the order that God himself created. We are free to obey and love each other, and we have all, who had been far off, been brought near by the blood of the cross, and that is a wondrous thing. But if you don’t enjoin yourself to Christ’s church, it doesn’t matter what kind of person you are. If you don’t come to him you can’t be saved. No system or right belief can save you from your own wickedness. You need Jesus. Both the murderer of yesterday and the women he murdered needed Jesus.
And finally, if you are a person who thinks that patriarchy is the biggest problems in society today, and the reason that bad things happen, I would encourage you to take up your complaint with God, which will be hard to do, because God himself is a pachriarchalist. He calls himself Father. His pronouns are ‘He, Him.’ He draws people out of every nation and tribe and tongue into his family of which he is always the head. He is the only person who can cleanse the heart of the wicked sins of racism and lust. Fortunately for us, He never stops being Father. He will never ask someone else to come and take that place. He orders his family the way he wants, which is not in a way that is acceptable to the average twitter scold. But consider, just for a moment, how wondrous are his gifts and his love. Rather than being the sort of Father who only stands afar off, watching us die in our sins, He sent His own Son to die in our place. When He sees us even considering returning to His household, He throws off His cloak and His dignity to come running to embrace the lost and ruined.