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If God is so Powerful, Why Can’t He Stop Christians From Committing Heinous Crimes?

Evangelicals believe that their God is all-seeing, all-knowing, and all-powerful. He is the sovereign of the universe, and nothing happens apart from his purpose, decree, and plan. God sets up kingdoms and takes them down; thus Donald Trump is the president of the United States because God wanted him to be. It’s God, not humans, who ultimately elects people to office. He is the divine ballot box stuffer. This same God is the giver and taker of life. No one dies before the time God has appointed for his or her death. Wherever man roams, the Christian God is found. According to Evangelicals, humans cannot escape God. He is e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e.

If these things are true, I’d love for a Christian to explain to me why it is that God can’t stop his followers from committing heinous crimes? Appealing to free will or sin won’t work. Why? God is in control of everything. If he is in control of everything, then that includes sin. If he is the sovereign over the universe, and nothing happens apart from his purpose, decree, and plan, what does that say about the notion of free will?  If humans truly have free will and can choose as they please, this means that God is not in control; that God’s plans can be frustrated by human volition. (Let the theological wrangling and justifications begin.) Well Bruce, you have to understand ____________. Actually, I don’t. All I am doing here is taking what Christians say at face value. If God is whom Evangelicals say he is, and has the power they say he does, this means that God is culpable for what happens day after day on this dying planet of ours.

Let me ask again, why can’t God stop his followers from committing heinous crimes? If, as Evangelicals assert, God, the Holy Spirit, lives in all believers and is their teacher and guide, why do Christians commit vile, horrendous crimes? Take Matthew Phelps, who stabbed his Christian wife over a hundred times. Explain how a Bible college-trained preacher could commit such a crime. Explain how it is that the news daily reports stories about Evangelical “men of God” committing adultery, stealing church funds, raping teenagers, and sexually molesting children. Why doesn’t Jehovah stop these God-called, Spirit-filled, Bible-reading, praying servants of his from committing these crimes (and others that aren’t reported). Is it that God can’t; that he is powerless to do so? Is it that humans do what humans do, and there is nothing God can do to keep them from doing so? It seems to me, based on an ever-increasing mountain of evidence, that if there is a God who created everything, he is an idle bystander, unwilling or unable to lift a finger to keep his followers from sodomizing boys, sexually assaulting little girls, and preying on adult women.

There was a time when Evangelicals could argue that criminals such as David Hyles or Bob Gray (Jacksonville, Florida) were outliers; that pastors, evangelists, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, deacons, and bus workers who commit crimes are as rare as a dodo bird sighting. Thanks to the internet and the willingness of victims to publicly share their stories, we now know the Evangelicals have just as big of a crime problem as the Catholic church does. And even before the internet, there was gossip about this or that preacher being arrested or run out of his church. Solomon was right when said there is nothing new under the sun.

Evangelical church leaders love to rail against the world and its “sins,” yet these same behaviors are found among the fraternity. Does anyone really believe that Ted Haggard and Jack Hyles are the exceptions to the rule; that yes, preachers can and do commit crimes, but such behavior is rarely found in Evangelical houses of God? I remember a day when Evangelicals thundered against the sins of the world — fornication, adultery, homosexuality, and divorce. Look at our strong, lifelong marriages, pastors would say. Look at our moral purity. We owe it all to JESUS!  Now we know better. Evangelical pastors and their congregants sin just as much as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. We know that pastors are not the pillars of virtue they claim to be: that they have sex with women to whom they are not married, and surf porn sites just like their counterparts in the world. (Please read Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?)

It seems, then, that Evangelicals aren’t any different from the rest of us; that all their talk about being new creations in Christ Jesus is just that, talk. Now, this doesn’t mean that Christianity is worthless. People find purpose, meaning, and community through religion. That said, I do wonder if pastors stood before their congregations and said, God is not who and what we claim he is and we are just as fucked up as the rest of the world, what would happen? If the notion of a personal, caring God is destroyed, what’s left for Christians besides Grandma Mary’s cherry pie? If there is no difference morally between the saved and the lost, where does that leave Christianity?

Of course — thanks to cognitive dissonance — my words will be loudly and roundly rejected. There is machinery to maintain and gears to grease. There are offerings to collect and souls to save. Evangelicals dare not let reality get in the way of perpetuating the myth — that Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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    They’re also supposed to have God’s Holy Spirit living inside of them. That doesn’t do a very good job of controlling them either. In fact, it looks suspiciously like the Holy Spirit doesn’t exist, given ‘he’ does nothing at all to curb their awful behavior.

    This problem of Christian immorality has existed from the very beginning; Paul has to write to the cult members in Corinth to tell some of the men to stop visiting prostitutes and bragging about it (1 Corinthians 6). Christianity has never, ever worked.

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    Christianity works exactly the way it is supposed to work, which is completely different from the way it claims it is supposed to work.

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    Becky Wiren

    So God wanted Trump to be president (according to fundies)? Gee…when Barack Obama was president, they thought he was an evil Kenyan Muslim atheist socialist devil! How did God let him become president? I guess God isn’t omnipotent all the time. 😉

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    These were the types of questions I always discussed with my mom as a kid. I never could find an answer to that qiestion. Bring told that we aren’t capable of understanding because of sin and not being as smart as god didn’t satisfy me. So at age 11 I was sent to fundamentalist Christian school where those questions were met with answers like, “pray and ask god for guidance; You need to get your heart right with god because satan is tempting you with those thoughts; it is sin of arrogance to question god.” So I became an angry teen, convinced I could never be right with god, carrying learned helplessness, weighted down by never being godly enough to accept God’s ways.

    I wish I had gone to public school as my deconversion process would have gone much more smoothly! And I would have learned evolution instead of living in embarrassment for years until I could learn it on my own.

    Fundamentalist Christianity is so damaging.

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      That’s sad, Obstacle Chick. I think that honest questioning is not a sign of arrogance, but an indicator that a young person is not willing to be just “spoon fed,” but is actually taking their faith seriously. To my mind, it’s actually a bad thing for kids not to question, or to reflect on what they actually believe.

      Does God really want mindless little robots sitting in the churches? I think not.

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        Becky Wiren

        I think you’re right Rebecca. I don’t believe God wants mindless little robots. But I’m a Universalist, not a Christian. Too many Christian churches fighting on whether LGBTQ people are allowed to marry and have full rights, whether women are equal, bigotry everywhere and too many internal contradictions in the Bible have convinced me that Christianity isn’t working very well as a vehicle for God’s love.

        However I know there are many caring, lovely Christians. I am personally acquainted with several pastors of different denominations who are lovely people and want nothing more than to help others. I also know other very sincere and lovely Christians. I just can’t be one anymore.

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    Becky, my husband is a Christian who is a universalist. He strongly affirms the doctrine of universal reconciliation. Are you a Unitarian Universalist?

    I totally agree and am grieved by these issues in the church relating to equality, and LGBTQ inclusion. I’m not so much bothered by contradictions in the Scripture because my faith is not based in a more fundamentalist view of the Bible.

    I think all of us our on our own spiritual/life journeys and while it’s great to dialogue and even disagree, we need to honor each other at the same time and accept where the other person is at in all this.

    I definitely can fall short of this at times, particularly relating to my own kids. It doesn’t necessarily need to be about a spiritual issue either. 🙂

    • Avatar
      Becky Wiren

      Rebecca, I’d probably be a Unitarian Universalist if there was a church close enough to where I live. I don’t consider myself a Christian although I suppose some people would think I was a liberal Christian. But from my POV, my beliefs don’t require the Bible or Jesus, just God. I’ve also come to the conclusion that since I can’t prove a supreme being, I can’t expect anyone else to worship one. I’m concerned with how we treat each other as fellow human beings.

      Now see, you talk like my Christian friends. Two of my minister friends are women and very open. I just wish I lived in a community where things were more diverse. I love the idea of working with others with different ideas, philosophies, religions, whatnot, and yet respecting each other.

      As to falling short…well, don’t we all? 🙂

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    My church gave lip service to how healthy it was for thinking Christians to question their beliefs. But the unstated understanding is that you damn well accept party line when you give your answer. Conclusions outside fundamentalist doctrine showed evidence is sin and temptation by satan.

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    Bruce, I am curious. Back when you were an Evangelical minister, if someone had approached you with these same questions, how would you have answered them?

    Did you reach a point in which the answers no longer seemed plausible/reasonable, etc.?

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