Pastor John, hello! When something huge and good happens in a society — like a faulty government system is fixed, or slavery is abolished, or minorities are given more equal treatment, or anything of the like — is God secretly at work in that moment inspiring things to happen? What is God’s role in positive social changes?”
Well first, let’s be sure that we have a distinctively Christian view of the term “positive social change.” Whenever we’re talking about change among unbelievers, the term positive must always be qualified in our minds so that we don’t stop thinking like Christians and simply think like unbelievers.
Christians know that all so-called positive deeds done from a heart of unbelief, or disregard for the glory of God, or disregard for the eternal good of people, or disregard for reliance upon the mercies of God in Christ, those deeds — no matter how beneficial they are in the short run for our prosperity or health or freedom — still are acts of rebellion against God, so they are not positive in the ultimate sense.
I’m assuming that when Jim asks about God’s role in positive social change, he means change for the short-term benefits of people, like rising material standards of living and greater health and more safety and more freedom to act out our convictions, even if the short-term benefits for society are not accompanied by spiritual awakening or faith in Jesus. So, that’s the question I’m asking. What’s the role of God in those kinds of societal changes? That’s what I assume he’s asking.
Here’s my conclusion in answer to Jim’s question “What is God’s role in positive social change?”
God is always involved. He is always ultimate. He is always decisive. This of course means, as anyone would immediately infer, that he’s also ultimate and decisive over the so-called negative social changes as well.
God rules all things either by his positive agency, more or less directly causing things, or by permission, which is equally wise and equally purposeful, since God knows what everybody is going to do, and he permits them to do evil.
— John Piper, Desiring God, What Part Does God Play in Positive Social Change? September 24, 2018
People are scrambling to find words to best describe the murderous actions of Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas last Sunday. What is known so far is that Paddock was a rich white guy who liked to gamble and was, at times, verbally abusive towards his girlfriend. At a loss to figure out why Paddock did what he did, the talking heads on Fox News have searched high and low for the answer, going so far as to blame his actions on his lack of religious faith. Other talking heads, missing the forest for the trees, wondered brainlessly out loud about whether it was time to increase security in hotels. How in the world did Paddock get so many guns into the hotel? they ask. Duh, geniuses, in his luggage and bags. Sean Hannity blamed the lack of firearms in the country concert crowd, not thinking about how having loaded handguns would have stopped Paddock from spraying the crowd with bullets shot from semi-automatic/automatic weapons hundreds of yards away. Blame. Blame everyone and everything except the one common denominator in EVERY mass shooting — handguns, assault rifles, and high-capacity magazines. Guns don’t kill people, people do. Or so goes the droning NRA mantra, anyway.
The latest person being blamed for the Las Vegas carnage is an entity called EVIL. Evil, much like Satan/Lucifer/Devil, is a religious construct meant to explain why people do bad things. Evangelicals believe all of us, from the moment our father’s sperm united with our mother’s egg, are sinners. We don’t become sinners, we are sinners. Thanks to Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God by eating fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil®, all of us, by nature, are sinners. But when it comes to really, really bad shit — gays getting married, women having abortion, Bill Clinton getting blow jobs in the White House, and Steven Paddock killing and maiming hundreds of people — many Evangelicals blame evil. It’s evil, not guns, that commits mass murder. Of course, Evangelicals — who are overwhelmingly Republicans — forget Mr. Evil when people fly planes into buildings. Then it is Muslims doing all the killing. They seem to have no problem determining who or what is behind such terrorism. However, when it comes to gun violence, many Evangelicals are deaf, dumb, and blind.
Evil is not to blame for America’s problem with mass shootings — guns are. Jesse Berney, a writer for Rolling Stone, had this to say about blaming evil for what happened in Las Vegas:
It’s easy to call acts of horror “evil.” It’s comforting to ascribe an external, unknowable motive to events so terrible we can’t imagine a motivation.
The human mind is incapable of imagining what would drive a man to haul an arsenal of high-powered weapons into a hotel room, knock out a couple windows, murder dozens of people and injure hundreds more by spraying them with gunfire. So we call it evil. That settles that.
President Trump called the shooting in Las Vegas that left at least 59 dead and more than 500 injured “an act of pure evil,” and who’s to argue with him? If evil exists in this world, surely indiscriminately murdering faceless strangers from 300 yards away qualifies. Whatever drove Stephen Paddock to that hotel room that night would fall under any reasonable definition of evil.
But what if evil doesn’t exist in this world?
Of course people do terrible things. Examples are easy to find, from our own regrets to the most unimaginable cruelties. Paddock murdered dozens of people. The government of Myanmar, led by a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is engaged in a brutal genocide against an ethnic minority. Every day children are exploited and abused. The world is an abattoir of violence and cruelty if you choose to do nothing but focus on the terror we visit on each other.
But evil? Evil as an independent reality, a thing-in-itself that urges people to action? “Evil” not as judgment of Paddock’s actions but as an explanation of them? That’s a fantasy, and it absolutely will lead to more shootings like these, more deaths.
When elected officials like Trump rely on “evil” to explain away mass shootings, they are following a deliberate strategy. Republicans know wall-to-wall coverage of these events are the best opportunity gun control advocates have to draw attention to the issue and save lives. But the GOP – beholden to the overhyped power of the National Rifle Association – have just one goal: pass zero bills restricting gun sales in any way. (In fact, the Republican leadership in the House is currently considering a bill that would make it easier to purchase both silencers and armor-piercing bullets.) They follow a few strategies like clockwork.
There are calls not to “politicize” these tragedies. They say it’s too soon, that it dishonors the victims and their families to bring politics into the discussion.
They claim specific gun laws wouldn’t have stopped this individual tragedy, because it’s not the right gun, or the perpetrator would have passed a background check – as though stopping some future mass shootings isn’t worthwhile if we can’t stop them all.
They claim criminals intent on breaking the law will just ignore gun laws anyway, as though that doesn’t apply to every law ever passed.
And they call these events “evil” to make them seem random and unpreventable. You can’t fight evil, after all. It’s invisible, incorporeal. It’s the perfect foil for politicians who don’t want to do anything. What are we going to do, pass a law to make evil illegal?
But the problem here isn’t evil. It’s not the devil. It’s us: human beings. We have motivations and justifications and rationalizations and reasons for everything we do. We don’t know why Stephen Paddock murdered those people. Maybe we never will. And maybe the sensible laws we could pass, like universal background checks and a ban on all assault weapons, wouldn’t have stopped someone so wealthy and motivated to commit horror. But it could stop someone else. It would save lives.
Blaming evil is an excuse to do nothing in the face of tens of thousands of gun deaths a year. Only a fraction of those deaths are the result of mass shootings like in Las Vegas. We can and should work to reduce all gun deaths, from suicides to accidents to crime-related deaths to massacres like Sunday’s. That means passing laws that keeps guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. The only other option is to do nothing.
Almost 35 000 people a year are killed with firearms in the United States (and thousands more are wounded). Many of these deaths are suicides. Nineteen children a day are killed or maimed by gunfire. More people are killed by guns each year than are killed in automobile accidents. Government at every level has seen fit to regulate automobile use, hoping to reduce deaths and injuries from auto accidents. Remove automobiles from the equation and what happens? (Think real hard on that one, gun-lovers.) If guns are removed from the gun violence equation or restricted, guess what happens? Less gun violence, as Australia will attest.
What follows is a list of mass shootings I compiled from several recent news articles:
- Fort Hood, November 5, 2009 — 13 dead, 30 wounded
- Edmond, Oklahoma, August 20, 1986 — 14 dead, 6 wounded
- San Bernardino,California December 2, 2015 — 14 dead, 22 wounded
- San Ysidro, California, July 18, 1984 — 21 dead, 19 wounded
- Killeen, Texas, October 16, 1991 — 23 dead, 27 wounded
- Sandy Hook Elementary School, December 14, 2012 — 26 dead, 2 wounded
- Virginia Tech University, April 16, 2007 — 32 dead, 17 wounded
- Orlando,Florida June 12, 2016 — 49 dead, 58 wounded
- Las Vegas,Nevada October 1, 2017 — 59 dead, 527 wounded
- Tucson, Arizona, January 8, 2011 — 6 dead, 11 wounded
- Seal Beach, California, October 12, 2011 — 8 dead, 1 wounded
- Oakland, California, April 2, 2012 — 7 dead, 1 wounded
- Aurora, Colorado, July 20, 2012, 12 dead, 58 wounded
- Oak Creek, Wisconsin, August 5, 2012, 6 dead, 3 wounded
- Minneapolis, Minnesota, September 28, 2012 — 6 dead, 2 wounded
- Brookfield, Wisconsin, October 21, 2012 — 3 dead, 4 wounded
- Washington, DC, September 16, 2013 — 12 dead, 3 injured
- Isla Vista, California, May 23, 2014, 6 dead , 7 wounded
- Charleston, South Carolina, June 18, 2015, 9 dead
- Chattanooga, Tennessee, July 16, 2015, 5 dead, 3 wounded
- Roseburg, Oregon, October 1, 2015, 9 dead, 9 injured
- Colorado Springs, Colorado, November 29, 2015, 3 dead, 9 wounded
What’s the common denominator is these stories? Evil? White guys? Buildings? No! Guns — handguns, long guns, assault rifles, high-capacity clips. And what has Congress done about these mass shootings? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Fearing being primaried by right-wing, NRA-moneyed, Jesus-loving, flag-waving challengers, Republicans refuse to even talk about passing meaningful gun law reform. And sadly, many Democrats are no better. Fearing losing their seats to Republican challengers, Democrats cower in shameful silence before the gun lobby.
The United States has been fighting the war on terror for sixteen years. Congress has seen fit to give the US military trillions of dollars to fund the war on terrorism, all because 3,000 people died on 9/11. Yet, during this same time period, almost 500,000 people have died through gun violence and over a 1,000,000 people have been wounded. And Congress has done what, exactly? Nothing. If Trump and congressional Republicans have their way, current gun laws will be loosened, making it easier for people who shouldn’t own firearms to have them Earlier this year, Congress made it easier for people with mental illness to purchase a gun. Even worse, Congress is contemplating abolishing the law that makes silencers illegal. Imagine how much damage Paddock could have done if his guns were equipped with shot-muffling silencers.
I am done listening to people who won’t or can’t see that we have a huge problem with gun violence in this country. I refuse to spend one more moment listening to people who think less regulation and more guns is the answer. Call me a pinko liberal or a Communist, I don’t care. I plan to do everything in my power to force government at every level to restrict gun sales and ownership. Some currently available firearms should be made illegal — assault rifles in particular. People shouldn’t be permitted to hoard firearms as Stephen Paddock did. LIBERALS ARE COMING FOR OUR GUNS! Gun rights activists scream, and my response is this: YES, WE ARE! It is high time we put an end to the gun culture in America with its attendant violence, carnage, and death. If Western nations such as Britain and Australia can strictly regulate firearms and drastically reduce gun violence, so can the United States. Whether we have the courage to do so, remains to be seen.
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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The world has a problem with evil in that it basically denies the existence of evil. Unless of course, you disagree with the world’s rejection of evil, then you are evil. Confused yet? I know I sure am.
Individuals commit acts of violence because of the evil within their hearts. Period. How do I know this is true? Because, without Christ, we are all evil. By refusing to acknowledge that evil exists, the world refuses to see when one religion teaches evil and another religion teaches to love one’s enemies. While the religion of Islam may teach the slaughtering of infidels, let us remember that Muslims, pagans, Buddhists, and all other people, religious or not, are going to face the judgment of God.
While the world may not recognize evil, we, as Christians, know it exists; it exists very close by indeed – mostly within ourselves. We recognize the inherent wickedness of man, and that no one is righteous apart from Christ. We also recognize that the only solution to the problem of evil is the blood of Jesus. His sacrifice is the only thing that stands between our eternal destination and theirs.
I don’t know of one non-Christian who denies the existence of evil. Not one. Evil exists. We know this because we observe its work and influence. What non-Christians reject is not evil in and of itself, but Wiggins’ naive, simplistic view of the world. Wiggins, wanting to absolve Evangelical Christianity of its Islamophobic tendencies and the complicity of the United States in birthing modern terrorism, says that evil is a heart problem. People commit evil acts because their hearts are wicked. Instead of attempting to understand the reasons for terrorism, Wiggins reduces the matter to one of belief. According to Wiggins, ISIS terrorists recently slaughtered Parisian concert-goers because their hearts are evil. If the terrorists would only repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in Jesus, all would be well. His argument, of course, ignores the fact that many terrorist acts are committed by people who worship the Christian God.
Just recently Christian Lewis Dear shot up a Colorado Planned Parenthood Clinic, killing several people, including an Evangelical pro-life police officer. Surely Dear’s murderous rampage is an act of terrorism? Yet, here’s a man, Dear, filled with the Holy Spirit, committing an evil act. Should we reduce Dear’s actions to a matter of the heart? (I suspect that many Evangelicals secretly applaud Dear for doing what he did.) Or should we consider whether the recent inflammatory Planned Parenthood videos and subsequent Evangelical rhetoric and hysteria played a part in Dear’s decision to commit an act of domestic terrorism?
Wiggins, a Christian Fundamentalist, believes every person is born into this world a sinner. We don’t become sinners, we are sinners. According to Wiggins’ inspired, inerrant Bible, every person is dead in trespasses and sins. Every person is at variance with God. Every person is the sworn enemy of God, and unless each accepts this God’s Evil Solution™–the blood of Jesus–all will die in their sins and go to hell.
Taking Wiggins’ theology to its logical conclusion, every non-Christian is a potential terrorist. If, as the Bible says: the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it, doesn’t this mean that every non-Christian is evil? Of course, Wiggins doesn’t really believe this. No Evangelical does. Wiggins thinks certain people–Muslim terrorists (and perhaps Muslims in general)–are evil. Are there degrees of evil? Doesn’t the Bible say that God is no respecter of persons? Surely the Holy God of Evangelicalism doesn’t categorize sinners into different evil categories depending on their geographic location, ideology, and skin color? No, he doesn’t (actually he does, but I’ll leave that subject for another day), but Evangelicals like Wiggins certainly do.
While it would be easy to dismiss Wiggins’ words as the rantings of a simple-minded Evangelical, doing so misses the fact that his view has real-world implications. If terrorism is just really a matter of the heart, then the answer to the global terrorist threat is the slaughter of Middle Eastern Muslims. Kill the evil bastards, Evangelicals cry, and that will put an end to terrorism. (Oh the irony of the followers of the Prince of Peace advocating violence as the answer to anything!) Yet, despite the decade-and-a-half war on terrorism, the world is not one iota closer to eradicating terrorism.
While I have no objections to calling terrorists evil, I refuse to absolve Christian America of its own imperialistic, oil-driven terroristic tendencies. Crucial to ending the wars in the Middle East is getting Americans to understand the economic, social, political, and religious views that drive events in the Middle East. Simplistic views such as Wiggins’ reveal an ignorant understanding of how the world works. I wish everything were as simple as Evangelicals think it is. But it is anything but simple, so we must continue to dig deeply into the reasons why a small percentage of Muslims are hell-bent on destroying Western Civilization. And while we are at it, let’s take a hard look at how the Evangelical view of the world fuels domestic terrorism. We truly cannot understand the complexity of terrorism until we are willing look at ALL the facts, not just those that line up with a literalistic, Fundamentalist interpretation of the Christian Bible.
Jeremy Wiggins Bio: (link no longer active)
Jeremy Wiggins is a graduate of Liberty University with a B.A. of Religion and a Minor in Biblical Studies. A veteran of the United States Air Force, he and his wife were stationed at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, NV, where Jeremy was an F15 Avionics Technician. He has written for the AFA Journal, One Million Dads, and has also had his work quoted in World Net Daily and Christianity Today. He has served as a guest host of AFR Talk’s Financial Issues, Nothing But Truth, Exploring the Word, and AFA Today. Since 2009, Jeremy has served at the American Family Association to help restore America’s Biblical and moral foundations.