Franklin Graham offered his assessment last week regarding the cause of mass shootings in the U.S.
“America has abandoned God, and taken God out of the classroom,” he said in a Facebook post.
“The more we turn our backs on God and His Word, the more problems we have as individuals and as a nation,” Graham wrote. “The solution isn’t restricting access to certain weapons,” he said, but rather “a ban on all of the movies, television shows, and video games graphically depicting gun violence, bloody gore, and death.”
I would suggest Graham take a course in remedial theology and the history of religion in America. He seems to be confused on several points both historical and theological.
First, to say that America has abandoned God implies there was a time when the nation walked with God.
Minoring in history at a private Baptist college, I don’t remember studying America at that time (when the nation walked with God).
Perhaps, it was when Americans, in both the north and south, forcibly brought Africans to America to work in homes and fields.
Perhaps, it was when a bloody civil war tore the country asunder over the issue of slavery and the value of an African American person.
Perhaps, it was during the Jim Crow years in the South when laws were circumvented and African Americans were shot, drowned or hung to keep the whole community in fear and in line.
Perhaps, it was during the westward expansion, fueled by the rush (and hunger) for gold, that ultimately pushed the continent’s Indigenous peoples into hopeless reservations.
Perhaps it was … I could continue to list the distinctive features of our history, but I am unsure where in that history that we walked with God.
That would imply we were a nation comprised predominantly of Christians – for that is presumably what Graham means when he speaks of turning “our backs on God and His Word” – who were seeking to pursue holiness and justice. When was that exactly?
Growing up in West Texas in the 1950-60s, it wasn’t where I lived.
My work in the prison and earlier in pastoral ministry were prepared by the profanities I heard every time I worked at my dad’s service station. I saw cheating, cursing, drinking, infidelity and violence as a routine part of my experience. God wasn’t so much abandoned as simply not considered by many.
So, when did America walk with God? I need dates because it implies that such a settled relationship was a way of life in America when it was not.
You can’t abandon what you never knew, or never possessed. If a nation never walked with God, it could not abandon God.
Second, this “abandon God” language is drawn from the portion of the Bible that speaks specifically about one covenant God made with Israel.
In the Christian testament, the church is said to be grafted into that covenant. There is no Scripture that speaks of America as having a covenant with God.
This is where the remedial theology comes in. When the prophets speak about the waywardness of God’s people, the accusations are directed at Israel and any remnant associated with the Mosaic covenant.
For Christians, the covenant God has in our time is not a nation, but the church. A simple reading of the history of the church would show God unfailing work in that body to bring it to what it needs to be.
In America, that took the shape of revivals and spiritual awakening, which always had their origins within the body of Christ. The church would grow cold and worldly while the culture would become more godless and wicked.
However, when God’s people began to call out, God revived the church and changed the culture. The history of great awakenings in America is the real history of God’s activity in this land.
The second thing remedial theology would teach Graham and other culture warriors is that the Bible tells us God is equally present everywhere – at all times, in all places. The notion that some court, some principle, some power on this earth can restrict God’s presence anywhere is sheer silliness.
God was not “taken” from school like some petulant child sent home for misbehaving in the library. Any god who can be removed by human effort, barred from entering by some decree of some court or dragged out by some law enforcement is not the God of the Bible.
When Graham points a finger at “sin,” at that point I would agree.
I would agree that churches who have wandered away from their first love, and let their hearts grow cold and indifferent to what should be their second love, have a huge sin problem.
If the culture warriors would lay down their arms, their zeal, their antagonism toward others who are different than them, and instead get on their knees and begin to pray and seek God’s face and turn from their wicked ways, God will hear, God will forgive and God will heal.
However, such a move doesn’t start at the courthouse, the statehouse or the White House. It always starts at the church house.