Friday morning, as the news trickled in about the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., I stared at my computer screen in abject horror. When it was confirmed that the victims were children, first graders no older than 6 or 7, tears streamed down my cheeks. Like many people of faith, I prayed, cried out to God, and mourned the lives cut short due to this horrific act of violence.
Later, I logged onto Facebook to see what some of my friends were saying. Often, during times of tragedy like this, I find comfort through the impromptu memorial social media can provide. Among the prayers, pleas for an end to violence, and political arguments, was a picture quote that made me shake my head in disgust. It said,
Why do you allow so much violence in our schools?
-A concerned student.
Dear Concerned Student,
I'm not allowed in schools.
How awful that of all the things people could be blaming for this tragedy, whether it be lax gun control laws, poor mental health services or a failure of serious attention paid to troubled youth, this was where the fault fell. With a weak, theologically impotent God. A God who stood by, shaking his head at the separation of church and state, shrugging his shoulders and walking away while the shooter (who doesn't deserve to be named) opened fire on defenseless children.
This is not God.
But that's not what the people who agree with this quote would argue. They would say, "Of course it's not God's fault, it's the fault of the people who removed God from schools." Those people would claim that part of what led to this tragedy was the removal of God from public, government run education. That removing prayer in schools, and the teaching of Christian morals and principles, allowed the country to slip into such an immoral state. A state where things like school shootings are the norm.
By this logic, the time that our country was the safest, happiest and most removed from tragedy, was the time when prayer was firmly and solidly a part of every child's education. A time much more moral and idyllic than the godless world we find ourselves in now.
There was prayer in school during segregation.
There was prayer in school during miscegenation.
There was prayer in schools just a year before the assassination of JFK.
Prayer in school is not a cure-all, easy answer to evil. Evil has existed since the dawn of man and will continue to exist until (as Christians believe) Christ returns. If it's true that the Sandy Hook shooter suffered from mental illness, like the Aurora, Virginia Tech and Columbine ones before him, a mandated prayer after the pledge would not have helped or stopped him. Treatment, and a lack of access to high powered assault rifles, might have.
To believe the lie of this message making the rounds on the Internet, that adding God back to schools prevents tragedies, implies two things: 1) That the government, who many people don't think is capable of handing our healthcare, taxes, or even mail, is somehow spiritually powerful enough to fix our violence problem, and 2) God is small enough to be contained by the laws of one nation. Laws that were passed because of the nations founding belief of religious freedom.
Neither of those things are true. The government should not be responsible for the religious education of its children. Parents and churches should. And God is not inhibited by any law, nation, country or man-made idea. He's God. He doesn't respond to tragedy with pithy quotes that fit easily on a T-shirt.
We don't know what God's doing right now. But if I had to guess? I'd say He's mourning with us, and the families of the victims.