I have had several people write to me and ask me to address the group of people in Kansas that pickets the funerals of fallen soldiers. I have hesitated to respond for two reasons. One, I do not wish to give this group any more exposure. Two, I always try to be gentle in my admonishment when I disagree with the views or actions of others. I cannot do that in this case.
The group reached a despicable new low this week when they threatened to picket the funerals of those precious children who were killed in Pennsylvania. Cybercast News Service reported their "reasoning" for picketing the funerals (see full story):
The Westboro group says the Amish school girls were "killed by a madman in punishment for Gov. Ed Rendell's blasphemous sins against Westboro Baptist Church.
"Gov. Ed Rendell -- speaking and acting in his official capacity to bind the State of Pennsylvania -- slandered and mocked and ridiculed and condemned Westboro Baptist Church on national Fox TV," the group says on its website. Later in the story the group is quoted as saying that they are "continuing to pray for even worse punishment upon Pennsylvania."
Their rhetoric and actions make me physically ill. Seriously. My stomach hurts as I read this stuff. Perhaps one clue about the group is that I have to pick up their quotes from news stories. My filtering software (developed for Christian parents) blocks their website as hate speech. I would be concerned if Christian software blocked my website. So I suppose the group will now pray for punishment on me for condemning them. Whatever.
It did cause me to examine what a more reliable source said about who is to blame when horrible things happen in life.
Jesus was asked about some tragedies that had occurred and it is interesting to note that He did not establish blame.
About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were sacrificing at the Temple in Jerusalem. "Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than other people from Galilee?" he asked. "Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will also perish unless you turn from your evil ways and turn to God. And what about the eighteen men who died when the Tower of Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will also perish. (Luke 13, NLT)
If Jesus had a chance to establish blame and did not do it, then I am pretty sure that this Kansas group cannot decipher where His judgement might fall. Jesus did call for repentance as individuals. But He did not tie their spiritual condition to the tragedies that happen in life.
Jesus reserved His harshest condemnation for the religious. This group's ranking of one sin as being God's number one reason for retribution is unsettling. Would He be more likely to judge the Christians in my city of Dallas for their materialism and greed? How can I know? Perhaps a Holy God is more upset in how we (His followers) have squandered great wealth than in how some behave in their private lives. Is neglecting the widows and the poor less egregious to God than a parade in San Francisco? I am not smart enough to know. But Scripture seems pretty clear we should be taking care of those in need both physically and spiritually. And that we should love sinners as we show them grace and truth mixed together.
There was another time when Jesus could have let us know how judgment is dispensed here on earth:
Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?" Jesus said, "You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. (John 9, The Message)
And that brings us to the rest of the story. The story that made me cry. The people who with broken hearts have looked instead at what God can do. I have always had respect for the commitment of the Amish people. To be honest, I have viewed their lives as being a bit odd. Now I wonder if they have it far more right than I do. I say that after reading their response to the senseless killing of these innocents in Pennsylvania. As I thought about my wonderful sons I don't know if I would have the capacity to respond like these servants of the Lord. The Dallas Morning News reported this reaction from the Amish community:
The Amish have been reaching out to the family of the gunman, Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, who committed suicide during the attack. Dwight Lefever, a Roberts family spokesman, said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them.
"I hope they stay around here and they'll have a lot of friends and a lot of support," Daniel Esh, a 57-year-old Amish artist and woodworker whose three grandnephews were inside the school during the attack, said of the Robertses. Huntington, the authority on the Amish, predicted they will be will be very supportive of the killer and his wife, "because judgment is in God's hands."
Could I do that? Would I even consider such a response? Later in the story I read this:
Enos Miller, the grandfather of the two Miller sisters, was with both of the girls when they died. He was out walking near the schoolhouse before dawn Wednesday, he said he couldn't sleep, when he was asked by a reporter for WGAL-TV whether he had forgiven the gunman. "In my heart, yes," he said, explaining it was "through God's help."
I have a hard time forgiving someone who says something negative about me. I am humbled by this display of Amish faith. Another story in the Dallas Morning News had this amazing demonstration of grace:
Donors from around the world are pledging money to help the families of the five dead and the five wounded in amounts ranging from $1 to $500,000. The families could face steep medical bills. Though the Amish generally do not seek help from outside their community, Kevin King, executive director of Mennonite Disaster services, an agency managing the donations, quoted an Amish bishop as saying: "We are not asking for funds. In fact, it's wrong for us to ask. But we will accept them with humility." At the behest of Amish leaders, a fund has also been set up for the killer's widow and three children.
Are you kidding me? Thinking of the financial needs of the killer's family? Incredible. No, make that supernatural. That is beyond the scope of human response. And then the final story that brought tears to my eyes this morning. This report comes from the New York Post:
Staring down the barrel of Charles Carl Roberts' gun, 13-year-old Marian Fisher and her 11-year-old sister, Barbie, bravely pleaded with the madman to shoot them and spare the eight other girls he was holding hostage. "Marian said, 'Shoot me first,' and Barbie said, 'Shoot me second,' " said midwife Rita Rhoads, who had helped deliver several of the victims. "They were really trying to save the younger girls. It is a real reflection of their faith."
So we have news stories about two very different groups - the group from Kansas and the Amish faithful from Pennsylvania. You tell me... where do you see Jesus?
Dave Burchett is an Emmy Award winning television sports director, author, and Christian speaker. He is the author of When Bad Christians Happen to Good People and Bring ’em Back Alive – A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church. You can reply by linking through daveburchett.com