After Texas Church Shooting, Governor Abbott Had Commonsense Words — That Sparked Outrage
After the horrendous mass shooting at a small church in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5, the state’s governor, Greg Abbott, was asked if he had any spiritual, non-political words. He did. Good words, reasonable words. Commonsensical words. And yet they have sparked remarkable outrage.
Governor Abbott said:
Remember, even though we are facing these severe tragedies — whether it be what happened in Sutherland Springs, or what happened in Las Vegas, or what happened in New York last week or what happened in London earlier this year — we have acts of evil that are taking place and because they are close in time to us right now we think this is something heavy right now. But put this in the context of history. Look at what happened with Hitler during the horrific events during that era, and Mussolini and go back in time before that to the earlier ages, the Middle Ages, when people committed horrific crimes, and when you go back through the history of the Bible, there was evil that took place from earliest stages of the Bible to post-New Testament, so evil is something that has permeated this world. And that force of evil must be combated with the force of good that is offered by God, and it is so heartwarming to see the people of this community turn to God, turn to hope, turn to the promise of good overcoming evil.
It was a wise and sturdy call to come together and not lose heart. And yet many journalists somehow were appalled by the governor’s words.
Some suggested he was shrugging off the horrendous event. Christopher Brauchli at HuffPost says, “The fact that the United States has not yet descended to the levels of Hitler’s Germany … is of no comfort to most citizens. Someone should mention that to Greg Abbott.” A Shareblue Media article by Kalli Joy Gray says, “It is not clear how Abbott thinks that putting recent tragic events in the context of history by comparing them to the millions of people who perished in the Holocaust somehow makes recent events less bad.”
They weren’t listening. In essence, Abbott said: A dark, tragic event has occurred, but remember, such horrors — and greater ones — are common in this vale of tears. We can fight this darkness. And isn’t it encouraging to see us doing exactly this, together? This isn’t downplaying current atrocities; it’s simply pointing out that this is our human lot.
Some journalists charged that the governor was offering an excuse for not trying to prevent future shootings. Laura Clawson at Daily Kos ends with the words: “Here’s a thought: we can fight bad things now even though there were worse things in the past.” But the question the governor was answering was phrased in such a way that excluded talk about guns or mental illness or security. And Abbott has talked elsewhere about these things.
He was also labeled a fatalist. A Texas Observer subheading reads, “Abbott and company trumpet a Biblical version of “s*** happens” after a church shooting leaves 26 dead and 20 wounded.” Never mind his call to “turn to God, turn to hope, turn to the promise of good overcoming evil.”
Abbott was even rebuked by the Anti-Defamation League, in a statement that said, “diminishing innocent Texans’ lives and calling for the tragedy in Sutherland Springs to be viewed in the ‘greater context of history’ is deeply insulting and irresponsible.”
All this fuss. All because Gov. Abbott, when asked for a spiritual take on the tragedy, reminded people that, no, our society isn’t suddenly going to hell in a handbasket but, yes, we do live in a fallen world and we should strengthen each other and combat evil with good.
All Christians believe that. And since Gov. Abbott wasn’t talking about any Christian beliefs related to hot-button political issues, I wouldn’t have expected journalists to be upset. Evil is nothing new. Only God and his goodness can defeat evil. God and his goodness will defeat evil. Those are shocking, fringe beliefs? Hardly.
Why the shock and outrage?
Some of the outrage may be mere partisan grandstanding — an effort to damage a governor from an opposition party. But it’s probably best to take the outrage at face value, to give the outraged the benefit of the doubt and trust that at least many of them genuinely are upset by Abbott’s words.
So, why are they? My guess is this: The idea that violent tragedies are an inevitable feature of life in a fallen world is too much for some people to bear. It’s especially too much if you believe this world is all there is.
And so there’s a tendency to put our hope in politics: Pass this or that law and the problem will be solved. Abbott — although a politician — refuses to play that game. He won’t make promises that God won’t make. And God never promised us a rose garden.
I wouldn’t have guessed people would condemn a politician for admitting he can’t lead us back to Eden. But that is what just happened. And yes, I should have seen it coming. Because if people put their hope in politics instead of in God, they will put unrealistic demands on their politicians, and their government.
And they will be sorely disappointed.