On his December 14, 2013 Radio Talk radio broadcast, James Dobson made comments about the Newtown tragedy that aroused a great deal of political and religious controversy. Dr. Dobson is a prominent evangelical religious leader in the United States who founded Focus On The Family, and whose radio show went on the air in 2010 on over three hundred stations. As a rabbi, I was sufficiently troubled by Dr. Dobson’s words below, his later responses to criticism notwithstanding, that I wrote the following essay imagining what God might say to him.
Dear Dr. Dobson:
In the midst of My grief over the children and teachers murdered in Newtown, Connecticut, I paused to consider your recent comments concerning the massacre. This is part of what you said on your international radio program:
“Our country really does seem in complete disarray. I’m not talking politically, I’m not talking about the result of the November sixth election. I am saying that something has gone wrong in America and that we have turned our back on God. I mean millions of people have decided that God doesn’t exist, or he’s irrelevant to me and we have killed 54 million babies and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition. Believe me, that is going to have consequences, too. And a lot of these things are happening around us, and somebody is going to get mad at me for saying what I am about to say right now, but I am going to give you my honest opinion: I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God almighty, and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on. We’re seeing things happen that didn’t happen just a few years ago, and there’s a reason for it. Something has gone wrong in this country.”
I created those innocents who were murdered by Adam Lanza. I created Adam Lanza. I mourn deeply that My defenseless creations could be mercilessly destroyed by another of My creations whose brain went utterly out of control, as he plunged into pure evil. I also created you, and like every other human being, I gave you moral and behavioral freedom. You say that Newtown was an instance of how I allow judgment to fall upon America, an insidious way of claiming that this tragedy is in some way My warning or punishment for its behavior. You are engaging in a dangerous perversion of faith, and I ask you to stop saying these things in My name.
We are not going to argue about abortion and gay marriage, and whether they erode families and family values. Let me instead argue against your insinuation that somehow a mass murderer is an instrument of My judgment, punishment and warning to Americans. This assertion ultimately robs humans of moral freedom and responsibility by asserting that our most horrible behaviors are really just a part of My great plan for punishing sinful humanity. It is true that Western religion early on developed the belief that I punish communities and individuals for their sins through nature and human violence. However, also early in Hebrew Scripture, Abraham took Me to task for even contemplating destroying the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah without first sparing the innocent people living there. He challenged Me, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?” The ideas and values of communities of faith develop along with their sacred texts. The prophet Ezekiel repudiated an earlier belief that children will die for the sins of their parents. The book of Job utterly rejected the earlier biblical idea that if good people suffer evil, they are actually being punished by Me for their hidden sins. People’s perspectives about Me have developed and grown. Why haven’t yours?
I assume that you are genuinely concerned for the health of America’s children and families, as you explained on your show. So, in this recent time of greatest tragedy for the whole world, why did you forget those teachings of Mine that should be of the greatest concern to you? What about your sacred obligation as a person of faith to help those who suffer and mourn, and to not make them suffer more because of what you say? What about the book of Psalms’ warning that you guard your tongue from speaking evil? Some people take perverse comfort from your words because they offer simple explanations for the most mystifying tragedies: evil would no longer plague humanity if everyone just returned to basic biblical principles as you choose to understand them, thus averting My wrath. As a God of mystery, I assure you that with respect to human evil, even I am often mystified.
There are those who dismiss you as a hateful fundamentalist bigot who should be ignored. However, you are much more than that: you are a high profile psychologist, writer and powerful evangelical leader whose daily Family Talk radio show is estimated to reach three hundred stations worldwide. Some of your recent advice to parents about talking with their children about Newtown has been far more helpful than your earlier comments. Use your facility with words and your unprecedented influence to foster inclusive dialogue about what ails society and to teach the best values of all religion. Otherwise, My name and the memories of those who died will have been desecrated.