Culture Friday: Difficult questions of school shootings

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday the 25th of May, 2018.

Glad to have you along for today’s episode of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

It’s Culture Friday and John Stonestreet has today off. Standing ably in his place is Trevin Wax.

Trevin is the Bible and Reference publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources. He’s a pastor, a blogger, an author. His most recent book is This Is Our Time: Everyday Myths in Light of the Gospel.

Trevin, welcome back and good morning to you.

TREVIN WAX, GUEST: Great to be with you, Nick.

Let’s begin with a very fresh and fast-moving controversy involving the denomination you’re a part of: the SBC, the Southern Baptist Convention.

Albert Mohler, he’s president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, he’s a leader in the SBC, and I should mention he’s also a member of our board here at WORLD. Mohler released a strong statement Wednesday, which he repeated on his podcast, The Briefing, yesterday.

He shared that with us before his podcast aired and we played a couple of excerpts yesterday.

But he spoke of God’s judgment having come to the church concerning sexual misconduct, and the mishandling of it.

“The SBC is on trial, our public credibility is at stake,” Mohler said.

And he began his comment by referring, though Mohler didn’t use his name, by referring to the troubles of former president, now president-emeritus of Southwestern Seminary, Paige Patterson.

Trevin, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered this serious an issue facing the SBC — and such a forthright acknowledgment as I’ve just heard.

What do you say?

WAX: Well, these are indeed tumultuous times for the SBC and I think, as I talk to young pastors and women in the convention, it does seem like we’re at a moment where a lot of people are reeling because to sense that things are, that the ground is not firm, that there are all sorts of things coming to light. And some of these do concern the controversy around Southwestern Seminary, but there have also been — and this hasn’t been as public– but there has been a recent rather striking number of professors and pastors and leaders within the SBC, whose names, some of them might not be familiar with most WORLD listeners, but who have certainly had influence within different spheres of SBC life — there’s been a number of prominent men who have– who — it’s recently been discovered — have been involved in serious and ongoing sexual misconduct. And it’s led to resignations. This has happened recently at Southeastern Seminary, at Southern Seminary, at Midwestern Seminary. So all of this is sort of happening together at a moment when I think a lot of young people and people who have been watching and have been involved in Southern Baptist life for years are saying it seems like there is a reckoning that’s taking place. That God is revealing some very serious moral compromise in our fellowship.

And so while we can be thankful for the Southern Baptist Convention’s commitment to the inerrancy, the authority of scripture, there is certainly moral compromise among us.

But, Trevin, would it be safe to say that you are encouraged by a statement such as we were just talking about from Dr. Mohler, acknowledging that God’s judgement is at work here and that, ultimately, it’s going to bring a good result?

WAX: I guess I would say I’m encouraged because I have hope as a believer, as a follower of Jesus who happens to belong to this convention of churches. I do think that one of the ways God deals with sin is by bringing it out in the open. Sin flourishes in — when it’s in hiding.

So we’re in a moment now where there are some very difficult days ahead of us. We are in some very contentious conversations, frankly, about a number of things.

There are several layers here, but I would say I’m — the one thing that does encourage me, even in the midst of a lot of sadness and disillusionment, is the fact that sometimes — we need to make sure that we realize that sanctification, the process of us being conformed into the image of Christ, is not always an easy process. Often that is a painful process. Peacemaking is different than just keeping the peace. Progress often happens in fits and start.

So, I’m encouraged because I don’t see, necessarily, debates and discussions as a bad sign. I think it means we may be dealing with some underlying root causes that would keep us from being healthy. And so I’m encouraged to see what God is going to do through all of this.

You and I were talking about this the other day, Trevin, about another tragic school shooting, this latest one in the Houston area.

And the more we look at the profile of the shooters, the more we’re inclined to think that maybe Malcolm Gladwell has it exactly right.

For background, Gladwell is a writer for the New Yorker. He’s a popular author and thinker and about 2-1/2 years ago, he came up with a theory for school shootings that ought to disturb us very much. And the theory is patterned on the work of a sociologist who started thinking about the psychology of riots.

It boils down to this: that different people have different thresholds for joining in the mayhem. The radicals have a threshold of zero. They don’t need to see anyone else do it to spark them to do it. Another has a threshold of one, another two, and so on up to 99, and so that’s how riots spread, by a sort of cultural relationship.

Gladwell theorizes that Columbine started the modern movement. One led to another and another and another, to the point that high-threshold individuals are willing to shoot up a school or blow one up.

I want to play a small part of a lecture where Gladwell talks about this and he will call attention to a kid named John LaDue, a potential school shooter who in 2014 was caught, stopped, and interviewed. And the insights from that police interview inform Gladwell’s theory, that years after a psychopath does something crazy, you don’t necessarily have to be crazy to do something psychopathic.

The first one isn’t our fault, he says.

GLADWELL: But John LaDue is a very different story. He’s not a psychopath. He’s a nerd and 40 years ago he would be playing with his chemistry set in the basement and dreaming of being an astronaut because that was the available cultural narrative of that moment, right? That would be the cultural narrative that would be appropriate for someone with his interests. Now he’s dreaming of blowing up schools, right? He did not come up with that himself. He got it from the society of which he’s a part. And we’re responsible for that.

Now, after having heard all that, Trevin, the conclusion you might draw is that it seems there’s very little we can do about this.

So how do you think through this terrible phenomenon biblically?

WAX: You know, this Malcolm Gladwell article — it was interesting to see the essay making the rounds again after these most recent school shootings. And one of the interesting aspects of this is that there is a sense, when you read it, it’s deeply disturbing because there’s no action point.

The reason why this essay has made the rounds, I think, is because it doesn’t fit into anyone’s political box, first of all. And, if anything, we as Americans love to do, we love to immediately find solutions that are going to resolve problems.

And there are no easy answers to the problem of these mass shootings. And anyone who has an easy, immediate solution to this that would resolve the problem isn’t thinking deeply enough about the depravity of the human heart and the ways around some of the things that we might do to offset these.

Yes, there are some steps we might take and I think there can some common ground that the different discussions in our society about how to mitigate the risk of these shootings, but there are some deeper and more disturbing questions we have to ask about our culture and if you feel somewhat helpless after reading it, that is disturbing because as human beings and as Americans in general, we tend to think we are stronger than we are and that we have solutions that may be more lasting than they really are and this essay disabuses us of that notion.

Let’s shift gears and talk about last weekend’s Royal Wedding. The sermon was by the new presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States. Here’s how he wrapped up his remarks.

CURRY: We must discover love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world. Our brother, my sister, God love you. God bless you. And may God hold us all in those Almighty hands of love.

And the reaction online was overwhelmingly positive, but, Trevin, you didn’t share the enthusiasm. Why not?

WAX: Well, I’m not negative toward the sermon in itself. What’s been interesting to me is — and this is just me as a preacher — when I look at sermons, one of the common questions I have is not only what is this preacher saying, but what are people hearing? Because those can be two different things. And so you can look at that and say that’s a brilliant sermon because everybody seems to love it and think it’s an amazing statement. Or you can read that and say that’s a brilliant sermon because anybody can read whatever they want into it and so what, truly, has been said there?

And so if I’m not as enthusiastic, it’s not because I didn’t appreciate the power of the oratory or the power of the image of an African American bishop from the United States giving a message like that that broke some of the rules of a royal wedding, the length and the style. There were parts of it that I actually appreciated.

If I’m less than enthusiastic it’s because it kind of became a sermon that can be all things to all people. And, generally speaking, when the gospel is proclaimed there’s something of an edge there that’s going to lead to a certain offense, a scandal of the gospel and that’s what I think is lacking in the message that we heard at the royal wedding.

Trevin Wax, he is a pastor, he’s a blogger, he’s an author. His most recent book, as I said, is This Is Our Time: Everyday Myths In Light of the Gospel. It’s Culture Friday on The World and Everything in It. Trevin, thank you so much.

WAX: Thank you, Nick.

(Steve Gonzales/Houston Chronicle via AP) Santa Fe, Texas, resident, Lori Simmons prays for healing in front of 10 wooden crosses at Santa Fe High School on Monday, May 21, 2018, in Santa Fe. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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