Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
One hesitates to add to the volumes of articles treating the sad killings that have taken place within the past year in the schools. Most recently, it was the killing of one six-year-old by another. It seems beyond comprehension that a six-year-old could actually come to school with a loaded gun and kill a classmate. Endless questions are asked: Did he know what he was doing? Is he morally responsible for his action? Can he be prosecuted for his terrible deed?
But what is more incomprehensible is the attempt to find all kinds of solutions to the “problem” of guns. One hears of “gun controls,” “gun locks,” “licensing of guns,” and more. One receives the distinct impression that many will deal with the “problem” by proposing ways to avoid the consequences rather than dealing with the real difficulty.
Newsweek, March 13, 2000, featured this sad event as part of its cover story. In an article, “Did Kayla have to die?” the magazine began by explaining the reaction of the father of the little boy who committed murder.
The father knew it even before he was told. When a fellow inmate informed Dedric Darnell Owens that there had been a shooting at his son’s school, “a cold, sickening feeling came over me,” Owens later told the local county sheriff, Bob Pickell. “I knew it was my son that did the shooting,” said Owens, who was in jail for violating probation after serving a two-year sentence on cocaine and burglary charges. Sheriff Pickell asked Owens, how he could be so certain? “Because of his past violent acts,” answered Owens, according to Pickell. The first grader had already been suspended from school three times for fighting, once for jabbing another kid with a pencil. In between jail terms, Owens had asked his son why he fought other kids. “Because I hate them,” the boy answered. Owens said his son spent his time “watching violent movies and TV.”
The article continues by describing the sad home life of the boy who took and used the loaded gun he found in the home in which he stayed. Newsweek continues by pointing out in an article, “Learning Right from Wrong,” the answers that others have provided.
To the legal system, the answer is clear: children have the requisite moral sense-the ability to tell right from wrong-by age 7 to 15, depending on which state they live in, and so can be held responsible for their actions. The Roman Catholic Church pegs it at the early end of that range: children reach the “age of reason” by the tender age of 7, a milestone marked by their first confession of sin and holy communion. Developmental psychologists and other researchers who study the question are not so sure. How old a child must be to both know in his mind and feel in his heart that lying, stealing, cheating, hurting-let alone murdering-are morally wrong is a matter of scientific debate.
But the question of when is not nearly so fraught as the question of how. Although they pretty much agree that living in a crack house-with people who respond to challenges with violence, and bereft of parental love, supervision and models of moral behavior-can leave a child’s conscience still-born, scientists are struggling toward a definitive answer to the question of how children develop a sense of right and wrong. “If there is any consensus, it is that conscience is a combination of head, heart and hand,” says Marvin Berkowitz, professor of character development at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. “It is knowing the good, loving the good and doing the good. And that requires both cognitive and emotional components.”
The emotional piece falls into place first. “All children are born with a running start on the path to moral development,” says the psychologist William Damon of Stanford University….
…The other emotional ingredients of conscience are that quaint pair, guilt and shame. Although some child advocates insist that no child should ever be shamed, scientists who study moral development disagree. “Guilt and shame are part of conscience,” says Berkowitz. In young children, the sense of right and wrong is born of the feeling that you have disappointed someone who loves you, usually your parents. If there is no one whose love you need, whose disapproval breaks your heart, you are missing a crucial source of the emotions that add up to knowing right from wrong and acting on it….
Amazing how accurate is some of the reasoning of these psychologists. Yet in all of this, they refuse to acknowledge the clear teachings of Scripture on this score. It is one thing to point out that “guilt and shame” are a “part of conscience”; it is another to emphasize, as did David in Psalm 51, “I was conceived and born in sin.” The fact of total depravity is ignored. It is one thing to speak of one who has “no one whose love you need, whose disapproval breaks your heart…,” it is very different to emphasize the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
It is not gun locks or gun license that will cure the problem. One might present good arguments that those have some useful functions. But all such suggestions ignore the real problem. There was a time when no one would have thought of “gun locks.” Guns were hanging on the walls of homes. Children did not take them to shoot other children. But times have changed.
We live in a society in which violence is glorified on the screen and on TV. The news broadcasts go into all of the most gruesome details about the latest murders and atrocities. Under the guise of “freedom of speech,” the most awful cursing, the most vivid dramatizations of murders, rape, as well as sexual innuendoes of every sort are presented.
Though a young girl can be put into prison for many years for killing her child just born, the noted and respected physician can kill the babe hours before birth and retain his freedom. For one woman who engages this physician, it is a matter of “choice.” For the other woman it is a matter of “murder.”
We live in a society where the God-ordained institution of marriage is undermined and is being destroyed. Divorce and remarriage have become commonplace. There is not much of “home life” anymore. Homosexuality is openly approved-and attempts are made to have unions of homosexuals to be considered “marriage.” Those who are opposed are accused of “hate crimes.”
Gambling has become commonplace. It is extortion especially of the poor. If it is done by the “mafia,” it is illegal; if it is done by the government, it is encouraged and extolled.
Then we wonder why there is so much of child and woman abuse. We wonder why there are so many sexual crimes. We wonder why children can murder children.
Will gun locks solve the problem? This could conceivably prevent some gun accidents. It is, perhaps, a reasonable innovation. But it does not solve the underlying problem. Systematically society has been eradicating the name of God. There is no room for Him in the public schools. His Word may not be read (except, perhaps, as “good” literature). Systematically society has been accepting all kinds of idolatrous “religions,” while accusing true Christianity of bigotry and intolerance. Under the guise of “choice” and “freedom of expression” and “alternate life styles” society has shredded the laws of our God. The depravity of man has been flowering and bearing an abundance of fruit. Man simply fools himself with thinking that these “Band-Aids” will solve the cancers in society.
Nothing less than true repentance before God is required. Only the perfect work of the Savior Jesus Christ can deliver from sin and death. Therefore Scripture requires, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (with the assurance) and thou shalt be saved and thy house.”
An article in the Grand Rapids Press, February 12, 2000, contains disturbing information. The IRS, it is said, is getting “tough on churches” and their tax exemptions.
“Bill Clinton is promoting policies that are in rebellion to God’s laws,” said the advertisement by the Church at Pierce Creek.
When the Internal Revenue Ser
vice challenged the church’s tax-exempt status because of the church ad, it started a nine-year battle between the agency and the New York church.
The church’s ad, printed in the Washington Times and USA Today, ran two presidential elections ago. It attacked then Gov. Clinton’s moral character and said his abortion and homosexuality policies conflicted with theology. It also said, “Christian Beware. Do not put economy ahead of the Ten Commandments.” The ad concluded by requesting tax exempt contributions.
The IRS sent a letter stating “a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt” and asked the church for information “to better understand your activities.”
The church, however, took the position this wasn’t prohibited taxpayer-subsidized political activity; that it was a religious message “warning members of the Body of Christ.” After the church failed to respond to IRS requests for information, the agency revoked the exempt status.
Then Pierce Creek went to court and gave three reasons why it should prevail:
* The IRS violated its right to free speech. The court countered that a tax exemption is a method of subsidizing churches, and the First amendment doesn’t require, and might oppose, a government policy for subsidizing factions within political debates.
* The IRS violated the law providing that government shall not burden a person’s exercise of religion. The court countered with the argument that the lost exemption may deter some people from contributing, but this doesn’t impose a burden on its members’ exercise of religion if they wanted to proceed with subsidy.
* The IRS, the church claimed, was selectively prosecuting Pierce Creek. Other churches allow political candidates to speak from the pulpit, and nothing happens to them. The court countered that this case was different. The other churches were not using political advertisements as a means of soliciting tax-deductible donations.
The court ultimately upheld the IRS’ standard for exempt status revocation.
The moral: The IRS giveth, but for those who fail to follow its commandments, it taketh away.
I only wish I could have come up with the last statement as my comment on this action-but the writer of the article did so first.
What one finds particularly disturbing is the statement made by the court that “a tax exemption is a method of subsidizing churches, and the First Amendment doesn’t require, and might oppose, a government policy for subsidizing factions within political debates.”
Now one might well and properly claim that society in general receives far, far more from the churches than it “loses” because of a tax exemption status. However, the sad fact is that the court regards this exemption as a matter of “subsidy.” And what is true for churches would be equally true for Christian schools. If the argument is correct, then there could be raised the question whether the First Amendment allows for such government “support” since there is supposed to be separation between church and state. If the government regards “exemption” to be “subsidy,” what would it say then about such things as “school vouchers”? Clearly the courts can find ways to silence the church and schools-or force them to suffer the consequences. Likely we will be hearing more of such court actions in the future.