Society-Wide Lack of Restraint a Cause of Mass Shootings: Mohler
Only two weeks after the Covenant School shooting in Nashville, another mass murderer killed six people and wounded nine at a shooting at Old National Bank in Louisville, Ky. The incident was “absolutely horrifying and frightening,” Dr. Al Mohler, president of Southern Theological Seminary in Louisville, said on “Washington Watch,” but that should make it a call to action for Christians.
Mohler, whose predecessor’s son-in-law died in the Louisville shooting, diagnosed the tragedy as a symptom of “restraint being lifted off” of American society; “you see it just about in every dimension of life.” “Washington Watch” guest host Jody Hice said that “it seems like almost daily something like this is taking place,” these “extreme acts of violence taking place across the country.”
“There’s only one explanation for this, and that is premeditated violence carried out with a murderous rampage. There is no other factor here,” said Mohler. He warned against the attempts of secular society to reduce a mass shooter’s moral culpability to either socioeconomic factors or mental infirmity; neither explanation, he argued, applied in this case. “Many people want to reduce all sin and wrongdoing, even criminal behavior to some kind of socioeconomic explanation,” he added. “That’s basically all a secular society has.”
But Mohler said the real root cause is the same affliction we all suffer from. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” said the Lord through Jeremiah (17:9). “If it turns out someone says this is ‘just this’ or ‘just that,’ I think we as Christians know that is not plausible,” Mohler summarized.
“As we’re watching more of these events take place all across the country,” Hice agreed, “we can’t blame it all on guns. We can’t blame it all on mental issues. There is a heart issue that must at some point be addressed.”
“When you look at … both the Old and the New Testaments, there’s plenty of evidence to the fact that one of God’s great gifts to humanity is restraint. And when those restraints are taken off of a society, horrible things happen,” Mohler continued. “When you look at the entire structure of biblical morality and biblical law, if you begin to unravel things over here, the unraveling is going to take place over [t]here as well.”
After recounting how a Sodom-esque crime unraveled into civil war, the book of Judges concludes, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25). David’s last words poetically celebrate restraining authority, “When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth” (2 Samuel 23:3-4). Paul wrote, “Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:3-4).
For decades, Americans “have been unraveling the entire moral fiber, the moral structure of Western civilization … that’s based upon very clear biblical principles of morality,” Mohler went on. “Eventually, you end up with people who basically demonstrate what it looks like for a restraint to be gone, for inhibitions to be gone, and for people to follow example after example of horrifying behavior. … If God’s restraining grace is taken away from a society, the list of horrible things happening just continues.”
Mohler insisted the “break down of order and … restraint” is “not just in terms of giant crimes,” but it “gets all the way down to the way parents deal with children, the way that the schools deal with students. … Frankly, you look at America’s major cities, [and] you don’t see much restraint about anything.” Paul warned that “in the last days … people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1-4).
Mohler said the digital revolution and especially social media was instrumental in creating the conditions for people to cast off restraint. “It used to be that people were told, ‘think before you say something. Take responsibility for your words. Don’t say anything you don’t want to live with the rest of your life,’” he said. But now, “it’s an unmitigated … just sheer express. It is just absolute, uncontrolled, rampag[ing] emotion.”
Hice agreed, “It’s so easy just to throw out emotions” on social media. “And that certainly is fuel to the fire of extremism and whatever other isms we want to talk about.”
Given the societal ills we face, “we do not have a toolkit of policies with which to respond to this,” explained Mohler. “We as Christians understand that there is no solution for the basic problem of the human heart that comes from within ourselves, or that can be arranged by society. … Policies and laws? They can suppress, to some extent, the full expression of human evil. But the problem is in the heart and the only solution for the problem in the heart is the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
So, “what we have is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Mohler said. “The gospel of Jesus Christ is first and foremost about how sinners are saved from our sin through the blood atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ and the full justification of sins that comes to those who, by faith, come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.”
This means that “we have to return to first principles biblically,” Mohler argued. “We as Christians don’t have anywhere else to go anyway. The Christian church doesn’t have some kind of ‘policy exit’ from theology. … The New Testament gives us our agenda, that is, to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, to build godly families, to build churches, and through that, to help bear witness to Christ.”
“But the larger society benefits by the presence of Christians and by the influence of Christianity,” Mohler added, because Christians “also have the sure biblical knowledge that the way you build a civilization is with healthy marriages based in a mother and a father and a husband and a wife who love each other and are devoted to each other; having children and raising them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; building a society, a civilization based upon consistency with God’s law and God’s command; and seeking human flourishing in such a way that we know can only come by obedience to the Word of God and can only come by God blessing and providing restraint and protection.”
“As we look at a more radically secularizing society, it’s not just a challenge to us evangelistically,” said Mohler.” It’s a challenge to us just with the breakdown we see in the order around us.” Proverbs states, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (29:18).
“The answer for Christians has to come back to the gospel of Jesus Christ and our eager witness to the fact that there is no rescue from sin but Jesus,” Mohler concluded. For this purpose, even the apostle Paul said his powers were insufficient apart from the power of God, “not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5).
In keeping with Paul’s recognition of his own weakness, Mohler urged Christians to pray. “Our priority,” he said, “has to be to pray that God’s grace and mercy will be evident, especially in a situation such as this, and that Christ’s people will be deployed as agents of grace … that Christian parents will teach their children, Christian pastors will teach their congregations, and all of us will together learn by the spirit and the word what it means to be faithful Christians in such a difficult age.”
“God put us here in this time by his sovereignty for a purpose,” said Mohler. “Let’s pray we’ll be faithful to that purpose.”
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.