This morning MCC has issued a statement in response to remarks made on the floor of the Maine House of Representatives on Wednesday evening.

“My God is a God of love,” said Maine State Representative Rachel Henderson (R-Rumford) in her powerful response to the reprehensible statements Representatives Michael Lemelin (R-Chelsea) and Shelley Rudnicki (R-Fairfield) made on the floor of the House April 10 when they claimed the Lewiston mass shooting and the damage from recent storms were consequences inflicted by God on Maine as punishment for passage of a health care law that Lemelin and Rudnicki had opposed.

The Maine Council of Churches unequivocally condemns those claims, and we join our voices with Rep. Henderson in countering that horrific, harmful theology with the clear message that God is a God of love and compassion.  At the same time, it is because of God’s love and compassion that we are called not simply to pronounce public shame, but to invite those who have erred to admit fault and receive forgiveness and restoration.  It is our sincere hope that this will be the case in the wake of this incident, even as we make clear why we believe what was said was wrong.

We take offense at an interpretation of tragedies and the suffering of others as being caused by God’s purposeful actions of punishment or judgment. And we are not alone in that conviction.  Theologian and author Damon Garcia says, “We should not interpret every tragedy as a divine punishment for something we don’t like.” Southern Baptist theologian and ethicist Richard Land wrote that “assuming the prerogatives of God betrays both an appalling spiritual ignorance and an appalling spiritual arrogance.” 

Following the twisted logic of the belief that tragedies are the act of a vengeful and punishing God would lead to the wrong-headed and dangerous conclusion that the Lewiston shooter was an agent of God. If that were true (and it is not), doesn’t it follow that we should therefore welcome the shooter’s actions, since they were done on behalf of God?

Nothing could be further from the truth according to the scriptural texts held sacred by the seven mainline Protestant denominations of MCC. All seven have their roots in Hebrew and Christian scriptures, which are clear: God is love (1 John 4).  God calls people of faith to comfort those who mourn (Isaiah 61). And tragedies are NOT to be understood as punishments from God (Luke 13).

God is not evil. God does not do evil. God does not orchestrate the killing of people because of some divine plan or purpose or punishment. God does not use people as pawns in some sick game of retribution. To suggest God does any of those things is (to use an old-fashioned but apt word) blasphemy.

But aside from the affront to God that Reps. Lemelin and Rudnicki’s statements represent, it is important to recognize the pain and harm inflicted on the grieving and vulnerable families of those killed in Lewiston on October 25 and on all those who suffered terrible losses in this winter’s storms.

In reflecting on this harm, MCC Executive Director Rev. Jane Field said, “These vile words echoed those of far-right evangelical Christian leaders Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who blamed 9/11 on a God who was punishing the U.S. because of ‘pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and the ACLU.’  As someone who had an immediate family member who nearly died on the 87th floor of the World Trade Center’s Tower One,” she explained, “I remember the depth of my disgust and fury at them for saying that God did this to my loved one (and, far worse, to those 2,410 civilians and 343 firefighters who lost their lives that day).  I can only imagine that our neighbors in Lewiston and in Maine’s storm-torn communities felt similar rage and revulsion when they learned what was said on the floor of the Maine House.”

The Maine Council of Churches believes that God will comfort those who mourn, and that we’re called to do the same. Rather than blame God for their suffering, let us come together to help bring healing and peace to neighbors who stand in desperate need of both.