If Our Politicians Do Nothing after Sandy Hook It’s Malfeasance

Citizens of the United States and countless millions elsewhere around the world are struggling to comprehend the senseless shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday, 14 December, 2012. Many are decrying the “politicization” of the tragedy and it is this point that I, as a pastor, wish to publicly address, for to do nothing in the face of such a tragedy would border on malfeasance, or “misconduct in public office.”

While many would prefer not to deal with God and holy writings in any discussion of public governance, one of the great summaries of a government’s purpose is in the first letter of St. Peter in the New Testament:

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” (1 Peter 2:13–14, ESV)

This is an astoundingly courageous statement given the context, for First Peter was written to a people under government-sponsored persecution, written by a man who would be hideously killed by this same Roman government. With that understanding, consider these words again:

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” (1 Peter 2:13–14, ESV)

In a single sentence the two-fold purpose of government is summarized. Governments are to “punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”

In the Sandy Hook case, it appears there is little punishment to be done, for the killer decided to punish himself and face his Maker with the freshly-spilled blood of 20 children and six adults on his hands. But this does not mean that our politicians’ work is done. They have a God-given responsibility to protect their citizens and praise the good. In his message to the people of New Town, Connecticut and to the nation on Sunday, 16 December, 2012, President Obama rightly–and within his God-given vocation–praised much good done by teachers and students and police officers and other citizens. He also, within his God-given vocation, called for public debate and action to better protect citizens.

Thus, the public debate is renewed, with some calling for the repeal of the U.S. Constitution’s second amendment (to keep and bear arms) and others calling for every teacher to carry a concealed weapon and others calling for mental health reform and every other kind of law and support that they believe may help prevent such a tragedy in the future. Let the debate commence, but let us not decry those politicians who believe we have to do something to better protect our citizens. Rather, let us decry those who would do nothing, for to do so is to abandon their God-given vocation.

(Author’s note: see my follow-up to this post, “Christian Citizenship and Politics after Sandy Hook.”)

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