Apparently the Stakes are Being Raised


In a society marked by tragedies, it cannot be surprising that another lone gunman has let loose on a crowd (last week it was a mall, this week it was a Church and a Missions Center). More alarming was the reported “rant” that the young shooter posted on the internet in between the shooting at the Missions Center and the Church. Most of his anger was directed towards Christians, who were the source of all the bad things in the world.

No one can use the rants of someone who is clearly psychologically troubled as a philosophical point. But with the continued mixture of religion and politics, these misguided conclusions were bound to arise. For many in our culture, right or wrong, President Bush is the evident source of evil in the world. Of course, even if they were correct that he was a bad president, making poor choices, he could not rise to the source of all evil in the world. He’s outclassed in that department.

But as the political battles heat up, in this election cycle, just as Bush will be pilloried, so will 30% of his support which is identified by the mainstream media as “Evangelical Christians.” For Christians that is a specific identifier. For non-Christians it simply means all Christians. And thus at some extreme edge that crosses the boundaries of sanity, a young man acts out the logical conclusion of the political screed he has been fed. Of course, the boundary has been at the other end. Martyrs of lone gunmen (or clinic bombers) have come from the entire spectrum of American politics. Targets are equal opportunity events.

But such madness is fed by the madness of the world in which we live. Of course, people have always killed other people (Genesis does not hide this fact). And if all the sane people in the world ceased to demonize the other sane people in the world gunmen (or their kind) would still occur. They have been with us always in some form.

But something in me was moved to hear on the news today reports from the latest incident that the madness had seen “Christians” as the specific target of his rant against evil. He is not alone. There are those who think the Church (some Church, one of the Churches, all of the Churches) is a specific cause of evil. Novels and movies now substitute organized religion for its bad-boys, since Russians have made peace with us, and Islamists are becoming too trite. As Christianity becomes a minority in many places where once it was the majority (as in Europe) we can expect to see its demonization accompanied by little public censure. It’s like attacking 19th century America in 21st century America. Of course we were bad then.

All the more reason for Christians to get on with being the Church and eschewing the tools of the State. As my Archbishop once noted, when asked a question on Orthodox Christianity’s attitude towards being a state Church: “On the whole we’ve never seen it work out.”

The Kingdom of God is the specific content commanded of our preaching. That Kingdom is not to be confused with the Kingdom of man. If the preaching of the Kingdom of God runs counter to any prevailing political sentiment then we must let the chips fall where they may. We are commanded of God to preach. But we must think very carefully about the difference between a call to preach the Kingdom of God and various opportunities offered to us to bring about some earthly shadow of that Kingdom by the means used by the State. For make no mistake, at the end of the day, the state will use the gun and the gallows to enforce its will (whether in the name of the majority or the name of an ideology). There can be no Christian utilitarian arguments (the greatest good for the greatest number) for we are not placed in charge of the good, much less the outcome of history. We are commanded to preach the gospel and leave history to Christ who brought it to an end in His Cross and Resurrection.

Should Christians vote? Of course, and I plan to if given half a choice. Do I expect to change the world? Never. I have received no such promise from Christ. But I plan to preach the gospel, for this I have received a command. I have no specific promise on the matter of my preaching other than to know the Cross is not for Christ alone – it has been shared by many. I pray for the victims of senseless shootings this month in America. May their families be comforted by Christ and may the departed find rest in the bosom of Abraham. May God forgive the shooters and have mercy on mankind. May God protect Christians and non-Christians alike from the madness that infects our world and give us peace. May the gospel of Christ be preached unhindered.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.






18 responses to “Apparently the Stakes are Being Raised”

  1. David Avatar

    Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.

  2. Salvatore Sberna Avatar
    Salvatore Sberna

    Father bless,
    I find myself struggling with some of the ideas about the Kingdom of God you presented. I don’t disagree, but as a Christian commanded to feed the poor and minister to widows and orphans I often feel a certain Byronic struggle for the unatainable ideal/Kingdom of Heaven. There are so many poor (Christ said that they would always be among us) and helpless that random acts of charity seem like a drop in the well. I know it’s not my job to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven, but the Kingdom of this World has got me feeling pretty helpless. How does one reconcile or get rid of these feelings?

    Thank you so much,
    Salvatore Sberna

  3. Salvatore Sberna Avatar
    Salvatore Sberna

    Father bless,
    I have been struggling with some of the issues you raised in this post. I don’t disagree with your thoughts on the Kingdom of Heaven, but as a Christian called to feed the poor and minister to the widows and orphans I feel helpless when I see the great numbers of poor and lonely. I know it’s wrong to ask “whats the use”, but as the Western world becomes increasingly more aware of the poverty and violence in the rest of the world I can’t help but think others share my sentiments. Sometimes I even think, “why not use government agencies to help the poor. At least they are getting help.”

    In Christ,
    Salvatore Sberna

    P.S. I posted twice because I don’t think my first post made it. Sorry for the mix up.

  4. David Withun Avatar

    Father bless,
    This post is wonderful and truly insightful.

    I have, by and large, stopped watching the news and following politics. I used to be one of those people addicted to both. I always had CNN on the TV or was checking it online at work.

    I’ve found that most of what they show on the news just leave you with a bad taste in your mouth at the end. And politics…

    Politicians have been promising the cures to the world’s and/or nation’s ills for many, many years. Both parties have been in charge at some point or another, and neither has seemed to make things much better. But when things are bad they blame the other guy. It’s tiring, really.

    I don’t feel defeated, though. I just feel that if I’m going to make a difference, it’s not through a political party, though I do vote, and it’s not healthy to watch too much news. If I’m going to make a difference in this world, it’s going to be through the people that I can touch as individuals.


  5. fatherstephen Avatar


    Sorry the filters are set slightly high because of the craftiness of spammers. Your first post is probably in the comments moderation queue, I’ve haven’t had time to check it this afternoon. Thanks for trying again and congratulations!

    We absolutely should not cease to care, nor should we cease to ask our governments to lend the hand. But if governments don’t do it, we should not be slack in our own efforts. Feeding a single child is better than mourning them all and doing nothing.

    Thus on our own part we must give alms and be in the forefront of those who give alms (I strongly recommend the efforts of the IOCC for instance). But we should also hold governments responsible to their own rhetoric.

    I have to admit, I’ve been extremely impressed by Bono efforts as a Catholic Christian. He walks boldly into places of power and doesn’t preen for the cameras or take cheap shots at politicians – but speaks with respect and tells them how to make a difference. He has helped some very notorious political leaders do amazing acts of generosity.

    I don’t know much about him on a personal level. My Godson, Terry Mattingly (, does know him personally from some years ago and speaks very highly of him. I’ve just watched him several times with the “rich and famous” and he doesn’t faun or make over them but he does help them do good things. His is one of the better acts of Christian leadership I’ve witnessed in some time. Perhaps someone else has seen otherwise – I do not know. I’m just noting what I’ve seen.

    The question, “What’s the use?” is always unhelpful for us. We can never know the answer to the question, “What’s the use?” The question for us as Christians always has to be, “What does Christ command?” He alone knows the use. We can’t know everything. But we know we should feed the poor.

  6. ML Avatar

    On a side note, I am curious as to why the Russian Orthodox Church has historically chosen to ally itself with the Russian governments of its day, including the current Russian administration. The ROC is a publicly staunch supporter of the Putin regime and in return Putin protects the ROC from Protestant missionaries and their NGOs. This seems like a continuation of the ROC’s predisposition towards supporting Russian governments (whatever they may be) and in return receiving some sort of protection. If you have knowledge in this area, I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

  7. fatherstephen Avatar

    Well, for one, they have a cultural relation to the government (to Russia itself) that is completely unlike anything in the West (except maybe Italy). There was no Russia until the Baptism of Vladimir, nor a free Russia, until the blessing of St. Sergius and the defeat of the Tatars. They can’t tell the story of their nation without reference to Orthodox Christianity.

    It is frequently the case that Protestant missionaries are distrusted. In the early 90’s they were almost exclusively funded by the West and brought with them Western culture (at the expense of Russian culture). I personally think that too close ties to any regime may make for problems down the road for the ROC, but I understand them (from a Russian perspective).

    It is probably improper for us to immediately assume that the proper Christian model is the American free-market with 20000 Churches all competing for the loyalty of a people and destroying all cohesion of a culture.

    I readily admit the problems that are close at hand when the Church is too close to the State (as I’ve said: “it’s never quite worked out’). But the answer isn’t necessarily to pretend that you are only one of 20000 and that you are not the only institution in existence that has any memory of Russian culture prior to the Bolshevik revolution.

    The Russian Church plays a unique role in Russian culture. That may change. And if American money could put them out of business it would. Make no mistake. Protestant missionaries re-baptize Orthodox at the drop of a hat. Our general practice (following Russia) is to accept the Baptism of protestants if done in water in the name of the Trinity.

    But missionaries will come in and tell Orthodox people who are as yet not always well churched, that they are not Christians and are going to hell unless they join their (protestant) Church. Is this not true?

  8. Justinian Avatar

    Father, I think you are all too right about protestant missionaries in Russia. A good friend of mine who is protestant has friends “in missions” who are in Russia right now, doing the things you mention–specifically rebaptizing and spreading chilliastic end-of-time fantasies. It disturbs me greatly. I also once came across a pamphlet online (I wish now I’d saved the link!) that was basically a primer on Russian culture for prospective baptist missionaries that said “Spread the Gospel in Godless Russia” on the cover, along with a picture of a missionary family standing in front of St. Basil’s cathedral. I was shocked and appalled, but I think I understand the impulse behind it.

  9. Petra Avatar

    Father, from my own personal experience and the vast experience of my Russian husband and his family, what you say is very true about the in-coming Protestant missionaries. It is a difficult situation, actually. What I have come to appreciate so much about Orthodoxy is that the missionaries do not come to overtake a culture, but to bring it to fullness. The opposite, at least in Russia, is happening with the Protestant missions. I also appreciate your balanced understanding and explanation about the ROC’s interaction with the government.

    I just want to say, yet again, how much I enjoy your blog. I am so thankful for the wisdom I gain from visiting your site. Glory to God!

  10. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thank you, Petra. I have sometimes compared the situation of the Russian Church to be as if a man’s store burned down, and another man came to build a newer store with better financial backing, and then complain that the other man wasn’t happy about it.

    Thank you for your kind comments. May God bless you and your husband!

  11. css7thgradeamericanhistory Avatar

    I guess you missed the background information on the shooter where he was raised in an evangelical home, was home schooled, and has a pastor as an uncle.

  12. fatherstephen Avatar

    Doesn’t change anything I said. Stalin and Hitler were both seminarians at some point. The whole thing is demonic in its origin. And we need not demonize the shooter or anyone else. May God have mercy on us all.

  13. C L Avatar
    C L

    Certainly all governments are required at a certain level to the downtrodden. Yet, often, does not the need for such Federal action stem from the fact that many churches do not do what the Lord has called us to do. We do not do “unto the least of these”.
    No doubt, Christian charities that bankroll private jets and million dollar mansions are not very efficient at helping the poor, but neither are the beurocratic governments of the West. How can we, especially as Orthodox Christians, return to the true religion that St. James speaks of?

  14. fatherstephen Avatar

    We return to it by practicing it. I haven’t done any jet plane charity that I know of. The IOCC does an excellent job. Those who abuse the alms of the poor will face always have to give an accounting to God (if not someone before then!). But nothing stops any of us from giving.

    Nevertheless, some of the amounts involved in international charity do exceed the current ability of the Church (at least the Orthodox). We should do all we can, but there will still be unmet needs. And yet in most years the largest givers (not recipients but givers) of charity outside themselves, certainly in terms of percentages, are Churches, not corporations.

  15. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    CL, as Fr. Stephen says, “nothing stops us from giving”. It is not just the result that matters for even if enough were given to the poor and unfortunate to lift every one out of poverty, not every one would stay out of poverty. IMO Jesus didn’t tell us to give to the Church or the government or to let institutions of any sort do our giving for us.

    Now, I just have to live up to those words.

  16. ML Avatar

    The final paragraph in your response to my post, and the question you pose at the end of it, leads me to infer that I may have offended or misled you in regard to the purpose of my question. I was only using the banning of Protestant missionaries as a possible example to suggest why the ROC supports the Russian government, not that the ROC position was indefensible. In this case, I actually support the ROC’s position since the true act of charity would have been for Protestant Christians to aid their Orthodox bretheren in their efforts to rebuild their church. We already know that the Russian church was nourished through the blood of martyrs during the Soviet era.

    However, I am always leery when churches choose to support, or ally themselves with, governments. For they are fundamentally at cross purposes.

    And while you may not like the United States position towards the separation of government from religion, look at the countries in Europe and the condition of the state religions they support. England, Germany, France, Sweden, Italy, Greece (to name a few) provide regular funding to state churches and those churches have suffered massive declines in attendance. Meanwhile, non-state supported Evangelical churches are picking up members in large numbers.

    Churches are better off staying away from governments, for the government will ultimately corrupt the church.

  17. fatherstephen Avatar

    Sorry to have come on so heavy – it is sort of an Orthodox reflex thing. But I agree with your general point on governments – as my Archbishop said, “it generally hasn’t worked out.” Europe is a shining example of state church failure. But Orthodox history has some different experiences, though after Peter the Great, the government in Russia ruled the Church frequently with a very heavy hand. I think the actual position of the state today in Russia is more that of protecting an important cultural institution, which is not the same thing as being a Christian state. For the moment it has its advantages – but it will doubtless have a certain price as well.

    I think the Orthodox Church in Russia was totally unprepared and dismayed by the sudden influx of Protestant missionaries. It had never experienced anything quite like it. While Americans can’t understand why anyone would not want American missionaries unless they were anti-Christian.

    I only wish the State Department would quit issuing judgments about the Russian state and Church that fail to consider the Orthodox view of Russian history. I thought that our Sec’y of State was supposed to be a Russia expert.

    But I think our views are not so different – especially when seen in the long run. The state does not serve God in its last analysis and it always comes back to sting us. Agreed.

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