A 15-year-old girl steps outside of a school homecoming dance and guzzles alcohol in a hangout spot on campus.
She collapses. She is robbed, beaten, stripped. She is raped — not once, but again and again, allegedly for at least two hours. More than 20 people reportedly participate or watch. Nobody tries to stop the attacks. Nobody calls the police.
You’ve probably heard about the incident, which occurred Oct. 24 outside Richmond (Calif.) High School. It made national headlines because of the sheer cruelty of the assault — and the fact that so many bystanders did nothing, or joined in.
“There’s something about the coldness of it ... the attitude of both the people involved and the people who saw or knew about it,” said Dara Cashman, of the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office, after the Oct. 29 arraignment of three young suspects in the attack.
“It’s just very cold.”
When a crime this chilling captures the attention of a society already saturated with violence, explainers get into the act. Why didn’t a bystander or witness call the police? Communities ruled by crime and fear don’t tolerate “snitches,” law enforcement officials say. Liberals often point to the brutalization caused by generations of poverty and racism. Conservatives tend to talk about the breakdown of law and order, families and traditional values.
Such explanations often “presuppose that humans are basically good before society messes them up,” observes Collin Hansen in Christianity Today. “So we need to identify and fix those dimensions in our society that lead people astray. Surely factors such as the bystander effect, poor schools and broken families testify to what happens when cultures forsake common goods that restrain sin. But the Bible depicts a more realistic view of human nature.”
The Old Testament, in fact, frankly recounts several gang rapes (read Judges, chapter 19, for one heartbreaking instance). “The biblical writers do not seem surprised” by such abuses, Hansen notes. “Rather, they identify the crimes with rebellion against the Lord … .”
Sin, in other words.
Willful rejection of God’s commands leads to worship of self above all else and evil against others. It’s an old, old story. It was the main problem then. It’s the main problem now.
The vicious abuse of a 15-year-old girl for group entertainment is cold, to be sure. But it’s no colder than trafficking a child into the sex industry for profit, or ignoring the cries of the poor, or systematically destroying someone’s life with whispers and lies.
If all the bloodbaths of the last century have taught us anything, it’s that the more things change (technology, social mores), the more human nature stays the same. We are sinners — individually and collectively — and the only solution to sin is Jesus Christ.
Simple? You bet. Simple truth. You don’t need an advanced degree to understand the Gospel. Here it is: The world is lost in sin. We need to repent and return to God. He offers mercy and redemption, through Christ alone, to all who worship and follow Him as Savior and Lord.
Charles Mwangi is staking his life on that truth. A Christian in Nairobi, Kenya, he believes God has called him to reach hurting people in the tough slums of the city.
“Charles has remained faithful in the face of intense persecution from a local gang,” reports a Southern Baptist missionary in Nairobi. “His house has been vandalized and one of his Bible ‘storying’ groups was recently attacked, resulting in the robbery of the attendees’ cell phones.”
Charles prayed he would have a chance to share the Gospel with those who mistreated him. The opportunity came, Charles shared — and two of the gang members repented and accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. They now attend the same Bible group they robbed.
Law enforcement didn’t change the gang members’ hearts. Nor did community programs (although local believers and missionaries participate in social ministries in Nairobi). Jesus changed their hearts.
When enough hearts change, communities change. Whole societies and cultures change.
We need to remember that in a hyper-political age. I occasionally tune in to certain “Christian” radio programs that used to offer inspiration, teaching and global missions information along with a biblical perspective on social issues. Now it’s all politics, all the time, with barely a nod toward missions and evangelism. Even if I agree with the politics, the single-minded emphasis bothers me.
Don’t get me wrong: Christians have a sacred responsibility to speak out for what they know is right in an increasingly hostile public square. But we need to keep our priorities straight. We are citizens, first and foremost, of the kingdom of God.
His priorities are as simple as the Gospel: Love the Lord with all your heart, mind and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Glorify Him in your community and among the nations by proclaiming His salvation. Make disciples among all peoples.
I sat recently in a church association meeting and heard a shocking statistic. In a representative survey of the almost 500,000 people who live in the region where my church is located, a grand total of 14 percent affirmed this statement: “My faith is important to me.” That’s right, 14 percent — in central Virginia, home of Lottie Moon, guiding star of Southern Baptist missions.
I’m a lot more concerned about that statistic than who’s voting for whom.