You could say humanity is good at dreaming up new evils. But I find that, more often than not, what we see is example after example of humanity returning to ancient evils.

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Here is an example of an old evil being revived,

“Just a few hours later, Ethan pulled a handgun from his backpack and shot four of his classmates dead, while wounding six others and a teacher.

The gun was the 9mm Sig Sauer that his father had purchased with him just four days earlier, and which his mother had him practice using at a shooting range.

Ethan is now serving a life sentence in prison after he pleaded guilty to terrorism and first-degree murder in December.

Jurors have also convicted his mother, Jennifer Crumbley, of four involuntary manslaughter charges in what is regarded as the first US prosecution of a parent in connection to a mass school shooting by their child.

Her husband, James Crumbley, was also charged with involuntary manslaughter and is set to stand trial next month.

So what ramifications will this landmark ruling have? Could it pave the way for other parents to be held responsible for their child’s crimes? We have spoken to an American legal expert to find out…

…Even though Jennifer Crumbley did not pull the trigger, she was held responsible for not safely securing the gun and ammunition at home, as well as failing to seek support for her son’s mental health.

Prosecutors said the 45-year-old mother had a duty under Michigan law to prevent her teenage son from harming others.”[1]

This is a profoundly unjust verdict. Punishing the parents for the crime of their son is inherently evil. There is perhaps a just case in some situations for punishing the parents for crimes that they committed which enabled the crime of their child (in this case no securing the gun), but they should not be held legally accountable for a crime that is committed by their son or daughter.

The scriptures speak to this principle very clearly:

“1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? 3 As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.

5 “If a man is righteous and does what is just and right— 6 if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, 7 does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 8 does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, 9 walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God.

10 “If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things 11 (though he himself did none of these things), who even eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor’s wife, 12 oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, 13 lends at interest, and takes profit; shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself” (Ezek. 18:1-13). 

The soul who sins shall die. This is a foundational principle of biblical and western justice. Set aside for now the discussion of the injustice of not sentencing to death a person who has committed murder, the Bible is very clear that a parent is not legally responsible for their child’s violent act and the child is not responsible for their father’s – or indeed mother’s – violent act. The soul who sins shall die.

This is an important principle of biblical and practical justice. The one who has control over their own actions is the one who is responsible. Of course, it is different if you find out that the parents planned the crime with their son and then sent him out to commit it, then they are accessories to the crime. But teaching your son to shoot is not the same as teaching him to shoot in the act of a crime. This should be especially true in the United States where self-defence rules and laws around gun ownership are far more supported by their culture and law. But put aside gun crime for now, can you see how this sort of principle could be expanded on? Which is what lawyers are very good at doing.  

If a parent teaches their son or daughter to drive, and then that child steals the car to run someone over with it, deliberately. How is the parent responsible? Teaching your son or daughter to drive is an important aspect of being a parent. It is both a socially acceptable norm and legal, if done at the right age and in the right way. Where does a person’s personal responsibility end and another person’s begin? This is a murky way to approach the law, and it is easy to see how this could end up in incredible injustice. 

This does not mean that a parent has no culpability for the wicked actions of their child; as the Proverbs say, “A foolish son is a grief to his father and bitterness to her who bore him” (Prov. 17:25). A parent who has a wicked child will have bitterness. This bitterness is punishment enough. There is a moral sense in which they will also be held accountable to God for their mistakes. But God is clear that you should not punish a son for his father’s crime or vice-versa.

The Unlucky Country - Zimmermann & Moens

One of the problems that happens in our world is often those with the power of the law, that is judges, lawyers, politicians, etc, will see a problem in their society, and they will seek to push the boundaries of the law to try and address the problem. But they end up instead corrupting the whole process of justice as a result, because they extend the law beyond the extent of reasonable justice. You saw this with prohibition, you see this with three strikes and you are out laws, and so many other examples. One of the reasons that we have laws in the Scriptures and in practice to only punish the person who committed the crime, is because it is very easy for a vengeful person to think of all the reasons in the world why that criminal’s parents, wife, husband, son or friends should also be responsible. To create such resources in the law to actually follow through on this bends the application of law from proper vengeance to unjust revenge.

This greatly expands the bounds of the law, as the article notes, “Professor of law at the University of Michigan Ekow Yankah says Jennifer Crumbley’s trial sets a “contentious” precedent for holding parents accountable for their child’s wrongdoings. “Now you’ve given prosecutors a new tool,” he says.”[2] A tool which he always asserts could have expansive negative consequences.

It is easy to be angry at a crime like this and cheer the “drop-kick parents” of a school shooter being punished. But whatever mistakes they made they are not the shooter, and once a pandora’s box like this is open parents will be held accountable for all kinds of other actions of their children. We are now entering into the realm of collective punishment.

It does not surprise me that a pagan idea like collective punishment is being revisited by the modern United States. Christianity is a religion with a strong sense of justice, but it is a clearly defined justice designed to restrain our impulses for things like revenge and payback. You might want to blame the extended social circle or family of someone who commits a heinous crime, but a just law punishes only the person who committed the crime, because our sense of payback can just grow too strong and overcome reason. Also, once you take away that kind of boundary, the law just becomes a tool that you wield however you can find a way to wield it. That is a scary world for anyone to live in. It is a world where those who want to seek to do harm will make sure they get into positions of power where they can do so, with the full force of the legal system behind them. This results in undermining law and order itself.

For some time now westerners have been seeking to shake off what they see as “the shackles of a biblical worldview” but now we are starting to see just how far reaching these ramifications can be. This is the world unbelievers have been working for, but they know not what they ask for…though it is becoming clearer how horrible a post-Christian society can actually become.

References

[1] Audrey Courty 2024, “The Michigan school shooter’s mother Jennifer Crumbley was convicted of manslaughter. Could the landmark ruling set a legal precedent?” ABC News (AU), https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/australia/the-michigan-school-shooter-s-mother-jennifer-crumbley-was-convicted-of-manslaughter-could-the-landmark-ruling-set-a-legal-precedent/ar-BB1hTxN7?ocid=msedgntp&pc=NMTS&cvid=a008f323f285499aa149d532d3f783f6&ei=19

 

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Matthew Littlefield writes to think through some of the current issues facing society, the Church and whatever else comes to mind that might be interesting to process. Matt's focus is usually historical or scriptural, though he will address current issues from time to time as well. He is a co-author of The Ezekiel Declaration and the book, Defending Conscience, How Baptists reminded the Church to defy tyranny. He blogs most days at YoungGospelMinister.blogspot.com.

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