The Jennifer Crumbley Conflict - Culture Proof

The Jennifer Crumbley Conflict

On Tuesday, February 6, 2024, Jennifer Crumbley became the first parent in the U.S. to be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for a mass shooting that her son committed. At first, she will not likely be the last. Her husband, James Crumbley, is scheduled for trial this March. Unless he convinces a jury of his innocence, he will be found guilty of the same charges as his wife.

On November 30, 2021, their son, Ethan Crumbley, shot and killed four classmates inside Oxford High School in Michigan. The Crumbleys, according to prosecutors, not only ignored their son’s mental health issues, but they also purchased him a gun. Ethan entered his high school with the gun in his backpack and ultimately used it to murder four people and injure seven others. He pled guilty to multiple charges and was sentenced to life in prison without parole in December 2023.

What happened? Isn’t this the question we often ask when we learn of a crime committed by a child? Don’t we automatically wonder what the parents knew? We can’t believe that the child, without warning, just decided to kill people. We expect that there were signs, and any good parent would have been aware of those signs.

Jennifer Crumbley claimed to be unaware of the extent of her son’s mental torment. Even after Ethan told her that he had seen a demon in their home, she didn’t believe his condition warranted professional help. According to USA Today, Ethan kept a journal, and one of his entries included, “I have zero HELP for my mental problems and it’s causing me to shoot up the school”.

On the morning of the shooting, Ethan’s parents were called to the school because of disturbing images Ethan had drawn, including a gun and a bleeding body, along with which he wrote, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” Even then, his parents did not think they needed to inform the school that their son had a gun and full access to it. Rather than sending Ethan home, the school thought it was better for him to be around peers. Two hours later, the first gunshots rang out.

I believe this case causes a conflict in the minds of our collective society. On one hand, we live in a culture that says parents should not be trusted to rear their children but should instead commend them to the village. Our cultural norms affirm the lie that parents are unnecessary in the growth and development of their children. Further, it seems that everywhere our children are, this lie is reinforced to some extent – online, social media, peer influence, church youth groups, and public/private schools. The chorus is, “Parents, you are dispensable, and no matter how hard you try, there will always be someone better qualified to raise your children.”

But, on the other hand, there is the Crumbley case. Maybe unintentionally, this case publicly and unequivocally acknowledges parents' responsibility to their kids. Let me repeat that slowly, “Parents have a responsibility to their kids.”

I’m unaware if the school will be on trial for what Ethan did. While the school’s leadership kept him in school after raising concerns over what he drew and wrote on the very day he committed his crimes, we accept that they couldn’t have known the extent of Ethan’s mental condition…they are not his parents.

Schools should remember this. Influencers should remember this. Glitter families should remember this. Therapists, doctors, and counselors should remember this. When we condemn those parents who do what they think is in the best interest of their children, we must remember the Crumbleys. Jennifer Crumbley’s guilty verdict says they failed to parent well. They failed to intervene. They failed to do what was in their child's and his classmates' best interest. They just left Ethan to himself. This is bad parenting. They failed their son.

Jennifer Crumbley’s guilty verdict reveals a biblical principle. Proverbs 19:18 says, “Chasten your son while there is hope, And do not set your heart on his destruction” (NKJV). James and Jennifer Crumbley’s failure to discipline their son and compassionately care for him makes them culpable for his actions in real-time. Their failures also make them eternally responsible. What a grief!

Our culture won’t rush to this position. First, it would mean the inadvertent affirmation of Scripture. Acknowledging parental authority and responsibility writ large would mean that when parents say, “My child isn’t trans, I know him.” The “experts” would have to back off. Further, it would mean that schools would stay in their lane. The social media “glitter families” would also be robbed of their power and credibility. We would return to the biblically supported position that father knows best.

With so much to lose if our culture were to be found supporting Scripture suddenly, the Crumbley cases would quickly become cases about gun control, not parental control. That’s easier to argue. Rest assured that the secular culture will not forfeit any power, arguing instead that Ethan should not have had a gun, willfully disregarding the fact that it was a gun his irresponsible parents gave him.

For those who are culture-proof, we see this for what it is, and it bolsters our confidence in the authoritative Word of God.
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