Roseburg killings: How should Christians respond? (COMMENTARY)

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People take part in candlelight vigil following a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon October 1, 2015. A gunman opened fire at a community college in southwest Oregon on Thursday, killing nine people and wounding seven others before police shot him to death, authorities said, in the latest mass killing to rock an American campus. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Steve Dipaola

People take part in candlelight vigil following a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon October 1, 2015. A gunman opened fire at a community college in southwest Oregon on Thursday, killing nine people and wounding seven others before police shot him to death, authorities said, in the latest mass killing to rock an American campus. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Steve Dipaola

Umpqua Community College alumnus Donice Smith (L) is embraced after she said one of her former teachers was shot dead, near the site of a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg,Oregon October 1, 2015. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Steve Dipaola

Umpqua Community College alumnus Donice Smith (L) is embraced after she said one of her former teachers was shot dead, near the site of a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg,Oregon October 1, 2015. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Steve Dipaola

According to early reports, Chris Harper Mercer, the alleged Oregon community college gunman, asked students to stand and state their religion before shooting them.

Stacy Boylen, identified by CNN as the parent of a wounded student, said the killer asked ” ‘Are you a Christian?’ ” He then asked Christians to stand and said, ” ‘Good, because you’re a Christian, you are going to see God in just about one second,’ ” before opening fire. Others have reported Mercer “hated religion” in his online writings.

Such reports are uncertain and often end up being wrong. And, I hope this one is incorrect — although the same general narrative does continue to surface. Regardless, the conversation gives us a moment to consider this reality because, well, it is not that far fetched.

I’m not one who believes Christians in America are persecuted.


READ: Gunman at Oregon college asked students their religion then killed 9


I agree with former Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams that Christians in the West who feel they are persecuted need to “grow up” and not claim persecution when they are simply made “mildly uncomfortable.” The alleged “War on Christmas” hasn’t cost any lives.

Yet, there is in fact a disturbing pattern to shootings in Fort Worth, Texas, New Life Church in Colorado Springs, and in Charleston. Though Charleston was clearly connected to race, in all cases, Christians were targeted. We already have a research database for church shootings.

If this report turns out to be wrong, as others have, the tragedy will remain, as will this reality: people of faith, in some cases Christians, have been targeted in mass shootings.

People take part in candlelight vigil following a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon October 1, 2015. A gunman opened fire at a community college in southwest Oregon on Thursday, killing nine people and wounding seven others before police shot him to death, authorities said, in the latest mass killing to rock an American campus. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Steve Dipaola

People take part in candlelight vigil following a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon October 1, 2015. A gunman opened fire at a community college in southwest Oregon on Thursday, killing nine people and wounding seven others before police shot him to death, authorities said, in the latest mass killing to rock an American campus. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Steve Dipaola

I don’t have all the political answers at this moment. Calls for more gun control resonate with many right now. However, Americans are hardly of one mind on the issue and less than half want stricter gun laws.

Still, understandably, moments like this make us want to do something.

Since this involves Christians and society as a whole, perhaps we should ask what, at this moment, Christians should do, and our society must do.

These things can be done now.

First, Christians need to be ready to give an answer for the hope that they have (1 Peter 3:15), yes, even if that causes our own deaths. As Christians we know trust in the gospel means hope in a greater story, since Christ came into the world to give life that is eternal, not just temporal.


READ: Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church reopens with prayer, praise and a call for change


Second, Christians can follow the beautiful example of our brothers and sisters in Christ in Charleston. When evil came knocking, forgiveness answered. The entire nation was touched by the words of victims’ family members toward Dylann Roof just days after that awful tragedy, offering forgiveness and the gospel they knew. We saw a picture of grace — a picture that should look familiar to Christians. Even through pain and confusion we can and should do likewise.

Third, we have to trust God when we don’t understand. The fact is, no one can (nor should they try) to explain this tragedy on this side of eternity. Evil is real and terrible and God does not give us all the answers — but He does give us Himself. And, in times like this, God is all we have — and He is enough.

Fourth, we can work for a more just society. Isaiah 1:17 instructs us to learn to do good, seek justice and correct oppression. God values justice, so we should, too. As we work for justice in the midst of tragedy, we demonstrate a world as God desires it to be.


READ: America welcomes Christians, Jews; atheists, Muslims not so much


I understand the United States’ cultural tension in which Christian-held values do not always align with current popular opinion. But the truth is, the irreligious in our culture must de-escalate hateful rhetoric toward Christians, no matter how vehement the disagreements between us.

We are quick to point out the deadly consequences of enraged right-wingers (think Tucson) and the emotional terrorism of organizations like the Westboro protest cult. Yet, Christians seem to be one of the few groups you can denigrate with impunity, regardless of how the unbalanced in the population are influenced — dare we say radicalized — by such rhetoric.

If Christians are labeled as “haters” simply because they hold views derived from their Scriptures, the elevated rhetoric can, and indeed does lead to violent actions. It is inevitable.

I am not saying we don’t criticize, but we must not demonize. When we demonize others — Christians, Muslims, gays, African-Americans or whomever — we give mentally unstable or hate-filled people additional justification to kill. Such actions are not our fault. But, everyone should remember the influence our words can have.

The calculated killing of Christians in America is not widespread, but it does exist.


READ: Do ISIS’s atrocities against Christians, Yazidis and Shias really amount to genocide?


We are not living under the persecution we see under ISIS and we must not pretend we are. Yet, moments like this remind us that our time may come, and, perhaps on a vacation or business trip, we may face a moment like Egyptian Coptic believers did on a beach in Libya.

Or, due to a madman at a community college in Oregon.

May Christians be ready.

As we grieve with the families of the murdered and we pray that the peace of God will guard their hearts and their minds in this difficult time, let’s also do something in light of this tragedy to honor the lives of the victims.

(Ed Stetzer is the executive director of LifeWay Research. This column first appeared in USA Today.)

  • Greg

    Well said.

  • Jon

    Let’s all work together to stop atrocities like the killing of people for religious reasons. Yes, all sides need to avoid hateful rhetoric – and the non-religious especially need to be clear that they are pointing out that they see some ideas as wrong, and not that they see some people as bad. Those two are very different. Christians need to admit and correct Christian privilege in our society. Too often, legitimate complaints about Christian privilege are met with stonewalling or with false Christian fragility. It’s also worth wondering why so many of these killings – including killings of Christians – are done by self-identified conservative republicans. In any case, I hope we all agree that no one, ever, should be killed or physically attacked due to their religion or lack of it.

  • Fran

    Christians should respond by putting their faith and allegiance in God’s kingdom or heavenly government (Daniel 2:44; Matthew 4:17) as the only hope for mankind on earth.

    We are obviously living in the last days of a wicked era, as Jesus prophecied that because of the increasing of lawlessness, the love of the greater number would cool off (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). What is happening worldwide now, critical times hard to deal with, should be expected by Christians today.

    God’s government will soon put an end to all wicked ones (Isaiah 11:4; Psalm 37:10,11) and there will be no more need for weapons of any sort, nor for warfare among any nations (Micah 4:3,4).

    None of man’s governments will bring about worldwide peace on earth; only Jesus’ upcoming millennial rule as the Prince of Peace and King of God’s government will accomplish that.

  • I’m numb from this horror and weeping again for beautiful people
    killed for no reason.

    Only a very hateful person can take an argument against a particular belief and turn it into attacks against believers – let alone killing them! Religion is a human right and we must all defend that right, believers and non-believers alike.

    I was a Christian until the day 26 people were slaughtered by an Atheist for no reason at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That horrific slaughter forced me to ask “where was god?” Ironically, it turned me into the Atheist I am. And yes, I argue against religion because I was injured by its lies – but the believers themselves are off limits. Always.

    The fact that murderous Atheists are very rare does not bring me any comfort.
    The right to believe is a human right.

  • @Jon,

    “they see some ideas as wrong, and not that they see some people as bad. Those two are very different.”

    Exactly. Arguing against ideas should never lead to gunfire.
    The whole point of freedom of speech is to make sure all voices can be heard – not silenced. And the right to religion is a human right – Atheists have a responsibility to defend it. That doesn’t mean the argument must end.

  • “….the irreligious in our culture must de-escalate hateful rhetoric toward Christians, no matter how vehement the disagreements between us…”

    I’m all for that. So let’s keep things in perspective.

    Ending your commentary with “May Christians be ready” is far too alarmist. The Black Panthers were the terrorist wing of the civil rights movement in the 1970s – most black activists were against them and spoke up about it and they fizzled out.

    Today’s non-religious movement is also about civil rights and it has no terrorist wing of any kind. And it WON’T. Most of us are former believers anyway and feel like we are arguing against former versions of ourselves.

  • Bernardo

    This is the 21st century with all kinds of technology available to make weapons safer.

    How about fingerprint lock outs? Only the owner’s fingerprint can activate the weapon.

    GPS permanent tracers in every weapon?

    Minature radio transmitters in every weapon such that alarms are activated in areas where guns/rifles don’t belong?

    Severe punishments for those to include manufacturers who do not add protective devices to their weapons? Ditto for those who do not keep their weapons in locked storage?

    The door is wide open for other ideas.

  • tommytunes

    @suzy… why the hate?

  • Ben in oakland

    “Those who practice the anti-theist faith should learn their own murderous history, before condemning Christians for our own.”

    Atheists don’t claim to get their morality or their murderousness from the god who is love. That’s all on you.

    “The largest and most horrific genocides in human history – by far – have been perpetrated by militant atheists: Stain, Mao, and Pol Pot.” Mao was a Buddhist, as was Pol Pot.

    But even granting that they were atheists, there are all of the genocides wrought by Christians, all of the wars fought by Christians, the murders of milliions of native americans.

    the holocaust perpetrated by Christian Germany. 11 million or more.

    The Congo genocide, by Catholic monarch Leopold of Belgium: 10 million or more.

    The Taiping rebellion, perpetrated by a man who wass the little brother of jesus; 20 million dead.

    But let’s just talk about the human propensity for genocide and slavish subservience to destructive ideology, because that is…

  • Ben in oakland

    How should Christians respond?

    conserva5tive Christians would probably say “More guns.” But I could be wrong about that.

    Jeb bush said “Thing happen.”

  • jeff

    i am not happy there was a shooting. But i am happy that many, knowing they would die, still bore witness to Jesus. The media would have us think Christianity is dead. Not so. Jesus’ words will not pass away

  • Sister Geraldine Marie, OP, RN, PHN

    Dear Max: You blame God for that? People did that! God didn’t make robots, but bestows grace to become His children.
    As Christians, we need to make the world a better place and to become better lovers of God and neighbor each day. And to, ” pray without ceasing” as St. Paul wrote. Read the lives of the saints, some of whom suffered terribly, but kept the faith! Watch some of the excellent movies about saints published by Ignatius Press (through Amazon). Watch “The Gospel of John” taken, word-for-word from the Gospel itself and using superb actors and actresses. I keep praying for you Max. And thanks for your support of me in different comments. Blessings! He knows how you’re hurting and cares more than we can ever fathom!

  • Sister Geraldine Marie, OP, RN, PHN

    Excellent article except Christians ARE persecuted in the free world. Not always outwardly and violently, but certainly subtly with smiles or looks or whispers. There are many ways humans find to persecute others.
    Christians combat this attitude with true agape love and service to neighbor as they have throughout history. Yes, there have been flagrant abuses by bad Christians, but goodness still wins! Never give up! NEVER, NEVER, NEVER!
    Blessings!

  • Billysees

    Are Christians persecuted or are they persecutors?

    You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men……Matthew 5:13

    Hateful and scornful public commentary by angry, immature, conservative, fundamentalist Christians is constantly being ‘thrown out’ and ‘trampled on’, all because it is ‘tasteless salt’.

    This ‘tasteless salt’ is their way of being a persecutor.

    ‘Throwing it away’ and ‘trampling on it’ is the best way to deal with it.

  • Scott

    It appears that at least one of the ten people who was killed was not a self-identified Christian. The answer to the shooter’s question may not have been a deciding factor in whether he killed them or not. http://wildhunt.org/2015/10/oregon-pagan-community-loses-member-in-college-shooting.html

  • Keli

    Hey, those are some really great ideas!! 🙂

  • larry

    Robophobia. The wholly natural dislike of robots and spambots who pose as flesh and blood people.

  • Bernardo

    The October issue of Popular Science lists not only the ones I mentioned as being currently available but three other commercially available ways to make guns safer. Unfortunately many of these are not used because of the absurdities of the NRA blocks their use.

  • Bernardo

    See the October issue of Popular Science for a listing and status of numerous ways to make the use of guns much safer. Unfortunately, the NRA blocks many of these uses.

  • Ben in oakland

    Oh, those smiles and whispers are such cruel, cruel persecution. Not even the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but smiles and whispers. Sister I think that you don’t have the slightest idea of what persecution actually is.

    as long as you can equate real persecution with smiles and whispers. All you are doing is trivializing the real persecution — the Lost lives, the lost jobs and families, destroyed countries, torture and murder.

  • @Sister,

    “Hurting”?

    I’m not hurting. You are clearly very much in pain however – I hope you recover someday.

    “Humans did it not God”

    Wrong. If God exists (i don’t think he does) he watched and did nothing to rescue innocent children. I’m not angry at God for watching the crime. Nor am I angry at the leprechaun which did not bring me my lucky charms.