On Thursday Oct. 1, 2015 a disturbed person walked onto the Umpqua Community College campus in Roseburg, Oregon and began shooting people. By the time he killed himself, he had murdered 9 people and injured 7. Within hours of the shooting, a narrative began to be spread that the shooter singled out Christians – all based on second or third hand testimony from people who were not there, and who, in turn, got their information from traumatized witnesses or survivors.
The story was this, the shooter asked students if they were Christians. Those who said, “Yes,” were told, “Good, because you’re a Christian you’re going to see God in just about one second.” Then they were shot in the head. Those who said they were another religion or didn’t answer were shot in a different part of their body. Chilling, to say the least.
This narrative was picked up by the NY Post, Fox News commentator Todd Starnes, Oregon news outlets, famous actors, and, of course, the oh-so-reliable social media. With such a compelling story, it is no wonder that some of the more theistic potential presidential candidates chimed in with their outrage over this targeting of Christians, none more prominently than Dr. Ben Carson who took to Facebook encouraging his supporters to change their profile pictures to the #IamAChristian image.
If this motivation was indeed a contributing factor, it would add another layer of sadness and concern to the already tragic and horrendous nature of this crime. If there is indeed a bubbling under sub-culture of people in America who are at the point where they are ready to single out, target, and kill Christians, then we have a real problem to address. But was this narrative true?
Almost as soon as the targeting of Christians narrative started getting passed around, another survivor offered another bit of insight that altered the story. Rand McGowan’s version of the story is quite different.
McGowan told family members that the gunman didn’t specifically target Christians but asked them about faith. The shooter, apparently planning to die during the massacre, told students: “I’ll see you soon” or “I’ll meet you soon.”
“The shooter would call a person: ‘You, stand up,'” Salas said, recalling what her son told her. “And then he would ask them if they were a Christian, knew God, or had religion. And it wasn’t like it was stated on TV. It wasn’t about that he was just trying to pinpoint Christians, no.”
Rand’s story, like the others, however, are second hand information. But the shift from targeting Christians to telling people who had a faith belief that he would see or meet them soon is quite different.
Patheos blogger Bo Gardiner pulled up the Facebook information of those who were murdered to find out if the murderer did indeed single out Christians for execution, and what she discovered further erodes the popular persecution mythos.
Let’s examine the victims’ beliefs as best we can and find out if they fit that description….For most of them, we don’t know their religious beliefs for certain. All we can look at is their social media presence and comments from loved ones…Similarly, should we assume that those who were spared or only injured were either non-Christian or insufficiently courageous to admit their Christianity?
…only two of the nine victims are confirmed to be Christians. While some of the other seven may be Christians, there’s currently no publicly available evidence for it. And several others seem to hold beliefs other than Christianity.
After she made her post public, additional information came in about two of the victims. Lawrence Levine was raised Jewish, but was secular. Kim Saltmarsh Dietz was a member of the Roseburg pagan community. They were not Christians.
The evidence doesn’t support the narrative. The murderer certainly appears (according to his social media profile) to have held organized religions in contempt, but that was for all people of faith – not just Christians. At this point we are still making broad conjectures about his motivation for murdering those people – maybe he was killing people of faith – but he certainly wasn’t targeting Christians.
So what does the title of this post mean?
I shared Gardiner’s blog on my Facebook page, and, it seems, members of my family and at least one friend were offended.
Lost in this gross, self serving article is the hypocrisy of “reporting” on a tragedy by doing such extensive research as reading someone’s facebook page. Disrespectful at the least…The author has a desired outcome, so did extensive research on facebook to prove the point…You have jumped to your own desired conclusion, that I agree with the people that are saying it is religiously motivated, I don’t I’m only pointing out that the article is in poor taste and you posting is in equally poor taste. I’m sure you could have found an article that truly served to remember the victims and not one that was poorly written, poorly researched and in severely bad taste.
After 24 hours of sitting on this, I still don’t get the disgust. Why is it in “severely bad taste” to investigate the accuracy of such an inflammatory claim as people being murdered in the United States because they are Christian? I find it much more offensive that the likes of Ben Carson and Todd Starnes were so quick to hitch their wagons onto the thought of 9 people being murdered for being Christian without ever considering that perhaps that story was wrong. They, and those that defend them, are gluttons at the “persecuted Christians” trough.
As the days, weeks, and months of investigation progress, we are going to learn much more about the murderer and his motivations. But one thing we can dismiss now – he wasn’t on the hunt for Christians.0