On Sunday, December 9, 2007, a young man entered a church in Colorado.
He was armed and dangerous, opening fire and killing two people before
a security guard wounded him. The gunman then turned the gun on
himself and ended his life. According to the reports, he was troubled,
possibly mentally ill, and angry at the church who had rejected him,
saying he was not social enough to be a missionary.
In the wake of this incident, the media and others ask why and how
did this happen. The innate need for explanation permeates the
airwaves and yet, no one wants honest answers. They want to blame and
pass the buck, as is the case in many religious circles. When
something good happens, God did it, and when something horrible like
this happens, the devil is the cause.
It seems interesting to me that the media and those involved in
reporting and examining these types of incidents, never once seem to
consider the psychological and emotional damage religion can inflict
upon vulnerable individuals. The teachings that "you are nothing
without God", that one should "deny the self, and follow Jesus", and
that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" are not
considered misleading, misguiding or damaging in any way. Young
Christians are taught to martyr themselves, count it joyful when bad
things happen to them because God sent it into their life to make them
stronger. Songs that are sung "my trials come to only make me strong"
encourage people to deny their feelings of fear and anxiety and that
God will take care of everything, lead one to believe that they have
no power over their own life, they cannot make their own decisions and
that everything they do must please God. If it brings pleasure to the
person, instead of God, it must be a sin because the ultimate goal, or
so the teaching goes, is to bring pleasure to and worship God.
So who is to blame when a frustrated, angry young man enters a church
and shoots into the crowd? There are many angry frustrated former
fundamentalists and others out there but they don't' go shooting into
crowds, though I am sure some feel like it. So what happened that
caused Matthew Murray to act out his frustration in such a violent
way. No one may ever know for sure but to deny the role of Christian
teachings, and to deny that the Christian church perpetuates an us and
them mentality, is a travesty. There is a prevalent and widespread
mentality amongst fundamentalists teachings that they are engaged in a
war for souls. The devil is out there seeking to destroy and it is up
to the Christians to fight the fight. I am reminded of one song in
particular that I sang in church during my 25 years of fundamentalism
that goes something like this in the first few lines: "God has given
us the city, he has given us the land, God has given us the city, he
has given us every man". The rest of the song goes on to talk of
victory over the enemy (those who did not believe as I did).
So the church will say that Matthew Murray was possessed by the
devil. They will say that he was a backslidden non-believer who fell
to evil influences. I say he was probably an angry, frustrated,
troubled young man who felt that the only way to get someone to listen
to his pain was to act out in such a way that people would have to
notice. He may have been tired of people offering to pray with him,
people shutting him out because he no longer believed as they did. I
don't know because I didn't' know him and I didn't know his parents.
But I do know and understand the teachings and philosophys that beat
down self esteem, and perpetuate powerlessness thinking. I do
understand all too well the desire to experience my human emotions
without feeling guilty for them. Most of all, I understand the need to
be loved and accepted by others, something Matthew Murray was not able
to find. Yet, how can we ever feel loved and accepted when we are
taught that we are all sinners and fall short of God's glory. It is
time for those who teach such things to have the courage to admit they
teach them and to look at the psychological and emotional
ramifications those teachings can have on vulnerable people who just
want to be loved.
Debra Thornley, M.A..