A brief response to the Atlanta shootings.
The night of the Atlanta shootings, I had a nightmare I was involved in a mass shooting. I was huddled under a chair, hearing shots ring out around me, when I woke up in a panicky but grateful sweat. It took a long time before my husband was able to calm me down and I fell back asleep.
The next morning, I watched the news in horror as they recounted how a so-called Christian struggling with sex addiction walked into three different massage parlors and shot eight individuals (seven of whom were women, the majority of whom were of Asian descent) to “remove the temptation.” I, like many others, was horrified by his justification of this evil act, and I thought back to the dream I had the night before. What had been a nightmare for me was a reality for them. When does it stop?
While there are so many levels of racism and sexism and problematic Christian teachings that I could go into that surround this entire situation (more resources/articles listed at the bottom of this blog), there’s one thing I want to focus on tonight. Because if there’s one word I could use to describe what the (I’ll say it, predominantly white) response has been to people of color being murdered, it would be justification.
When nine Black people in a church in South Carolina were murdered, some defended the shooter saying he was “misunderstood.” When George Floyd was murdered nearly a year ago, some were quick to recount his criminal record, as if that justified the crime. When Breonna Taylor was murdered asleep in her bed, some reminded us that the boyfriend shot first. And now most recently with these shootings in Atlanta, some speculated about the real occupation of these women. Even the police chief described the shooter as having a bad day. I’ve said “some” throughout this paragraph because these justifications aren’t across the board. But too often, when terrible things happen, the knee-jerk reaction of Christians is to justify first and empathize second.
Maybe it’s our sin nature. Since the dawn of creation, we’ve been seeking to shift blame to others and justify our own actions (check out my pastor’s spot-on post about this). Maybe it’s embarrassment. We can’t fathom a person who looks like us, goes to the same church as us, committing such deplorable acts, so we try to find a reason why. Maybe it’s pride. We don’t want to acknowledge that some of the things we’ve been teaching and the way we’ve been teaching them would lead someone to do something so drastic.
Frankly, I don’t care what the reason for the justification is.
The definition of justification is “the action of showing something to be right or reasonable.” There is nothing right or reasonable about the acts I listed above, nor the countless other injustices against our brothers and sisters of color that are far too many to name. And the thing about justification is it’s all about shifting the blame from you (or someone you relate to, agree with or idolize) to someone else. The assumption that there must have been something else at play. But the thing is, sometimes there isn’t anything else at play. Sometimes it’s just evil.
When Lazarus died (John 11), Jesus didn’t give a run-down of everything Lazarus had done wrong in his lifetime. He didn’t tell the sisters that their weeping wasn’t necessary because he had every intention of bringing Lazarus back to life. Instead, Jesus wept. And with those two words – the shortest and yet one of the most powerful verses in the Bible in my opinion – Jesus established a precedent. A precedent that empathy comes before justification. That grieving comes before reasoning. That it’s more important to care for the victims, the hurt, the suffering around you than come up with the reasons they should not be hurting and suffering.
So, though there is so much more to be said about these shootings, here is my plea, for Christians in particular, in the meanwhile. Stop justifying. Stop trying to cover up the problematic teachings that may have led to this outcome. Stop denying the blatant racism and sexism that this entire ordeal reeks of. Stop coming up with excuses for the “bad days” and “temptations” that need to be eliminated. Stop politicizing. Stop speculating. Stop arguing. Instead, weep. Weep for the families who lost precious loved ones. Weep for the Asian community. Weep for the brokenness in our world. Weep because Jesus wept.
Here are a few more resources to process the shootings and learn more about the complex layers of racism and sexism involved:
- Christianity Today: Religion, Race, and the Atlanta Murders
- Relevant Magazine: Wrestling With Misogyny, Racism And Toxic Purity Culture In The Wake Of The Atlanta Shootings
- Anti-Racism Daily: Stop the “lone wolf” narrative.
- Washington Post: Christian leaders wrestle with Atlanta shooting suspect’s Southern Baptist ties
“…weep with those who weep.”
– Romans 12:15 –