The extended coverage of the Umpqua Community College massacre - much of it wrong or unnecessarily overwrought - has inundated about everyone with a communications device. Lots of real and deserved anguish from and for many folk. But also a lot of fully expected “duck-and-run“ by politicians, strained voices on both sides of the gun debate with nothing helpful to add - also fully expected - with no new answers to keep these killings from continuing. Again.
When reviewing reports of some of the 294 multiple gun murders in the country as of the first of the month - and throwing in Sandy Hook Elementary, Aurora’s movie massacre, the Clackamas shopping center and the rest we’ve become so familiar with - there’s not much new in this one.
They all seem to follow the same script i.e. unsuspecting victims, public areas where we’ve always assumed our safety, a depressed/suicidal/angry or otherwise deranged young male, multiple weapons, a shooter’s decision to die (most of the time), massive law enforcement response, demands for gun control, demands for less gun control, excuses, blame-casting and denial. That about covers it.
But the UCC shooting near Roseburg, Oregon, did have one new wrinkle. A shooter, with no apparent particular religious faith, is said by survivors to have tried to determine which of his targets would die immediately or more slowly for their faith. Which impending victim would say he/she was a Christian - or believed in God - and which wouldn’t. And that got me thinking. Would I take a bullet for my faith? Would I take a bullet for Jesus? Would you? Would anyone? Especially when you’ve just seen fellow classmates killed after answering?
Each person to be murdered or wounded was reportedly asked beforehand about a religious belief? If the answer was “Yes” or “I’m a Christian” or “I believe in God,” the shooter put a bullet in the respondent’s head. In the case of other answers, there was a body shot which might - or might not - kill but would certainly inflict huge pain. It can be surmised most victims - dead or alive - answered one way or the other. What’s not clear is what would’ve been the case if someone responded with “Hebrew,” “Muslim” or “Atheist.” A wound or dead on the classroom floor?
Taking a bullet for Jesus. Not something you can give a quick answer to.
History is full of instances of Christians being killed for no other reason than professing their faith. Or denying it so as not to be killed. One of the first such recorded was when Salome danced and got the head of John the Baptist as payment for services. Or, maybe when Jesus was being tried and sentenced to death. All of his followers - the ones closest to him on this earth - fled. Peter - the “Rock” - even denied him three times in a span of a few hours. No “bullet for Jesus” among even his closest companions. Of the 12, only his brother, John, came to the crucifixion. But, eventually, all of them died violent deaths for being Christians.
We’re told the UCC shooter had expressed an interest in the Irish Republican Army or Irish Catholicism or some such. But he wasn’t known to be affiliated with any religious grouping personally. So why was the questioning of a certain victim’s faith important during what he believed were his own final hours? The answers to that - if answers there be - died with him. Just as well.
Still, there’s that other question. Would you - would I - tell someone with a rifle aimed at us that we were practicing Christians? Would we do that after seeing classmates and friends just murdered for their answer? What would our responses be?
To my deep personal shame - as a self-professed “Christian” - I have to say I don’t know my answer. Believing a statement affirming my “faith” could get me killed on-the-spot, makes the stakes as high as any I’ll face in this life. Opening my mouth - much less coming up with a truthful answer - seems impossible.
But, if I could speak, what words would come tumbling out? A plea for my life made to someone intent on killing? Some sort of effort to get this mad, irrational person to stop in the middle of a mad, irrational act to which he seemed committed? Words of prayer for him and the victims he’d just created? Would I say loudly and firmly, “Yes, I AM a Christian?” Or - nothing. How would I respond?
What would be YOUR answer?