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Killings of Asians fuel US debate about churches and racism

26 March 2021


Flowers are placed on the police car that has become a memorial for the police officer Eric Talley, in Boulder, Colorado, on Tuesday afternoon

Flowers are placed on the police car that has become a memorial for the police officer Eric Talley, in Boulder, Colorado, on Tuesda...

PEOPLE in the United States are trying to come to terms with two mass shootings in less than a week. Eighteen victims were killed, including six women of Asian descent, in attacks on three spas. The two incidents — in Boulder, Colorado, and Atlanta, Georgia — are not linked, and two suspects are in custody.

The suspect for the Atlanta shootings on Thursday of last week, Robert Aaron Long, who has taken responsibility for them, was a member of Crabapple First Baptist Church, Georgia. In a statement, the church said that it was “absolutely distraught” at the news that the suspect was a member of its congregation. Eight people, including six women, died in the attack.

On its website, the church said that it had now “completed the process of church discipline to remove Robert Aaron Long from membership since we can no longer affirm that he is truly a regenerate believer in Jesus Christ”.

Although racism has not been given as a motive for the shooting — Long told police that he carried out the attack on the spas to “eliminate temptation” as he had a sex addiction — it is part of a wave of violence against Asians in the US, which has risen by 150 per cent since 2020.

The Episcopal Church’s missioner for Asiamerica Ministries, the Revd Winifred Vergara, told the Episcopal News Service that there was fear among Asian American communities; and the Suffragan Bishop of New York, the Rt Revd Allen K. Shin, said that the pandemic had exposed the white supremacy and racism that had “infected the soul of America for centuries”.

The vice-president of the Asian American Christian Collaborative (AACC), Dr Michelle Ami Reyes, said: “The Atlanta Massacre is the Asian American community’s George Floyd moment.”

A statement released by the AACC condemned churches that had “normalized the dangerous ideologies” that motivated Long. “We also cry out against violence perpetrated in the name of Christianity. We condemn the evasion of responsibility by churches and denominations that have historically perpetuated the social conditions for attitudes and perspectives that have led to the unequal, unjust, and ungodly treatment and murders of racialized minorities.

“AACC further condemns rhetoric that seeks to treat the shooter of the Atlanta massacre as an anomaly when, in fact, churches, denominations, and political ideologies/idolatries have normalized the dangerous ideologies that motivated him.”

The organisation Bishops Against Gun Violence, which numbers more than 100 Episcopalian bishops, said in a statement: “As Christian leaders and bishops, we are particularly disturbed that the alleged shooter’s Christian faith is reported to have fuelled his desire to murder the women in massage spas whom he believed were sexual temptations.

“It grieves us that the Christian faith we profess can be twisted and deformed in ways that give rise to violence, particularly to gun violence, by white Christian men against women and people of color. Christian churches, regardless of theology or denomination, must explicitly reject the idea that God wants Christian men to dominate or kill other human beings.”

No motive has been suggested for the shooting at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, on Monday, in which ten people were killed, including a police officer, Eric Talley, who was the first to arrive on the scene.

An online vigil was held at St Aidan’s Episcopal Church, one mile from the scene, on Monday evening. The Rector, the Revd Mary Kate Rejouis, said: “I don’t know what a path forward is for us, but I do know it has to be different. I am tired of the violence and the access to guns, and I am angry and sad and sometimes afraid for myself and the world my children inhabit already.

“I do know that the place to start is with prayer, and I also know that prayer alone is not enough.”

The Bishop of Colorado, the Rt Revd Kym Lucas, said that she was angered and horrified by the back-to-back shootings. In the course of a service, she said: “I ask your prayers for those family members who will receive a knock on their door with information that will devastate them. And I even ask your prayers for the person or persons so broken that they would take the lives of people they didn’t even know.”

President Biden said that he was “devastated” by the shootings, and called on Congress not to “wait another minute” in enacting legislation to ban assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines (News, 12 March).

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