October 5, 2015
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”
Frank Morgan appeared in over 100 movies while he was under contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but his title role in The Wizard of Oz gave him the one-liner that would be his signature line. While Toto-the-dog pulled back the drape – revealing the huckster who had convinced all in Oz that they were under the power of the supernatural – the Wizard’s last option was to try to control the attention of the audience, pointing them away from the now-obvious reality.
It didn’t take long for the White House to call a press conference, addressing the mass murder at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The theme: pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. At a news conference Thursday afternoon regarding the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Umpqua, Oregon, President Obama said gun control is "something we should politicize."
Christopher Harper-Mercer (the name Christopher means “bearing Christ”) is in the news: his preoccupation with mass murderers and their success in achieving notoriety were factors in his actions last Thursday in his English classroom, but his choice of victims was faith-founded. The survivors reported that he asked the students – one-by-one – if they were Christians. If they claimed that faith, he said, “Good: because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second,” and then shot them in the head. If not, he delivered a non-lethal gunshot to an extremity.
The U.S. Department of Justice defines hate crime as “the violence of intolerance and bigotry, intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.” The definition seems rather straight-forward, and has been offered as the underlying motivation behind many cause célébre incidents during the last few years.
But, days after the Roseburg incident – and the reports from the surviving victims themselves – the term “hate crime” has not been attached to the tragedy. A lack of adequate legislation for gun control is the real issue here: pay no attention to that man behind the curtain…
The Lord Jesus Christ – the One after whom the shooter was named – knew the risk that following him would carry:“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
On Friday, Cheri and I spent two hours in the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York, where the 2,977 victims of the terrorist attacks are remembered. While not singled out for their personal faith, the motivation of the Al-Qaeda effort was to deliver a kill-strike in a holy war against what the radical Muslims deemed a Christian nation. The destructive power of hatred cannot be understated; animosity birthed in religious fervor can destroy people and property in devastating degrees.
My friend Tom Doyle has explored the real-time experience of converts to the Lord Jesus Christ in the Muslim Middle East in his new book, Killing Christians (Thomas Nelson, 2015). Tom is active in ministry across the region, and tells the stories of people half-a-world away from Umpqua’s Rebecca Carnes, Quinn Cooper, Lucas Eibel, Lucero Alvarez, Treven Anspach, Jason Johnson, Sarena Moore, Kim Dietz and Lawrence Levine (youngest-to-oldest), who simply said “yes” when asked if they were Christian. It’s happening with ISIS in Iraq and Syria; it’s happening in classrooms in America. The common denominator: a personal relationship with the Prince of Peace.
“Are you a Christian?” What would you say… with a gun to your head?