A 26-year-old gunman stormed the campus of Umpqua Community College Thursday, killing 10 and injuring seven others. The shooter allegedly singled out Christians in an execution-style series of unthinkable murders.
The shooter was identified by law enforcement officials as Chris Harper Mercer. Early reports indicate that Mercer asked victims to declare their religion before firing. One student said, “If you were a Christian, he shot you in the head, if you didn’t say or weren’t, he shot you in the leg.”
Several things are disturbing about this tragedy. Not the least is the untold damage done to families who will forever mark the day with inescapable grief. Modeled in this event, the world sees the putrid fruit of one who has devalued the image of God in the most heinous way. What could exemplify the complete disregard for imago dei more than the taking of innocent life?
While the story is developing, new information about Mercer will continue to surface regarding his motives. Early speculation based on an Internet dating site and blog linked to his email address suggests he admired the attention that came from other mass shootings. CBS News reported that one blog post, allegedly written by Mercer, referenced Vester Flanagan, the man who killed two reporters in Roanoke, Va.:
“I have noticed that so many people like [Flanagan] are alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. A man who was known by no one is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems like the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”
Whether motivated by fame, brokenness, or simple evil, Mercer’s actions make the Apostle Paul’s writings ring as true today as two millennia ago: “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:18-19).
The enemies of the cross don’t always carry guns and storm schools, or wear black face masks and behead believers. As Paul notes, the enemies may simply cling to selfishness and greed.
How should we respond?
- Grieve. Many families were terrorized Thursday; some lost the most precious thing they knew on this earth in a son, daughter, spouse, or parent. Remember that Mercer too has a mother who will look into the depths of her heart and wonder what she could have done to change the outcome of that day. “Mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).
- Pray. Jesus turned the response to persecution on its head when he urged disciples to “love your enemies … pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). From Oregon to Iraq, the back woods or our backyards, Christians will find enemies. Will you pray for those who persecute you?
- Decide. It’s unlikely that any of us will find ourselves in a classroom asked to state our religion staring down the barrel of a gun. However, our friends, coworkers, and family members ask subtly, “Are you a Christian?” Be ready to answer that question daily.