Courage and Cowardice in Colorado

For Christians, Sundays are a time of worship and reflection, a day for families to come together and contemplate the selfless love of He who shed His blood so that we may have life.  For two religious communities in Colorado, however, last Sunday was also a day of selfish hatred and senseless bloodshed. 

In the early hours of that cold, snowy day, twenty-four-year-old Matthew Murray drove to a Youth With a Mission training center for Christian missionaries near Denver.  Murray, who was dismissed from Youth With a Mission a few years earlier and had been sending it hate mail, asked to spend the night at the school.  When school employees explained to Murray that the center did not have any beds and offered to take him to a shelter, he opened fire with a handgun, killing two young staff members and injuring two others. 

But Murray was not done.  Twelve hours later, he drove to the New Life Church in Colorado Springs and opened fire on people entering the church for its morning service, killing two teenage sisters and critically injuring their father.  Murray then walked into the church carrying two handguns, an assault rifle and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition and began firing indiscriminately at the large crowd that had already congregated. 

As shocking as Murray’s repugnant acts were, even more shocking was the deep-seated hatred of Christians that seems to have motivated his actions.  Between shooting sprees, Murray, who had been home-schooled in a highly religious family, made an online post explaining what drove him to commit his unspeakable crimes. 

“…God, I can’t wait till I can kill you people.  Feel no remorse, no sense of shame, I don’t care if I live or die in the shoot-out.  All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you…as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world.” 

If Murray’s anti-Christian animus seems familiar, it’s because it closely resembles that of a number of other recent mass murderers, including the Columbine High School shooters, the Virginia Tech shooter and even the monster who massacred five young Amish girls at the West Nickel Mines School in Pennsylvania.  The common denominator of anti-Christian bigotry is difficult to miss. But what’s more difficult to overlook is that the intense hatred of Christianity that often fuels these violent acts is the same hatred of Christianity so often cultivated and promoted in the media by America’s cultural Left. 

Whether it is Rosie O’Donnell declaring that “Radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America,” Elton John insisting that all organized religion be banned or polemicist Christopher Hitchens claiming that “religion poisons everything,” when a common message in the media is that religion, and in particular Christianity, is the bane of enlightened existence, it is not hard to recognize why so many young people feel such animosity towards it. 

On a more encouraging note, in the midst of the wickedness of last Sunday’s shootings — as often happens when Evil and Good collide — a small glimmer of hope shined brightly.  After killing the two teenage girls outside New Life Church, walking into the church and beginning to fire, Murray was met almost immediately with two bullets from Jeanne Assam’s gun.  Assam, a church member and former police officer who volunteered as a security officer at the church, shot Murray before he was able to hit any of his targets.  Immobilized, Murray then shot himself in the head. 

Describing the split-second decision she had to make, Assam told reporters:  “It seemed like it was me, the gunman and God. …God guided me and protected me.” When asked if she felt like a hero, Assam said, “I wasn’t just going to wait for him to do further damage.  I give credit to God.” 

New Life Pastor Brad Boyd also described what happened: “When the shots were fired she rushed toward the scene and encountered the gunman in the hallway,” he explained.  “He never got more than 50 feet into the church. She probably saved over 100 lives. He had enough ammunition on him to do a lot of damage.” Lives were saved at New Life Church last Sunday because a courageous, law-abiding citizen was armed and ready to act in the public’s defense.

As happened during the Virginia Tech massacre earlier this year — when Holocaust survivor and professor Liviu Librescu gave his life holding off the gunman at the entrance to his classroom while students escaped through windows — Assam’s actions reaffirmed a fundamental truth:  that while human beings are capable of selfish acts of hatred, they are also capable of exhibiting heroic courage and selfless love, the kind that allows others to have life.