Friday, April 27, 2007

Christians, cast as villains

From yesterdays Potomac News, my column: Christians, cast as villians:

I don't know if Cho Seung-Hui, the person responsible for the deaths of 32 people at Virginia Tech last Monday, is the "typical" mass murderer. But I do know more about him than I care to know, and he has received more publicity than he deserves, thanks to NBC showing his home video.

A lot of people make uplifting videos of themselves accomplishing good in this world, but NBC has no interest in them because they wouldn't get ratings. But execute dozens of innocent teachers and students, and you get a first-class ticket to stardom.

Everybody is scrambling to tell Cho's life story. I now know he hired a "female escort" for a private session. As a child, he hit his sister. He was a loner, he stalked two women and he caught his dorm room on fire. I've even seen his eBay trading history.

I do know Cho isn't the "stereotypical" villain. He wasn't a gun owner -- when he decided to shoot people, he had to purchase guns and ammo. He wasn't in a hate group. He wasn't picked on. He was Korean -- Gov. Tim Kaine this week assured the Korean community they weren't to blame, but really, are Koreans who we think of when we hear "killing spree?"

Who is the typical villain? White fundamentalist gun-toting Christians. In March, a school district in Burlington Township, N.J., held a hostage rescue drill to test emergency procedures for responding to a terror attack.

The drill involved two armed men who enter the school, kill several students, and take the rest hostage. Town officials designed what they thought was the most likely villains for an attack.

And what did they come up with? A group called the "New Crusaders," a "right-wing fundamentalist group who don't believe in separation of church and state." This group attacks the school because a child was expelled for praying.

To the local paper, this made complete sense. An article in the Burlington County Times on March 23 said of the 'Christian killers' story: "The scenario has played out in real life across America: Gunfire echoes through a school and students are held hostage."

Of course, when the Christian students were subjected to the drill and learned that they were the villains, they were outraged. As well they should be. If you want to find the Christians in a typical shooting, look on the other side of the gun barrel. Cho's victims included four students involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, five Baptists, and many other people of faith. His multimedia presentation railed against Christianity. The Columbine shooters specifically targeted Christians. And there was the mass murder at the Amish school in Pennsylvania.

But it took two weeks of complaints before the officials even acknowledged a problem. Eventually the district released a "clarifying" statement that said in part: "Any perceived insensitivities to our religious community as a result of the emergency exercise scenario are regrettable. It was certainly not the intent to portray any group in a negative manner. We cherish, respect, and celebrate the diversity of cultures and faith that exist within our community."

But that focus on celebrating diversity contributed to their mistake. They knew not to use a "Muslim terrorist organization." They wouldn't think of using ethnic or racial minorities. We all know who to be sensitive to, and if we forget, there are organizations who will sue to remind us. But using a conservative Christian group as killers raised no flags.

So maybe Cho wasn't the "typical" villain. He wasn't white, he wasn't a conservative churchgoer, he wasn't in a gun club, and he wasn't a dangerous "fundamentalist" upset about prayer in schools.

Meanwhile, videos showing Christians and their positive impact on communities collect dust on shelves across America, while officials portray Christians as villains. And Cho, a real villain, has his twisted vision of the world plastered across my television screen.

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