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Religiously motivated violence


Murders in U.S. Churches:
Are Christians Being Targeted?

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High levels of fear are circulating within the Christian community. This is nothing new, particularly among those Christians who interpret the Bible literally. They have always been concerned over whether they and their loved ones will make it into Heaven, or be punished eternally in Hell. However, more recently, some believe that major persecution of churches in North American is imminent, and may already have started.

There have been fears that their pastors will be thrown into jail for simply reading the Bible in church, if a proposed hate crimes hate-crimes legislation is passed. Fortunately, at least this concern appear to be groundless. It became law during 2009-OCT. No charges have been made under this law for hate speech, and none are ever likely to be made in the future.

As the battle over same-sex marriage reached its peak in mid-2015, some religious conservatives expressed concerns that their religious liberty was being attacked. In particular, their churches might be forced to violate their beliefs by solemnizing the marriages of same-sex couples or lose their tax-exempt status.

Many Christian leaders say that they have already detected ominous signs of a serious increase in religious hate crime -- the assassination of Christians across the U.S., presumably by non-Christians bent on exterminating Christianity. They feel that the conservative wing of Christianity in particular is being directly targeted. 

This section examines recent murders that have occurred either:

bulletInside or in front of Christian churches, or

bulletMotivated by religious hatred.

We have also included a mass murder at a Unitarian Universalist (UU) church. Only about 15% of UUs consider themselves to be Christians and almost no fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians consider UUs to be fellow Christians. However, there are so many similarities to other murders involving Christian churches that we have included this mass murder with the rest.

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We have tentatively concluded, on the basis of the relatively few events that have occurred, that:

  • Almost all of the murder victims in churches and other religious buildings are conservative Protestants.

  • No general targeting of Christians is taking place in the U.S. (unlike other countries in the world).

  • American churches, like its schools, are relatively safe places. There have been fewer than 100 murders over the past seven years in or at churches. This compares to approximately a quarter million homicides at other locations during the same interval.

As of 2017-NOV the five most recent murders at churches were:

  • A mass church killing during 2008 in a non-Christian sanctuary -- the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville TN. The perpetrator was a person who objected to the faith group's liberal views in general and their attitude towards homosexuals in particular.

  • The 2009 assassination of Dr. George TIller, an abortion provider, inside the Reformation Lutheran Church, in Kansas City, KS.

  • The 2015 mass murder of nine attendees at a Bible study meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. The alleged perpetrator said he was trying to trigger an interracial war.

  • The 2017 murder of one person and injury of seven at the Burnette Chapel - Church of Christ in Antioch, TN.

  • The 2017 mass murder at the First Baptist Church in Sunderland Springs, TX in which 26 parishioners were killed and 20 injured.
The BallotPedia map of the U.S. that shows gubernatorial and legislative party control of individual state governments indicates that:

Of the ten states listed below where recent church murders have occured:

  • Six states have the governorship, senate and house under Republican control.
  • No states have all three under Democratic control.
  • Four states have control mixed between Republican and Democratic control.

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Topics in this section:

bulletRecent killings in or at American churches:
bullet1974 to 1999-JUL: Atlanta, GA; Daingerfield, TX; Gonzales, LA, Bloomington, IN.
bullet1999-SEP to 2003: Ft. Worth, TX; Rochester Hills, MI;
bullet2007: Arvada & Colorado Springs, CO.
bullet Background of perpetrator Matthew Murray

bullet 2008: Knoxville, TN targeting liberals
bullet Public comments on media articles about the Knoxville murders
bullet2009: Wichita, KS
bullet 2015: 9 die in Charleston, SC church. Triggers removal of rebel flag (a.k.a. confederate flag)
bullet 2017: Murders and injuries in Antioch, VA. Mass murder and injuries in Sutherland Springs, TX -- the worst case of church violence in U.S. history.

bulletAnalysis of killings:
bullet Are Christians being targeted?; More detailed study of some murders of Christians; Conclusions

Related essays on this web site:

bulletSchool shootings in North America

bulletWhy did the Columbine / Littleton CO tragedy happen?

bulletReligious intolerance and related topics

Site navigation: Home > Religious violence > here

Home page > Christianity > Christian history, beliefs... > here

Copyright © 1999 to 2017, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Originally posted: 1999-SEP-28 
Latest update: 2017-NOV-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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