Are Christians being targeted?
Analysis of recent church killings
Topics in this essay:
Many conservative Christians feel that Christians, particularly
Fundamentalists and other Evangelicals, are being targeted for assassination.
During the year after America's worst church shooting, many conservative
Christian leaders commented on the increasing incidences of strangers killing
Christians. Many of these leaders were distressed that the mass murder in Fort
Worth was not acknowledged by the federal government as a religious hate crime:
Charles Colson, commenting on a speech about hatred by
President Clinton, said: "Yes, Mr. President, I heartily agree:
Hatred is a plague on our nation. But I'm curious about why, according
to press reports, you seem to have left some people out of your litany."
He then listed the conservative Christians who had died at school
shootings in the Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, the
Heath High School in W. Paducah, KY, and the Wedgwood Baptist
Church in Ft. Worth, TX. Colson continued: "You left out, for
one, Cassie Bernall, a Colorado girl who died because someone hated
Christians. You left out Susan Jones, a Christian seminarian who was
shot by someone who entered her church in Fort Worth, Texas, killing her
and six other Christians. You left out those three kids who were shot
while praying at their high school in Paducah, Ky. Why?...The president
surely is not unaware of these outrages against Christians. They all
received national media coverage, and the link between the shootings and
the faith of the victims is well established. The answer is, I'm afraid,
that, in elite circles, to paraphrase social critic Anthony Daniels, we
see the political equivalent of 'most favored nation' policy.
Victimizing certain groups earns you the condemnation of our political
class. But victimize other, unfavored, groups -- like Christians -- and
that same class will yawn, or, as the president did last weekend, just
ignore it. Call it 'tolerance lite.'" 1,2
Brent Bozell of CNSNews.com wrote: "So why, despite
mounting evidence from Fort Worth, and Paducah and Littleton before
that, are Christians not now victims of 'hate crimes'? Some media
outlets -- such as CBS, CNN, and Time -- apparently believe, to
paraphrase Orwell's 'Animal Farm,' that some 'hate crimes' are more
equal than others." 3
Dick Armey, the House Majority Leader issued a statement on
1999-SEP-19 Referring to "the tragic shootings in Littleton,
Colorado, and Fort Worth, Texas" he wrote, in part: "I regret to
say that one area where we're losing ground is our treatment of
religious believers. We are witnessing a rising level of bigotry against
people of faith, especially Christians."
William Merrell, spokesperson for the Executive
Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention was quoted by the
Washington Times as saying: "I believe there is a growing climate of
hostility that is directed against Christians." 4
More detailed analysis of some recent murders of
The three most frequent examples cited of Christians being targeted for death
appear to be:
The Columbine High School in Littleton, CO: Two senior
students, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, murdered 14
students and one teacher on 1999-APR-20. They also injured 20 students.
After the killing rampage, they committed suicide. One of the victims
was Cassie Bernall, 17.
There are two opposing versions about her interaction with the mass
murderers on that tragic day:
According to Evangelical Christian sources and the popular media:
- The perpetrators were motivated by a desire to kill Christians.
- Just before her death, Cassie was in the library, studying her
- Eric Harris burst into the room.
- He asked her whether she believed in God.
Cassie clasped her hands in prayer, closed her eyes and said "Yes."
Erik killed her. 5
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department issued its
report on the killings in mid-2000-MAY. It consists of almost 700
pages of text, audio files and video clips, on a CD. Officials
conducted about 5,000 interviews of witnesses, and analyzed over
10,000 pieces of evidence. They concluded that:
- The perpetrators were motivated by a desire to kill fellow
students who made up the power cliques in the school -- the students
who had harassed, ridiculed and marginalized Klebold and Harris.
Religion was not a motivation.
- Just before her death, Cassie Bernall was in the library,
studying for a Shakespeare exam.
- Eric Harris burst into the room.
He went to Cassie's library table, "where he bent down and
saw two frightened girls. He slapped the table top twice, said
'Peek-a-boo,' and fired, killing Cassie Bernall."
Student Valeen Schnurr was at another table. She had been
critically hurt earlier by Dylan Klebold. She began to pray, 'Oh
God, help me.'
"Klebold...came back and taunted her about her belief in God.
He then walked away." 6
Cassie Bernall has become a martyr, within conservative Christian
circles. She is believed to have died because of her faith in God, and
her willingness to confirm that belief, even if it cost her her life.
Her mother has written a moving account of her daughter's life and
death. It has been published in hard cover, paperback and now in mass
The account pieced together by the Sheriffs Department told a very
different story: It was Dylan Klebold and Valeen Schnurr who talked
about God. Dylan may have decided to not take Valeen's life because of
her faith in God. He had every opportunity to kill her, but walked
The Heath High School in W. Paducha, KY: Michael
Carneal, 14, killed three fellow students (Kayce Steger, 15, Jessica
James, 17, and Nicole Hadley, 14) on 1997-DEC-1 with a 22 cal. pistol.
Five others were injured. At his trial, Carneal was found mentally ill;
he received a sentence of life imprisonment.
Two opposing explanations have been given for the mass murder:
The early media reports of the tragedy appear to have been garbled
-- probably because of the rush to meet media deadlines.
Unfortunately, it is the initial account which tends to be remembered
by the public:
Michael Carneal is a "self-professed atheist"
- He occasionally heckled a prayer group as they prayed in the
school corridor at their weekly meeting.
- He went to school with a stolen handgun and specifically
targeted the prayer group; his goal was to kill Christians.
More detailed investigation and interviews showed that:
- Michael Carneal came from an intact, religious home.
- He was baptized at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Paducah.
- He was confirmed at the same church a few months before the
shooting, in 1997-Spring.
According to his minister, he was not an Atheist, He said
that the shooting "was the act of a sinful Christian."
He was undersized for his age. Fellow students said that he "talked
- He had been continually harassed, marginalized and ridiculed by
other students -- particularly by members of the football team, who
also led the prayer meeting at his school. The tormenting eventually
caused him to snap.
He said he first intended to kill himself but changed his mind
and killed the Christians after "thinking about all the things
done to me, all the names they called me."
- He told psychologists that anti-gay taunting by fellow students
played a key role in his decision to seek revenge.
Court psychologists reported that he suffers from chronic
depression and low self-esteem. He was taunted by the other students
for his suspected gay sexual orientation. The rumor that he is gay
was even reported in the school newspaper. Carneal denies that he is
gay. The psychologists report referred to "Mike's detailed
extensive harassment at school in recent years in which he was
called gay, faggot, nerd, geek" and other epithets..."He
stated that he was also spat upon, hit, put in headlocks and
threatened with violence."
Student and captain of the school's football team, Ben Strong,
17, led the prayer group on the day of the shooting. He bravely
approached Carneal and persuaded him to give up his gun. Later he
commented that the earlier teasing of Carneal "was just friendly
Carneal apparently went to school with a .22 caliber weapon with
the intent to murder. His anger was not specifically directed at
Christians or football players; it was not directed at a group because
they were praying. He simply attacked those who had been relentlessly
harassing and ridiculing him. A second reason why he chose to shoot at
the praying students might have been that they formed a convenient
The Wedgwood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, TX: Many
Fundamentalists and other Evangelicals have viewed this tragedy as an
attempt to assassinate Christians; they see it as a religious hate
crime. In reality, the prime cause of the mass murders was the mental
state of the perpetrator. He may have been depressed over his father's
death. He is generally regarded as a mentally ill individual who had
totally lost control. A secondary motivation for the crime appears to be
that he was a radical conservative Christian who hated Jews and wanted
to see them wiped off the face of the earth. He was angry at Baptists
because of their attempts to convert Jews to Christianity. His murdering
spree was not an anti-Christian act; it was an expression of
uncontrolled rage against Baptists, by a mentally ill, radical conservative Christian
An analysis of the five killings in or at churches shows that:
The 1999-JUL murder in Bloomington, IN is different from all of the
- It was in the Midwest.
- The killing happened outside of a church.
- It was at a United Methodist church -- a mainline Christian
- The location and the victim were probably not chosen for religious
- It was racially motivated hate crime.
All of the other murders:
- Occurred in the Southern U.S. (AL, LA, and two in TX).
- Happened inside the church.
- The churches were all Baptist -- a conservative Christian
- One was caused by a family dispute that degenerated into extreme
violence. The others were probably all perpetrated by deranged
individuals who were mentally ill.
- There has been only instance where religious hatred was involved;
and then it was a secondary cause: The mass murder in Fort Worth
appears to have been by a member of an extreme conservative Christian
group expressing rage at Southern Baptists for their refusal to be
- The average homicide rate of people attending church is less than
one per year, over the period 1974 to 1999 inclusive. This is miniscule,
compared to the tens of thousands of individuals murdered each year in
America, in locations other than churches.
- There seems to have been a significant increase in church murders in
1999. This escalation has not continued into the year 2000.
An analysis of the two most common high school murder cases which
have been cited as evidence of Christian assassination shows:
- The Columbine killers did not target Christians. The opposite
might have been true. Dylan Klebold might have decided to NOT kill
Valeen Schnurr because she was a Christian.
The Heath High School killings in W. Paducah, KY were
traceable to marginalization, exclusion and ridicule of the
perpetrator by fellow students who were both football players and
members of a prayer group. His actions were not anti-Christian,
anti-prayer or anti-football. He had simply decided to end the
relentless persecution, by shooting those responsible.
- An analysis of the remaining high school murder cases indicates that
they were motivated either by mental illness or by extreme anger caused
by marginalization and ridicule.
The average number of students murdered each year in schools
is fewer than the number of youth killed every day elsewhere.
- Conservative Christians appear to be at greater risk for homicide
than followers of other faith groups, particularly in the southern U.S.
- Based on initial and garbled media coverage, many Americans feel
that Christians are being targeted for death by non-Judeo-Christians.
This cannot be supported by the facts. The vast majority of mass killers
are fellow Christians.
The motivation for the killings can generally be traced to:
- mentally ill, deranged individuals, and
- students that retaliate after perhaps years of vicious harassment
by fellow students.
- Churches and schools are, relatively, very safe places.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Politicians don't count Wedgwood shooting as hate crime,"
Baptist Press, at:
Charles Colson, "BreakPoint" radio broadcast, 1999-SEP-27.
Brent Bozell, "Suddenly Clueless in Fort Worth," CNSNews.com,
Christine Gardner, "Fort Worth: Church shooting creates new martyrs."
Christianity Today, 1999-OCT-25.
Misty Bernall, "She said yes: The unlikely martyrdom of Cassie Bernall,"
Pocket Books, (2000).
Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
- AANEWS, 2000-MAY-22.
Lou Chibbaro, Jr., "Young gays traumatized by shooting," Washington
Blade, 1999-MAY-7, at:
Tom Flint, "Was schoolyard killing gay revenge?" Seattle Gay News
Ted Bridis, "Shooter in Paducah, [sic] Kentucky, High School is a
Christian," Associated Press, 1997-DEC-3. See:
Copyright © 1999 to 2000 incl., by Ontario Consultants on
Originally posted: 1999-SEP-28
Latest update: 2001-DEC-6
Author: B.A. Robinson