Another school shooting America
Would I have said I’m Christian, or kept silent? Which would I prefer: a bullet to the brain or a bleeding leg? Would I have been ready to face him immediately, or pray I survive?
On Oct. 1, a 26-year-old man killed 10 people and wounded nine more at Umpqua Community College, a small college in Roseburg, Oregon. The shooter allegedly demanded all the people he encountered stand up if they were Christian. If they did, he would shoot them in the head; if they didn’t respond or do anything, he would shoot them in the leg, according to reports by survivors and police. The shooter was killed by police during a shootout.
Please reflect on the lives of these 10 people killed, nine people wounded and hundreds directly affected by this horrific violence. If more information about the victims is released to the public, take a moment to learn about each of their lives.
It is terrifying that this happened on a small campus not dissimilar from our own.
Now go and hug as many friends as you can.
Do I hate the shooter? I’m not sure I can answer that unless I was forced to experience such a violent situation, to look into the eyes of this man and see him hold the gun up at me and others.
But I would and do strive to forgive this man. He did indeed kill innocent people in a brutal way and held psychotic hatred for organized religion. But if there’s one thing Christ said it was to love your enemies.
Let it not be said that forgiveness is the easy way, the comfortable escape. This tragedy will tear at the souls of the families of the victims, perhaps for their whole lives. But it is faith — in God, in humanity, in ourselves — that compels us who follow Christ to never stop making that effort.
I’m Eastern Orthodox Christian, and in our religion we consider martyrs, meaning people who die for the faith, to be the first among the saints. Throughout the centuries, Christians have been persecuted, tortured, mutilated and murdered for their faith. The persecution of Christians — and I mean the violent kind — is not something you hear much about in the headlines, but not a single Orthodox liturgy goes by without remembering the many martyrs for Christianity.
I consider the people shot by the killer for being Christian to indeed be martyrs. And let’s remember that there were people of other beliefs who were shot by the shooter or ran or hid from him. We must all open ourselves with empathy and love to combat the malice of the shooting.
I imagine there are many Christians out there today agonizing over whether they would have said they were a Christian as they stared down the barrel of the gun leveled at their head.
I must admit I’d probably have kept my mouth shut.
I developed a panic disorder after a traumatic experience two years ago, which involved many existential crises. I became familiar with that inexplicable yet unforgettable feeling of dread. I would stop feeling like I was me. I would be filled with regret and hopelessness. I quite literally felt like I was going to die or pop out of existence.
I can understand why someone would hesitate. Just hours prior they had been going about their day normally, then suddenly confronted with their death.
I’ve gotten good at treating the dread I feel during a panic attack as nothing more than a physiological reaction, something that can be breathed through. And no matter how much training, if you will, I received with each panic attack, I experienced nothing anywhere near the terror they did.
The shooter did not decide who was a martyr. He was there to murder.
No one “should” be martyred. To anyone who did not speak out of fear — or anyone terrified over whether they would have or not — do not let guilt consume you.
The people who literally stood up for their Christian faith expressed such infinite courage in the face of the clear and present violence that was to be inflicted upon them. I cannot put into words what this means to me.
At the same time, those who were too terrified to answer should not let themselves be trapped in a cage of guilt. We answer to a loving God, not hatred.
Everyone who survived that day, Christian or otherwise, survived an ordeal that may be with them for their whole lives. We must be there for them.
For Christians, this time should be for reflecting on our personal faith. Our hesitation should not linger as guilt, but rather should solidify into redoubling our efforts to follow Christ’s teachings.
I hope we will take this incident as an opportunity to be galvanized, to actually solve the societal failures that led to this and the 294 other mass shootings that occurred this year alone. In addition, I hope our country will take a moment to look at the people who have faith as a foundation upon which to rest their weary and heartbroken souls after this tragic day, and understand that this is the beauty that faith provides people every day.
Michael Tkaczevski is a senior journalism major. You can email him firstname.lastname@example.org.