Last night, Robert Aaron Long was named as the suspect in a series of shootings at Georgia massage parlors that left eight people dead, most of whom were Asian.
It’s still early. There’s a lot we don’t know. But among the details coming out about Long, here’s one that unfortunately isn’t shocking at all: He attended a Baptist church.
The Daily Beast spoke to someone he attended high school with, who let reporters know Long was always into God:
“He was very innocent seeming and wouldn’t even cuss. He was sorta nerdy and didn’t seem violent from what I remember. He was a hunter and his father was a youth minister or pastor. He was big into religion.”
A neighbor of the family added: “They come across as a good Christian family.”
The family attended Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, Georgia, which describes itself as “an autonomous local church that is in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention.” (Long’s father is not listed as a pastor there.) The church’s website and social media have since been taken down, but not before people noticed a Facebook post by the church celebrating how Long was dedicating himself to Jesus:
A 2018 video on the Crabapple Facebook page features Long discussing his Christian journey toward baptism.
“As many of you may remember, when I was 8 years old I thought I was becoming a Christian, and got baptized during that time. And I remember a lot of the reason for that is a lot of my friends in my Sunday school class were doing that,” Long says in the clip.
“And after that time, there wasn’t any fruit from the root that is our salvation.”
He goes on to say that when he was in seventh grade he attended a youth group and a speaker was discussing the biblical story of the prodigal son.
“The son goes off and squanders all that he has and lives completely for himself and then, when he finds he’s wanting to eat pig food, he realized there’s something wrong and he goes back to his father and his father runs back to him and embraces him. And by the grace of God I was able to draw the connection there and realize this is a story between what happened with me and God. I ran away living completely for myself, and he still wants me, and so that’s when I was saved.”
What happened between that speech and now? Or was he roughly the same person back then? Given the SBC’s racism problems, Long’s apparent white supremacy wouldn’t make him an anomaly in the organization. You can fully expect Southern Baptist leaders to denounce the shootings, but they’re also going to pretend that the culture they created and supported in their members churches had nothing to do with his mindset. As if he got radicalized due to something else.
I’m not arguing that Christianity led him to commit this heinous act. But without more information, let’s not pretend the absence of Christianity was the problem.
Religion is not a virtue. It didn’t prevent this mass shooting. How many examples of that do people need to see before they accept that faith is often a part of the problem instead of the solution?