The topic of school shootings has stirred me; both emotionally and mentally. I fear there is something to be learned from these experiences. Today I delved into some research, some biblical studies and some social commentary to see what may be derived of such events. I will not pretend to be an expert, but simply to share my findings on the matter in hopes that it will stir you and me both to be better ministers of the Gospel amidst an evil creation.
The following information is borrowed from ‘Rampage School Shooters: A Typology’ by Peter Langman, Ph.D.
Dr. Peter Langman has categorized the school shooters of the past few decades in the following three ways:
- Traumatized—experienced psychological injury or pain.
The traumatized shooters all came from broken homes. They suffered physical and/or sexual abuse. Each had at least one parent with substance abuse problems, and each had at least one parent with a criminal history. Other common characteristics are mistreatment by non-parent partner of parent, traumatic events (such as loss of parent), foster care and history of non-lethal suicide attempts or cutting. A final observation is that all the people analyzed who are typified as traumatized had accomplices—some that participated in the shootings and some that did not.
- Psychotic—mental disorder characterized by symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations that indicate impaired contact with reality.
The psychotic shooters all came from typical families with no history of abuse, parental substance abuse, or parental incarceration. The psychotic shooters exhibited symptoms of either schizophrenia or schizotypal personality disorder, including paranoid delusions, delusions of grandeur, and auditory hallucinations. Reports include fear and paranoia of monsters or demons, voices that only they can hear, imaginary people (friend or foe), a belief that they are not human like everyone else, belief they have superhuman characteristics or a superhuman calling.
The psychopathic type is characterized by a lack of empathy, a sense of superiority and contempt for others, skill in impression management, pleasure in deceiving others, and sadistic delight in inflicting pain on humans and/or animals. Other moral crimes usually accompany such individuals such as theft and vandalism. The psychopathic shooters had intact families with no evidence of abuse or neglect and had no known psychotic symptoms. The psychopathic killers do not show remorse for their actions because they lack an understanding of good and evil.
You may have seen the Morgan Freeman quote being widely circulated on blogs and social media outlets:
It’s because of the way the media reports it. Turn on the news and see how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities…[The shooters] are household names, but do you know the name of a single ‘victim’ of Columbine?
Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basement see the news and want to top it by doing something worse and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he’ll be remembered as a horrible monster instead of a sad nobody.
This quote did not really come from Morgan Freeman. It was a simple ploy to get an opinion into wide circulation. But, the psychology suggests there may be some truth to it, nonetheless. To the shooters, every shooting sets a new standard for the next.
One of the traumatized shooters came to school with the intent of shooting only himself, but was talked into shooting others by some friends instead as it would make a bigger impression. In their eyes they are making recompense for the unearned trauma they have received and the bigger the trauma, the bigger the recompense.
Psychotic shooters live in a warped reality where they believe they are in some way being alienated or even hunted. In their warped reality they are fighting against alienation and must make a profound statement by killing as many as possible. Because these shootings were a survival instinct of sorts, the psychotic shooters did not commit suicide.
Because the psychopathic shooters have a superiority complex, they have a natural tendency to do worse than what was done prior; the greater the crime, the greater their satisfaction.
You will notice I do not identify a single shooter as I would not want to contribute to the glorification of these horrific events.
At this point, I could go on talking about the shooters’ responsibility before God. The traumatized shooters showed remorse for their actions. Even though (those who lived) felt justified to a certain degree, they had the moral sense to acknowledge the evil in their deeds. The Psychotic shooters, trapped in-between a moral reality and a delusion, do not always come to a realization of the true morality of their actions and therefore lack a sense of responsibility. The psychopathic shooters always lack responsibility because they do not even know the sense of the word due to their lack of moral compass.
No, I wish to talk about our responsibility as ministers of the Gospel. As I read through the background stories of the shooters, I was able to identify distinct similarities between them and people I know well—not to mention with myself, at times. Which of us does not minister to traumatized—hurting, pain inflicted—people who have suffered at the hands of the evil forces of this world? We have a responsibility to such as these.
I won’t pretend to be equipped to diagnose psychological disorders, but the reality is some people are distinctly ‘odd;’ and how are we to know who of these might be delusional since they rarely even know, themselves? Likewise, I would not be quick to cry demon possession, but I’m reminded of the father who came to Jesus saying, “Lord, have pity on my son! He has a bad case of epilepsy and often falls into a fire or into water” (Matthew 17.15). Was not this boy tormented by evil so that he was caused to do acts which his conscience spoke against? Possession or not, many of those we minister to are tormented by forces of evil in this world that warps their reality. We have a responsibility to such as these.
And how many have we met who lack a moral compass? I’ve had numerous discussions where I will show someone a scriptural mandate, but it is accepted without conviction. Their conscience does not bear witness of the truth. Whether we accept these as possessed or simply affected by evil, there is a stark comparison between the person who lacks the ability to discern evil and good and the story of Legion (Mark 5)—the man who was fully under the control of the indwelling evil spirits. Again, I will not attempt to diagnose such as these, but simply to identify the points of comparison. Many have been far more than influenced by evil and are infected with it to the point they cannot discern morality. We have a responsibility to such as these.
THE MYTH OF ADOLESCENCE
Doctors, researchers and biologists spend countless hours attempting to find a cure for cancer, or at least better treatments. Many argue that we should not spend so much money trying to cure cancer. No, the money should be spent to learn where cancer comes from so it can be prevented in the first place. This argument has continued in the field of cancer research for decades.
The same exists in the church. We work tirelessly to minister to those who have been affected, influenced and infected by our wicked, fallen creation. But I wonder if effort could (should?) also be spent preventatively.
I’ve been studying a book called Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris with a couple of my teen boys. The third chapter addresses The Myth of Adolescence. It seems these young men have read a lot of the same research I have. Essentially, a youth is capable of adult responsibility, but is stifled because society at large views them as ill-equipped and lacking in real value. In general, teens are expected to go to school, mess up a lot, but still graduate, play video games, watch movies and TV and spend way too much time on Facebook. Needless to say, the majority of today’s youth live up to the standard. They lack value because they are told they lack value. But is this true?
A new wave has occurred in the last decade, appropriately titled ‘post-adolescence.’ Due primarily to economic change, teens are expected to go off to college where they will incur a lot of debt at the hands of credit cards and student loans. They will drink alcohol and experiment with sex and drugs—and hopefully scrape by with a C average. Why? Because that is what our society says they are to do with this period of their lives. It is expected of them and they are happy to meet that standard.
The most recent shooting was by a 20 year old, full grown man. He lived with his mother as his parents were divorced. The shooter had Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. Reportedly, the parents both did everything they could to accommodate every need of his. Do you see the problem? He was never required to grow up. People with Asperger’s are typically productive members of society, but just like any other child, they must be trained by parents to function in the real world. The shooter never received the moral and practical education necessary. His parents had low expectations of him and as a result he never rose to a higher standard.
I have very high expectations for myself because my parents had high—yet realistic—expectations of me as a child and a youth. As ministers I believe there are two areas we ought to be involved in raising the bar for expectations of those we minister to in order to preventatively minister to those who are at risk for being affected, influenced and infected by the evil forces of this world. (If we are honest, this includes everyone.)
- Ministry to Parents
“…these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children” (Deuteronomy 6.6-7a).
I’ll ask a simple rhetorical question. How are parents to teach something to their children, they do not understand? Simply, they cannot. We must equip our parents with the tenants of the faith so that they can teach them to their children.
And more than that, we must equip them to teach what they do know. Look at the practicality given by Moses:
“[you] shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6.7b-8).
These were practical ways in the days of Moses for the parents to pass on their faith to their children. Today the church must provide practical teaching for our parents to hand their faith down to their children.
- Ministry to Students
The reality is, not all parents will succeed in this handoff. And how many students do we have in our student ministries whose parents do not attend church or do not believe? Hopefully many. And to these we must equip with the word of God to the best of our ability.
But there is one thing we must do first. We must first show them the love of God and their value in the eyes of God. Then we can equip them as servants of God. When they see God’s high expectations of obedience, they will understand it in light of God’s love and according to God’s mercy and have a desire to meet that standard, more and more every day; they will have high expectations for themselves because of the high expectations of a loving God.
Finally, I would like to exhort with these two thoughts:
- There was none too lowly for Christ to minister to. Therefore, there are none too lowly—too traumatized, too psychotic, too psychopathic—for the church to minister to. The Spirit of the one who is in us is bigger.
- Jesus did not come simply to minister. He chose 12 and equipped them to minister to the needs of others. These 12 went out to equip more. Yes, we are in the business of ministering, but let us also be in the business of equipping. To come along side the hurting in their time of need is great, but we must also anticipate need and equip the body of Christ to meet these needs—and I would argue this equipping must start with children and spread to teens, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Luke 18.16).