It was with more than the usual morbid interest that I started following the story on Sunday of the shootings in Colorado at the Youth With a Mission training center and at New Life Church. I don’t think I know anyone who has been associated with YWAM, but I have become pretty familiar with similar organizations over the years.
The story took another interesting turn when it was learned that the shooter (the same guy in both cases) had been thwarted by an armed security guard at the church. Just as it seemed the media was going to run with the angle of a church having armed security guards it came out that the “guard” was a member of the congregation, a conceal-and-carry permit holder, and a volunteer by the name of Jeanne Assam who had shown up to provide ad hoc security after hearing of the earlier shooting. For those who have wondered if an armed citizen might have prevented a number of deaths a couple of weeks ago in the Omaha mall shooting, I think you have an answer.
How typical, however, that the first sentence in the story in today’s Pioneer Press cites Assam for bravery and reports that she was fired from the Minneapolis police force years ago for lying. A fine reward for citizenship, becoming an instant hero and almost as instantly having your past drug out in front of the world. It was the same treatment an elderly homeowner received when he fatally shot a teen-ager breaking into his bedroom last November: the newspapers breathlessly reported his past problems and dismissal from his position as a school principal. In both cases the law-abiding shooter’s history was an interesting detail that had nothing to do with the particular case at hand, but it quickly became the focus of the story. It was only later in the afternoon today before I got any of the back-story on the murderer himself (how sad that he’s dead; it would be interesting to see if he’d be charged with a “hate crime” based on his writings leading up to the shooting).
I’ll grant that Assam’s history is “news”, but it shouldn’t be the story. Perhaps the paper has merely used poor judgment in how the article was written and edited, or perhaps it made a conscious decision to try and discredit someone whose mere existence and actions strikes at the core beliefs it holds dear. It’s hard, after all, to keep our prejudices out of our writing, whether you’re a major market newspaper or a sole blogger in his basement.
The paper wants to make a connection between “bad cop” and “self-righteous vigilante,” perhaps to distract from the obvious “armed citizen prevents more senseless death” angle. I’m more inclined to make a connection between stalwart hero Atticus Finch regretfully shooting a mad dog and Jeanne Assam. Both the newspaper and I, however, assume that what happened years ago led directly to last weekend’s events. The difference is I can see how, whatever kind of person Assam was while on the Minneapolis Police force, the experience might have led her to seek the kind of peace that a deeper relationship with Christ provides. The fact that she was just completing a three-day fast suggests to me she is someone sincerely seeking God for direction; I get the feeling that to the newspaper it’s just another reason to imply she’s “weird.”
I suppose some liberal wag is out there writing or saying, “What kind of gun would Jesus use?” The fact is, no one is surprised to find sick people in a hospital. In the same way, you shouldn’t be surprised to find hurting people in a church. Both are a place where people can get better, though it isn’t always pleasant. In church, frequently, the key to healing is seeing how your skills and background, with all its faults, can be useful in helping others. It might not be as extreme a situation as what Jeanne Assam faced, but my prayers are with her. Not that I think God needs any encouragement in her case.