Does the church share blame in the Atlanta murders?

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You know you’ve screwed up pretty well when even your church cancels you, but was Crabtree First Baptist Church in Milton, Ga., justified in expelling a member after he committed a heinous crime?

On March 16, Aaron Long opened fire at several massage parlors in the Atlanta area, killing eight women and wounded another. The incident ignited yet another gun control debate and, because most of the victims were Asian women, charges of racism and sexism as well. Yet, a more pressing issue was soundly ignored.

In response to the shootings, the perpetrator’s church, Crabtree First Baptist Church, shut down its website and social media accounts, but posted an unusual statement in its place indicating that Long had been expelled from the congregation after the incident:

“In accordance with the biblical pattern and our church bylaws, Crabapple First Baptist Church has completed the process of church discipline to remove Robert Aaron Long from membership since we can no longer affirm that he is truly a regenerate believer in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 5).

I have no idea what their process of “church discipline” involved, and the church did not elaborate. Nor do I recall the Bible teaching that churches must tell the entire world that someone was being removed from its membership over a disciplinary issue.

But the church’s actions send a very strong message that if you’re a Christian and you commit a sin, the church may abandon you if the sin is bad enough.

“We want to be clear that this extreme and wicked act is nothing less than rebellion against our Holy God and His Word,” the statement read.

But, I’m not so sure it is as simple as “rebellion.” In fact, it seems the church is engaged in selective enforcement.

According to the Christian Post, Long told law enforcement that he would regularly visit two of the massage parlors he attacked. Police had identified the spas as places where sex work and possible sexual exploitation regularly occurred.

The suspect told police he saw the people who worked at the spas as “temptations” he needed to “eliminate.”

As a result, some dipsticks apparently blamed the church for its teachings on sexual immorality, which prompted the shutdown of the church’s website and social media accounts to “protect its members.” Shutting down a website is also a great way to buy time to clean it of anything that worldly people may find offensive and to hide what few steps the church took to address a broader problem.

The statement issued by Crabtree church goes to great lengths to proclaim that no blame can be assigned to the victims. Church leaders put the blame squarely on Long’s shoulders as the man who ultimately decided to pull the trigger.

What the church said was true. However, what Crabtree did in its statement is completely fail to recognize the role Satan played in this ordeal.

Satanic influence

Long admitted that he had a sexual addiction.

A Washington Post story noted that Long blamed his descent on pornography use and even sought treatment for his addiction from a Christian counseling center. Of course, true to form, the Washington Post reframed the entire issue around one of the center’s services offering to help people seeking to escape the gay lifestyle rather just openly embracing their chosen sexuality.

But, the root issue is pornography.

Porn use will take people places they do not want to go, from which it is very difficult, if not impossible, to return. It is a scourge on society and Satan’s favorite weapon in neutralizing the Christian church.

As I noted in my book, Pornocide: Why Lust is Killing Your Faith, Stealing Your Joy and Destroying Your Life, 64 percent of Christian men and 15 percent of women admit to viewing porn at least once a month as do 33 percent of pastors.

Conducted by the Barna Group, that study was published in 2014. Those figures are undoubtedly higher today, especially after more than a year of imposed social isolation, closed churches and readily-available explicit images courtesy of the internet and overly-sexualized imagery presented in many forms as “entertainment.”

In my book, I noted that researchers found 93 percent of boys and 62 percent of girls were exposed to pornography before turning 18. That study was conducted in 2008. Is there ANY doubt that those figures have climbed to 100 percent in the 13 years since it was released?

When I published Pornocide, a study showed that one in five girls and one in 20 boys would be sexually assaulted by their 13th birthdays.

Pornography lays at the root of nearly every societal evil we’re contending with today from exploitation and sex trafficking to divorce and sexual confusion. Yet, viewing pornography is encouraged by society and tolerated by the church.

That’s why I’m not convinced that Long’s actions can be considered as simple “rebellion” against God.

It is very possible that demonic influences at work in our culture were also at work influencing Aaron Long’s mind. The Bible is full of stories of Jesus and his disciples casting evil spirits out of people, yet in 2021, we laugh at the idea of demonic possession.

Because we laugh, rather than take it seriously, we suffer the consequences of our ignorance and arrogance.

In Ephesians 4:27, Apostle Paul warns believers against “giving the devil a foothold.” Pornography is an open door to many types of evil influences. It is a mind-altering evil permeating every corner of society to the point that some people don’t even know if they are male or female.

Porn’s continued use launches people onto a slippery slope where people crave more explicit images the longer they remain in lust’s grip. In my book, I noted that most guys start out viewing non-nude images like models in swimsuits and lingerie, but as they travel further down that slippery slope, their interests devolve to:

  • Softcore porn images to
  • Hardcore porn images to
  • Hardcore videos to
  • Live performance shows

For many men, it stops there. But for others, the path continues into potential criminal activity including:

  • Prostitution or affairs
  • Exhibitionism
  • Voyeurism
  • Homosexual experimentation or cross-dressing
  • Sex with animals
  • Child pornography
  • Child enticement, including chatting and texting with minors
  • Molestation and rape
  • Kidnapping and murder

The silent secret

The issue that few people want to address concerns our young people who are being sexualized at very young ages. They begin their journey down the slippery slope of lust by viewing child porn through texting and video performances with other people their age.

In the past, young boys would be mesmerized by Playboy centerfolds of college-age women. That, would become their “age of attraction.” Today, with kids as young as 9 and 10 sharing nude photos and videos with each other, what is their “age of attraction?”

People don’t work their way up that slippery slope. The gravity of sin always pulls people further downward.

At 21 years of age, Long admits he has been addicted to pornography for many years. I suspect he was sexting with his peers back in high school or earlier.

“In the strongest possible terms, we condemn the actions of Aaron Long as well as his stated reasons for carrying out this wicked plan. The shootings were a total repudiation of our faith and practice, and such actions are completely unacceptable and contrary to the gospel,” Crabtree Baptist Church noted.

Yet, so is pornography.

The indifferent church

I would love to know if that church has ANY programs to help people who feel trapped by pornography to escape. If they are like nearly every other Christian church in America, they offer no help of any type. They may talk about the issue once a year at a men’s breakfast or in passing as part of a single sermon.

The church doesn’t like to talk about the problem and neither do most women. It’s uncomfortable. Consequently, rather than bringing the issue into the light, the neglect keeps the problem festering in darkness.

Oh, pastors will say they provide one-on-one counseling when sought. But, if the statistics are true in that two-thirds of men, one-fifth of women and one-third of any church’s pastors have a problem with pornography, then the church doesn’t have nearly enough resources to provide one-on-one counseling.

So, as a result of this unfortunate incident, we will talk about banning assault weapons and prohibiting gay conversion therapy. Society will bash white racism, white men in general and Christianity as a whole.

Society will express disgust and anger over this incident while turning a completely blind eye to the true and genuine problem that lays at the root – pornography.

Perhaps it is time we had a serious national debate over the addictive qualities of lust and the impact it can have on individuals and society at large.

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Greg Gerber

A native of Wisconsin who moved to Arizona in 2009, Greg Gerber is a DODO -- Dad of Daughters Only -- to three grown daughters. He worked as a journalist for many years before pursuing a career as a faith-based writer, author, coach and speaker. Greg is the author of Pornocide: How Lust is Killing Your Faith, Stealing Your Joy and Destroying Your Life.

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