On March 16 there was a series of deadly shootings in massage parlors in Atlanta. Debates about the motive of the killer continue to swirl in the world of pundits, since every mass murder is viewed by the right and the left as an opportunity to pursue some political goal. That is not the focus of this editorial. We should pray for the souls of those killed in Atlanta, and those killed in the supermarket a few days later in Boulder. And we should pray about how these things happen and what we can do to not have them happen again.
After the Atlanta day of terror, Bishop Oscar A. Solis of Salt Lake City, and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Island Affairs, wrote, “I am deeply saddened to hear of another mass shooting that has tragically taken the lives of eight people and has renewed concerns about a rise of hostility against individuals of Asian descent. As bishops, we decry any kind of hatred and violence, particularly based on race, ethnicity, or sex. We pray for the families and friends of those who were lost, and for their communities, who may feel unsafe and vulnerable at this time.”
Bishop Solis is the first Filipino-American bishop in the history of the United States.
“This latest incident has prompted national dialogue on addressing anti-Asian bias that has taken the form of numerous other acts of physical violence, verbal attacks and destruction of property against those of Asian descent over the last year that have left communities across the country traumatized,” according to Bishop Solis.
Whether or not it can be determined what was the true motive of the Atlanta killer, the fact remains that Asian Americans do feel threatened.
“We must always stress that every human being is a brother or sister in Christ, created in the image and likeness of a loving God. Particularly during this season of Lent, let us remember God’s love and mercy for each one of us and renew the call for conversion of heart, that we may be more united to God’s love and share it with all of our neighbors.” Bishop Solis’ words should resound in the hearts of Christians, so that we can see how we can be part of the solution, not add to the problem.
Another possible motive for the massacre bandied about in the media and supplied by the murderer himself is somehow seeking sexual purity — as if Christ would be happy with someone trying to observe the Sixth Commandment by violating the Fifth Commandment in an extreme manner.
Rachel Denhollander, an Evangelical advocate for victims of sexual abuse, discussed how Christ’s teachings on purity can get warped into blaming all women for the sexual sins of men. “Every time you teach a woman in the presence of a young man that it’s her responsibility to keep a man from lusting and that she has the power to keep him from sexual perversion from what she wears and what she does, what he hears is that it’s her fault,” she told the New York Times.
The same article quoted a graduate of Evangelical grade schools, who said, “It was so rarely about the men controlling their own desires and so often about women not being temptresses.”
When the owner of the New England Patriots was arrested at a similar spa in Florida, there was a lot of snickering about him, but the humanity of the women involved was often forgotten. “Let’s not romanticize what happens inside illicit massage businesses on the best of days,” wrote Stephanie Ebbert in the Boston Globe. “The women who work in such spas are routinely treated as commodities, used and dehumanized, rated and discarded.”
Regarding the victims in Atlanta, Ebbert wrote, “As we lament how they died, let’s take an unflinching look at how they were treated in life.” Ebbert quoted Catherine Chen, who works for an anti-human trafficking organization. “Asian women are viewed as there to provide sexual services for men. There are wives and mothers and daughters and aunties — and grandmas, in some cases — who were trying to do something right and honorable for their families and ended up with this as the economic option, or through force, we don’t really know.”
Bishop Solis’ recent statement made reference to another statement he made on May 5, 2020, together with Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez of Philadelphia, chairman of the USCCB Committee for Cultural Diversity in the Church, and Bishop Shelton Fabre, chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, criticizing anti-Asian attitudes during the pandemic. They wrote, “We are also alarmed to note the increase in reported incidents of bullying and verbal and physical assaults, particularly against Americans of Asian and Pacific Island heritage. While a high percentage of Asian Americans work in the health care sector risking their own health to save lives, some have experienced rejection and requests to be treated ‘by someone else.’ Way before state and local ordinances brought to a halt almost every economic sector in the country, communities across the country, from Oakland, California to New York City, reported a sharp decline in the patronage for businesses owned and operated by Asian Americans.
“We call on Catholics, fellow Christians and all people of good will to help stop all racially motivated discriminatory actions and attitudes, for they are attacks against human life and dignity and are contrary to Gospel values. As we wrote in our pastoral letter Open Wide Our Hearts (2018), racism is ‘a failure to acknowledge another person as a brother or sister, created in the image of God.’”
Either possible motive for the killings showed a rejection of the image of God in the people killed. If we react to such horrors with just calculation about how this massacre helps the left, while that massacre helps the right, then we, too, are ignoring the image of God being desecrated. Let us ask Christ to help us not be like Pontius Pilate, but instead embrace the Truth, so that He might set all people free.