We are again facing a senseless mass murder by a white, Christian man running from shame and violently acting out his broken theology.
In Atlanta, a 25 year old man chose to murder 8 people, mostly Asian women, in a massage parlor as a means to “remove temptation” for what called his sex addiction. The victims’ names should not be forgotten, so I’m including them here. They are: Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Daoyou Feng, Yong Ae Yue, Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, and Suncha Kim. You can read more about their lives in this article.
The murderer had frequented these massage parlors prior to the murders, checked into a residential treatment facility at least twice, and (according to his parents) watched excessive amounts of pornography.
Official reports say he considered harming himself, but instead chose murder to eliminate temptation for himself and others. (You can read more specifics in this article.)
What we are here to talk about today is the role that the church, and the prolific twisted teachings and false doctrines, play in this crime and other acts of violence on women.
Two major things are at play here-The twisted, toxic, patriarchal church teachings around purity culture and the commonly held deeply racist views of Asian women (and their bodies).
First, let’s tackle the purity culture thing – The shooter’s friends and family say that he was heavily involved in his local Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) church, and had been for years. The SBC, along with a LOT of other denominations and churches, has a long history of sexism, patriarchy, and deeply toxic purity culture.
At it’s core, purity culture teaches that women are responsible for men’s sexual desires and actions. So a woman (often called temptresses by pastors and elders) can lead men into sexual sin by the way they dress, talk, or act. The sometimes unspoken flip side of this teaching is that men are NOT capable of controlling themselves. Boys are raised to believe they are sexual beings who have to be constantly on guard so that a woman doesn’t pull them astray and trick them into sin.
Both of these abusive, false doctrines are DIRECTLY connected to this tragedy and it’s time for the church to get our house in order.
If you don’t understand how purity culture, shame around sexuality, and ‘blame the woman’ theology play into violence against women, please listen to those who do. A quick Google search will show you dozens of advocates and experts who detail the connections and the harm.
Secondly – The horrific (and increasing) racism Asians are facing in the US. To be totally honest, it’s been bad for a while, but the former president’s anti-Asian rhetoric in 2020 has made it so much worse. Hate crimes against Asians have increased nearly 150% according to Forbes.
The SBC has recently taken several giant leaps backwards when it comes to racism. In 2019 they created a rule in their denomination that Critical Race Theory (CRT) and intersectionality should not be taught within the denomination if they contradict the Bible, which sounds good, except we have to realize that the Bible has been twisted to support slavery and racism for centuries. So what he SBC is actually saying is that if CRT contradicts their current interpretation of the Bible, it shouldn’t be taught.
Basically the SBC says CRT teachings on racism aren’t allowed to challenge racism if the racist can tie their beliefs to their interpretation of the Bible.
In addition to the underlying hate Asians face, the intersection of purity culture and racism is so prolific that Asian women regularly face sexually explicit catcalling and intimidation.
Purity culture’s objectification of women reaches it’s apex in pornography, which is widely consumed in conservative and fundamentalist circles. (Which, by the way, is also usually a women’s fault because it ‘usually’ means she’s not ‘sexy enough’ or is not ‘prioritizing meeting her husband’s physical needs enough’ to keep her husband from giving in to his lusty hunger for porn. It’s total BS.)
Porn featuring Asian women is often violent and plays up stereotypes of hypersexual women who crave submission or forced submission. It prompts them to find sexual pleasure by hurting the women. The ATL murderer said he was getting rid of his “temptations” because of his a sexual addiction. He believed that the women he killed were causing him to stumble, which is textbook purity culture teaching.
From the outside you might think the church has zero responsibility for one man’s violent actions, but as believers, we don’t stand on the outside to evaluate these doctrines. We can get on the inside and take a really close look at how these toxic teachings approach men, women, and sex (shame seems to be the go-to). Take a really good look at how the church community handles mental health and addiction (again, usually with shame). Take a really good look at how deeply you trust your church’s teachings and how they shape your behavior. What’s preached from the pulpit matters because it shapes our everyday thoughts, beliefs, and actions.
We should all be asking if the church taught that we are each responsible our own sexual urges instead of self shame and blaming other people for them…..Would those women still be alive?
It’s time to stop creating these deep pockets of shame and racism that fuel our resentment towards others. People are losing their lives over our lack of a Jesus-like theology that values each of us equally. Just to be clear, this is not an “agree to disagree” issue. Racism and misogyny are core flaws in the church’s teachings that oppress people and promote NOT loving your neighbor.
Racism and misogyny are highly offensive to God and we need to weed them out of our churches.
And before you dismiss yourself from this discussion by saying your church doesn’t do this, you need to know there’s no halfway. The church (including you and I as members of the church) is either loving your neighbor or dehumanizing them so you can hold power over them for your own benefit.
“Dehumanization is the process by which we become accepting of violations against human nature, the human spirit, and, for many of us, violations against the central tenets of our faith.
There is a line. It’s etched from dignity. We must never tolerate dehumanization – the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history and makes atrocities like slavery, torture, and human trafficking possible.
When we engage in dehumanizing rhetoric or promote dehumanizing images, we diminish our own humanity in the process.”
-Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness
So how do we prevent this from happening again?
First, we have to teach men that they are responsible for their actions and sexual desires. Violence towards women, especially sexual violence towards BIPOC and Asian women, will not go away until we stop teaching men that they have little control over their sexual drives. And that women are temptresses who need to do things differently.
A woman is not responsible for controlling or minimizing a man’s sexual urges. Even if the man in question is her husband.
We also need to teach men (and women) healthy coping mechanisms for handling temptation, addictions, and strong emotions. Our men need to know that their gentleness, compassion, sadness, fear, and love are valid and deserve expression. And that anger and guilt don’t have to lead to violence.
Second, we need to refuse to dismiss the racist, xenophobic roots of violence against BIPOC and Asian American women.
“The March 16th massacre is the result of intersectional causes. The suspected shooter, Robert Aaron Long, is a self-identified Christian nationalist, he had a sex addition and he wanted to kill Asians. Do not believe the myth that this attack was not racially motivated. Long’s passion for God and country is interwoven with both misogynistic and xenophobic ideologies. If the church truly desires to address anti-Asian violence in our country, it will need to first confess its own failure in discipling its congregants out of Christian nationalism as well as its failure to discern between truth and falsehoods about women and minorities in our country. Nationalism as well as hate against women and Asians are all idols that the church must be stripped of before it can ever become a vehicle of healing and hope.”
-Michelle Ami Reyes, Vice President of Asian American Christian Collaborative
Sexist AND racist beliefs fueled these murders but we, the church, are NOT powerless to prevent similar acts from occurring. The solution is to weed out our own false doctrines and racism, as we simultaneously work them out of our churches and faith communities.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice
Asian American Christian Collaborative
The Atlanta Shootings: How Misogyny, Racism, and Purity Culture Created a Deadly Combination by the Faith & Feminism Podcast
Irene M. Cho
What We Know About the Victims of the Atlanta Shooting
Details Emerge About Man Arrested in Georgia Shooting
Sexism Has Long Been Part of the Culture of Southern Baptists
Southern Baptist Beliefs About Gender and Power Contributed to the Sexual Abuse Scandal
The Long History of Sexual and Physical Violence Asian Women Face in the US
Trump’s Damaging Rhetoric Contributed to Bias Against Asian Americans White House Says After Atlanta Shooting
On Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality
Asian Women Share Stories of Racism and Harassment After the Atlanta Shooting
Sexualized, Submissive Stereotypes of Asian Women Lead to Staggering Rates of Violence
Stereotypes, Fetishes, Fantasies: Asian American Women Link Sexualization and Racism
Angela is a Faith Deconstruction Coach and host of The Deconstructing Faith Summit who helps people break free from toxic religious culture & empowers them to recover from #churchhurt. She has led online ministries for a decade, enjoys working with clients 1:1, in groups, and is a dynamic conference speaker. She’s a Lark’s Song Certified Life Coach who reaches thousands of people in 40+ countries each month on Facebook, IG, Twitter, Pinterest, and her blog.
She’s a firstborn, Enneagram 8, Gen Xer who loves to question everything. She holds a BA from Indiana Wesleyan and a Masters in Leadership from Wesley Seminary. Her graduate research project focused on leadership development and opportunities for Gen X women in the US church.
Angela and her unique online ministry are featured in Lyz Lenz’s 2019 book God Land: Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America. She has published articles in Hope for Women and HOPE is Now magazines. She has been featured in The New Republic, Publisher’s Today, and Religion News Service.
Her first book, Deconstructing Your Faith Without Losing Yourself, Will be published by Eerdmans in February 2023.
Angela is also a wife, mom to 5, and a proud resident of Marion, Indiana with her family when they’re not traveling the US in their RV.