The Silent Image of God: Reflection on Atlanta Massacre

“He was attempting to take out that temptation,” said Captain Jay Baker, of the Cherokee County police department in correspondence to the New York Times. The temptation in question? Women. Asian Women.

 Robert Aaron Lang, a devout member of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrestled with his sexual deviancy as he attempted to follow church-sanctioned ideals of purity. A long-standing member of the Crabtree Baptist Church, he played drums and attended regularly, according to an interview with his pastor with NPR. His deep-seated desire to follow the SBC’s dogma surrounding abstinence produced such a fervor in Lang that he set out to eliminate anything that would transgress that expectation.

This so-called attempt to “take out” the temptation materialized in the form of murdering the women that worked in two Atlanta massage parlors, brutally gunning them down as they worked with a 9-millimeter hand-gun. His fervor claimed eight victims, six of which were Asian American women: Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Paul Andre Michels, Xiaojie Tan and Daoyou Feng. 

Lang had a history of extreme response to what he perceived as sexual temptation. According to The New York Times, he had checked himself into a Christian rehab clinic in order to rehabilitate what he perceived as a sex addiction. Lang had an apparent and deep-seated fear of transgressing the bounds of his faith network, so deep in fact he was willing to murder anything that might aid his fall.

This maddening tragedy is not simply an accident, or a case of psychosis; it is the failure of the church, of society and of our nation in motion.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans have skyrocketed since last March, exemplified by former President Trump’s nicknaming of COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus.” Out of xenophobia and hostility, people have murdered, tortured and slandered Asian Americans, creating a national atmosphere of fear and pain. This stereotyped “model minority” was afforded no protections.

This white terrorist murdered moms, business owners, friends and sisters—women who were an important part of their communities. These women mattered. Hyun Jung Grant loved karaoke and made the best kimchi in the world, according to her son, Randy, in an interview with USA Today. Xiaojie Tan was a devout mother, who considered her two boys her world; she was curious, fun and insightful. Suncha Kim loved line dancing and cooking for her neighbors, family and friends. These women loved and were loved. These women mattered.

This travesty is indicative of the church’s place in harboring deadly understandings of masculinity and engagement with the world. After the massacre, the Southern Baptist Convention pronounced Lang’s deeds as “the result of a sinful heart and depraved mind”, according to The New York Times, and that his behavior was entirely against the teaching of the Bible. Then where, pray tell, did he develop this extremism and hostile understanding of women? As a man deeply and devoutly imbedded in the church, where did this action plan stem from?

The church may repudiate this behavior, but it is their inaction that results in a seeping, insidious doctrine, filled with anti-women and xenophobic sentiments. The church has done little to nothing to provide care for the foreigner although it is clearly outlined in their faith’s text to do so. The church holds antiquated and objectifying understandings of physical purity, which have a direct and negative effect on women everywhere. It is obvious from reading Scripture that Jesus has a pro-woman, pro-justice agenda, with a special emphasis on caring for those that are held in a negative light by the world, an obvious example being the good Samaritan. There is no other explanation for the church’s tolerance of deadly ideology other than false doctrine and the lack of an ethic of care.

How many mothers must we lose? How many sisters? How many neighbors and friends and wives? What critical mass must be reached for the lives of those who aren’t white and evangelical to matter? How high the hill of bodies must we stand upon before the stench of injustice is more than we can bear? The crisis of Asian Americans in this country is our crisis; it is the church’s crisis; it is Jesus’ crisis. Our God takes ownership and care of those in pain, and we are His children, and we will do His mission. To Asian Americans, we hear you, and, darling, we are on our way to see justice done. We love you. Your lives matter.