The Gist: The North Fulton church where the suspect in a series of shootings at metro Atlanta spas was an active member has released a statement harshly condemning the shootings. The church has also started the process of church discipline to revoke his membership in the church.
The Church: The suspect in the shootings, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long attended Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton. Shortly after the shootings occurred last week, the church removed its Facebook page and took its website down, citing concerns for the safety of its members. When the site re-emerged late last week, it contained a statement about the shootings and Long followed by a brief frequently asked questions section on its front page.
Why It Matters: In the aftermath of the shooting, several Asian American advocacy groups and political groups began to sound the alarm about an increase in anti-Asian sentiment, believing the shootings to be racially motivated. When the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department rejected these claims — instead saying the crimes were related to “sex addiction” and a desire by Long to eliminate temptation — questions arose about Long’s religious upbringing and those familiar with the teachings of conservative Christian churches began to talk about the purity culture that is common within some churches.
Purity Culture: For those unfamiliar with the term, purity culture in a nutshell refers to a set of teachings that are popular in many conservative churches. These teachings include strict adherence to traditional gender roles, abstaining from sex outside of marriage, modest attire for female members and messaging that often casts women as a source of temptation for men.
Critics of this movement immediately seized on law enforcement’s characterization of the suspect’s motive, prompting Crabapple First Baptist and other religious leaders to respond.
The Statement: Below is the church’s statement in its entirety. The frequently asked questions are available on the church’s website, here.
On Tuesday evening, March 16, 2021, we heard the tragic news of the brutal murders of 8 individuals, six of whom were of Asian descent, and of the aggravated assault of one victim who survived. We were absolutely devastated at this senseless loss of life and callous disregard for human beings created in the image of God. We grieve for the victims and their families, and we continue to pray for all of those affected by this heinous crime as they deal with unimaginable pain and sorrow.
Furthermore, we were absolutely distraught when we found out that the shooter was a member of our congregation. The Long family have been members of our church for many years. We watched Aaron grow up and accepted him into church membership when he made his own profession of faith in Jesus Christ. These unthinkable and egregious murders directly contradict his own confession of faith in Jesus and the gospel.
We want to be clear that this extreme and wicked act is nothing less than rebellion against our Holy God and His Word. Aaron’s actions are antithetical to everything that we believe and teach as a church. 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.
No blame can be placed upon the victims. He alone is responsible for his evil actions and desires. The women that he solicited for sexual acts are not responsible for his perverse sexual desires nor do they bear any blame in these murders. These actions are the result of a sinful heart and depraved mind for which Aaron is completely responsible.
We have been in complete cooperation with law enforcement, and we pray for justice to be done. We pray for both earthly justice and divine justice.
We ask that all Christians would join us in praying for the families of the victims, the communities affected, the Long family, and the Crabapple Church family. We believe in a Holy and Righteous God who abhors evil and will judge all sin in perfect justice. We also believe that this Holy God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
We are thankful for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that offers forgiveness and new life to all who truly repent of their sins and place their faith in Christ alone for salvation. We are thankful for the grace and mercy of the Lord that gives us strength to endure in times of extreme suffering. We are also thankful for faithful friends, pastors, and partners in ministry who have covered us in prayer and have reached out with support and encouragement.
Our hearts are broken at this devastating loss of life. We will continue to grieve, mourn, and pray for the families and loved ones of the victims. Finally, we deeply regret the fear and pain Asian-Americans are experiencing as a result of Aaron’s inexcusable actions.-Crabapple First Baptist Church statement