WASHINGTON – Teary-eyed evangelical leaders spoke solemnly and sincerely Wednesday about what the Church could have done to reach out to the desperate young man who carried out the deadliest school massacre in U.S. history two days earlier.
"I share … [the] concern that the Church has not been there," said an emotional Barrett Duke, the vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, at a press conference on Wednesday.
"We have not done what we need to do to make sure that that Answer is everywhere at all times … so that those suffering the kind of pains and the mental anguish that this young man was experiencing could know that there was someone he could talk to who could point him to God and help him before he would engage in such a horrific act."
Wednesday’s gathering of evangelical leaders at the National Press Building in Washington was quickly organized by Richard Cizik, the National Association of Evangelicals’ vice president for governmental affairs, in response to Monday’s shooting rampage at Virginia Tech University, where 32 students and faculties were killed by 23-year-old gunman Cho Seung-Hui, who afterwards committed suicide.
Cho, who was released from a psychiatric hospital over a year ago with orders to continue outpatient treatment, insinuated that he was picked on and hurt by others during his life in video statements he sent to NBC between his first and second attack on campus.
"You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today," said the Cho in a cold monotone voice in the video. "But you decided to spill my blood. You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off."
The gunman sent a package containing a 23-page written statement, 28 video clips and 43 photos to the NBC headquarters in New York about an hour and 45 minutes after he first opened fire on the Virginia campus. The package arrived on Tuesday and was opened on Wednesday, two days after the massacre.
Although the video clips were released after Wednesday’s press conference, the evangelical leaders had already voiced an urgency for the church to reevaluate how it is impacting the community and reaching out to lost and angry youths such as Cho.
Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in the greater Washington, D.C., area, however, warned people not to point fingers and lay blame during this tragic time. Instead, he called for change and for people to dwell in the comfort and hope in Jesus Christ.
"What good can come out of this thing is that we begin to remember that without the power of God in our lives all of our lives can be cut short in a moment," said Jackson, "Remembering that we all need the power of God to live a fruitful life."
Geoff Tunnicliffe, the international director for the World Evangelical Alliance, also shared his reflection and vowed to pray and support victims.
He referred to Romans 5 where Apostle Paul spoke about how suffering produces perseverance, which produces character, which leads to hope.
"And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us."
"So today as a global community we stand with you," said Tunnicliffe, who leads the global network of 420 million evangelical Christians worldwide. "You are not alone … we also point you to a hope of a better tomorrow; A hope that God promises that he will bring. So we pray with you and ask God to give a deep sense of his presence, grace, and his love at this time of national tragedy.
Other evangelical leaders that were present included Janice Crouse, senior fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, the think tank of Concerned Women for America and Salvation Army officers.