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Following WDBJ-TV Journalists Killings, Russell Moore Joins Debate on Whether Christians Should Watch Murders on Social Media

( [email protected] ) Aug 27, 2015 12:45 PM EDT
Russell Moore has shared his thoughts on whether Christians should watch murders on social media after a gunman recorded himself carrying out the killings of a WDBJ TV reporter and cameraman before posting the shocking footage on Twitter and Facebook.
WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward were gunned down by their former colleague, 41-year-old Vester Flanagan, on Wednesday. YouTube

Russell Moore has shared his thoughts on whether Christians should watch murders on social media after a gunman recorded himself carrying out the killings of a WDBJ TV reporter and cameraman before posting the shocking footage on Twitter and Facebook.

In an op-ed published on his website, Moore, who is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said he is "ashamed" to admit he viewed footage of the murders of Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward when it was first published online by the shooter, Vester Lee Flanagan II, on Wednesday.

"It wasn't until much later that I learned that what I had seen was a cold-blooded murder, streaming across my Twitter feed," Moore writes.

In light of the shooting, Moore acknowledges that there is much debate right now as to whether news sources should show the video, or whether people should watch it on their social media feeds.

"Many respected voices are calling this the equivalent of a 'snuff film,' the sort of twisted video that feeds into morbidity and bloodlust. The killer himself recorded the bloodshed on his phone and immediately posted their deaths onto social media, where thousands, and perhaps millions of people, could watch it again and again," Moore writes.

He emphasizes that he strongly believes Christians should not "hide from the reality of evil," such as footage of 9/11 and the Planned Parenthood sting videos.

"We should see the images before us, if we as citizens are to know the depth of injustice with which we are called to address militarily. The Planned Parenthood undercover videos are awful, but I have encouraged people to view them, precisely because our consciences must be made aware of this injustice toward the most vulnerable among us."

However, the Adopted for Life author contends that he does not believe Christians should watch or post the WDBJ shooting video, and media outlets should also refrain from running it.

"We have no lack of consensus in our society that the gunning down of innocent people is morally wrong," he writes. "To be fair, we do have legitimate debate about what to do about gun violence but not about the morality of the violence itself.  The conscience of society is already awakened to the horror of such evil."

While Flanagan died Wednesday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Moore argues that in watching the footage, we risk feeding the lingering "wicked desires" of the murderer himself.

"He chose, after all, to carry out this atrocity on what he knew would be a live television feed. He wanted not only to kill these innocents but also to broadcast their deaths. Perhaps he wanted the notoriety of killing. Perhaps he wanted to humiliate them with the recording of their deaths at his hands. We shouldn't enable this murderer his wishes. He wanted not only to murder their physical lives but to murder their digital images as well."

Christians, on the other hand, should have "very sensitive consciences" to this kind of brutality, Moore argues, as such a videotaped massacre "can easily be a kind of pornography, turning human beings-made in the image of God-into spectacles, all while giving the illusion of a safe distance between their suffering and the audience."

He also reminds believers that in today's culture, there exists a "very fine line" between news and entertainment.

"The last thing we should ever be entertained by is the taking of human life. That's why our early Christian ancestors refused to go to the gladiatorial games," he writes. "This killer's video isn't exposing darkness. It is celebrating darkness. He put forward a kind of pornography of violence, and from that we must turn away."

Meanwhile, grieving employees at the Virginia new station have also asked the public not to spread the video out of respect for those tragically killed.

"Our #WDBJ crew was literally ambushed this morning," wrote Chief Meteorologist Brent Watts on Twitter. "Please DO NOT share, or post the video."

He later tweeted, "[H]ave some respect and decency. These are our friends and family."