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Encountering Columbine

A new book is coming out this week in the true crime genre: Columbine by Dave Cullen.  This, of course, is leading people to talk about the first big American school shooting, with even an article in Newsweek about it.

I’m part of the generation that was heavily impacted by Columbine.  I was a freshman in highschool when it happened.  I’ve read some articles written by members of my generation about it.  They all say similar things.

We were shocked into realizing we weren’t safe.
We instantly became more likely to talk to the loners.
Suddenly schools were having practice lock-downs, just in case.

Of course I experienced all of these things, but Columbine was twisted and used by my religious fundamentalist community to such an extent that even with all of the news coverage, I had some of the details of the shooting completely wrong for years.

You see, my fundamentalist protestant school (that I thankfully got out of my sophomore year) told us that the shooters were targeting the Christian students.

That’s right.  It wasn’t random.  It wasn’t the jocks or the popular kids.  It was the Christian kids.

I remember having an assembly at my school where the principal told us that the shooters asked the kids if they believed in God/Jesus.  If they said no, then the shooters would let them live.  If they said yes, then the shooters killed them.  There was even a book called She Said Yes, which was essentially required reading in my community for all highschoolers.  There is a huge amount of controversy surrounding this book now, with the people who were actually present at Columbine stating that no such exchange ever occurred.

Well, I know this now, but I didn’t know it then.  At the assembly regarding Columbine, my principal hailed the teenager who died saying yes as a martyr.  He grilled us asking us if push came to shove if we would denounce Jesus.  He showed us Bible verses showing that denouncing our Savior would permanently ban us from Heaven.  So fourteen year old me was given the choice of denouncing my Savior and living longer but going to Hell or affirming my belief and dying immediately but going to Heaven.  This, then, became my primary focus that bothered me for years until I left the faith.

While my public schoolmates simply wondered how they would survive a school shooting, I agonized wondering if when push came to shove I would denounce Jesus.  What a choice for a fourteen year old to be weighed down with.  I wasn’t told the logical thing my secular schoolmates were told repeatedly by their parents and teachers:  if a shooting is occurring, do what you need to do to stay alive.  No, no, I was told that my everlasting soul was the far more important thing.  If I was a “TRUE CHRISTIAN,” I would be willing to die.  I shouldn’t be afraid of dying, if I truly believed that I knew where I was going when I died.  This choice haunted me for years.

I quickly became accustomed to the idea that someone could come to school with a gun or a bomb and try to kill us all.  I think pretty much everyone in my generation has simply acclamated to that.  In fact, my highschool had an actual lock-down when one of our students’ parents woke up to find his son and his gun missing.  Luckily for us, he went to his ex-girlfriend’s highschool instead of mine, but we were still on lock-down for hours while the cops tried to figure out where he was.  Frankly I’m not at all surprised I have a story like that, and most people my age who I know have a similar, or worse, one.

What did haunt me for years though was this idea that everyone outside of our community hated us and wanted us dead.  The idea that we were persecuted, even to the point of being a martyr for our faith.  Was I strong enough for such a thing?  The vary thought ate at my soul.

Maybe if the story they told us about Columbine was true, I’d be less upset about it in retrospect.  I’m sure that gay teens are haunted by Matthew Shephard’s murder, and understandably so.  The thing is though, Columbine wasn’t about persecuting Christian teens at all.  It was about a couple of very angry, mentally disturbed teens taking it out on those closest to them.  The story my Christian school told me never actually happened, and that is what makes me angry.  It’s blatant mind-control techniques.  They made me terrified of going to public school, of encountering the secular world.  Frankly, the amount of balls it took me to beg to go to public school and to walk into that building when I had been told repeatedly that it was exactly like walking into a war zone was enormous.  I’m not at all surprised, given scare tactics like this, at the number of fundy-raised kids who remain fundy.

Fundy kids are being raised in fear, and fear breeds hate.  If you think that how fundies raise their kids is their business and doesn’t affect you, you are dead wrong.  For fundy groups, it’s all about an us versus them mentality, and really, that mentality is what the Columbine shooters had too.

  1. candidchatter
    August 18, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    I am sorry this happened to you. I really am. I am a Christian and a parent. I have three children. My daughter, who is soon to be 5, will walk into a Christian school tomorrow morning to begin her first year in Kindergarten. I do not teach her fear. I will not tolerate her being taught fear. I try to teach her love and acceptance and service and compassion and generosity and honesty and freedom… as Jesus taught us in the Bible. Your school was wrong and someone (an adult) should have called them on it. I’m sad for you that you left the faith. I have bad Catholic upbringing experiences that have made me very, very cautious about my kids lives and what they are learning. Please, just one thing, don’t assume all Christian kids going to Christian schools have parents like Jan whats-her-name on TBN. I am normal. My kids are normal. We do not live oppressed lives.

    Thank you for your openness in this post. That had to be a hard experience to recall and write about.

    • August 19, 2009 at 8:40 am

      I appreciate you commenting on this post, really I do. It was a tough one to write.

      I’m not against people being spiritual. I’m against people ceasing to think critically for themselves and just listening to whatever holy book or people are in their faith. It seems to me that most people don’t start out that way in a faith, but then it gradually simply becomes easier and more comfortable to sit back and stop worrying 🙂

      I will caution you about the Christian school though. I never told my parents about the content of most of our chapel services. Our principal cautioned us against it, as he said some of our parents had “questionable” spiritual conditions. He even told us to ask our parents to vote for certain candidates! What I’m trying to get at is, lots of times kids won’t tell their parents what is going on at school. This is true of any school, public or private, religious or secular. Please be on the alert. Pay surprise visits to the school, tell your kids they can tell you anything about what goes on without fear of retribution from you. Most importantly, if they ask to go to a different school, pay really close attention to the request. I had to beg for an entire year to finally be released from that principal’s grasp. I wish my parents had been more attentive and inquisitive into the situation.

      • candidchatter
        August 23, 2009 at 2:33 pm

        Thank you for the advice. It means a lot to me. It was hard enough to trust a stranger (her teacher) to teach her. I will be on alert and hopefully will never let down my guard. I appreciate your thoughts on this.

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