Plug-in: Debates about race, religion follow shooting of eight, Including six Asian women

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Was race a motive in Tuesday’s killings of eight people — including six Asian women — at three Atlanta-area massage parlors?

Was religion?

These are among the questions after the arrest of a White suspect with ties to a Southern Baptist church.

Despite police downplaying the role of race, the shootings have stirred national fear amid “reported record numbers of hate crimes and incidents of harassment” against Asian Americans, note the Los Angeles’ Times’ Jaweed Kaleem and Richard Read.

The first details concerning 21-year-old suspect Robert Aaron Long’s faith background were vague, with the Daily Beast indicating that “he was big into religion.”

But then Washington Post religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey interviewed his youth pastor:

As a teenager, Long would stack chairs and clean floors at Crabapple First Baptist Church in Milton, Ga., said Brett Cottrell, who led the youth ministry at Crabapple from 2008 to 2017. Long’s father was considered an important lay leader in the church, Cottrell said, and they would attend morning and evening activities on Sundays, as well as meetings on Wednesday evenings and mission trips.

“There’s nothing that I’m aware of at Crabapple that would give approval to this,” Cottrell said in an interview, referring to the shootings. “I’m assuming it’s as shocking and numbing to them as it has been to me.”

Today, a front-page story by a team of New York Times reporters, including religion writer Ruth Graham, focuses on Long’s battle against a “self-described sex addiction”:

Months before Robert Aaron Long was charged with carrying out a bloody rampage at three massage parlors that horrified the nation and stoked a furious outcry over anti-Asian violence, the 21-year-old suspect who had grown up in a conservative Baptist church appeared fixated on guilt and lust.

As investigators on Thursday pieced together whether and how racism and sexism might have motivated Tuesday’s attacks, people who knew Mr. Long offered new details about a dangerous collision of sexual loathing and what a former roommate described as “religious mania” that marked his life in the years before the shooting spree.

Mr. Long, whose church strictly prohibited sex outside of marriage, was distraught by his failed attempts to curb his sexual urges, said Tyler Bayless, a former roommate who lived with Mr. Long at a halfway house near Atlanta for about five months beginning in August 2019.

In the past, I’ve asked: Do we really need to know what makes a mass murderer tick? (Click the link if interested in that subject. The answer is not simple.)

Want to know more about those who died? The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Alexis Stevens, Joshua Sharpe and Shaddi Abusaid turn to the victims’ families.

Power Up: The Week’s Best Reads

1. Jennifer Lyell wanted to stop her abuser by telling her story. Instead, her life fell apart: Anybody else tired of seeing Religion News Service national reporter Bob Smietana’s name in this weekly column?

If he’d just stop writing such important, thought-provoking stories — such as this latest one on a Christian survivor of sexual abuse — I’d stop mentioning him so much.

I wasn’t planning to comment on the article below beyond what’s in the article and won’t be engaging beyond this thread, but I must thank a few people. First, @bobsmietana for thorough, professional work while navigating my specific media-related PTSD.

— Jennifer Lyell (@jenlyell) March 18, 2021

2. Faith leaders’ year of pandemic: grief, solace, resilience: The Associated Press global religion team has produced a number of excellent roundups/photo packages during the pandemic.

This is another fine example, written by Luis Andres Henao, David Crary and Mariam Fam and featuring stirring photography by Jessie Wardarski, David J. Phillip, Emily Leshner and John Minchillo.

CONTINUE READING: “Race, Religion Draw Focus After Killings Of Eight, Including Six Asian Women,” by Bobby Ross, Jr., in Religion Unplugged.

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