Violence runs counter to faiths

The Oregonian, Dec. 29, 2002

After authorities charged Christian Longo with murdering his wife and three children, he told detectives that his faith taught him his family would have resurrected lives after death.

Robert Bryant killed his family and himself amid a series of troubles, including the severing of long-held religious ties.

Edward Morris, a fugitive from charges that he killed his wife and children in a Tillamook County forest, was an active church member and is thought to be driving a van that displays evangelical Christian stickers.

All three men had or have ties to religious faiths that consider the Bible to be the infallible word of God, the family to be sacred, and the husband to be a key provider.

Yet the Bible offers no justification for taking an innocent life, even if one believes the dead go to a better place, scholars and ministers say.

“Such a reading is antithetical to what the Bible said. It’s not our job to murder people. It is God’s job to decide who lives and who dies,” said Amy-Jill Levine, Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University.

Many Christians trace their belief in eternal life to Jesus’ words in John 11:26, “whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

“If I die physically, I am in a better place because God has given to me eternal life . . . but that is not for my control. I am not to take that into my hands for anyone else or for myself,” said the Rev. Bard Marshall of Bethel Baptist Church in McMinnville.

Bryant and Longo were Jehovah’s Witnesses who were shunned by their congregations. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Christian sect that differs in many ways from traditional Christianity but shares the belief with most evangelical Protestants that the Bible is the word of God.

Morris has been a member of St. Johns Wesleyan Church, part of an evangelical Protestant denomination. His wife, Renee Morris, was an active volunteer in church activities, while her husband was described by the pastor as having a “support role” at the church.

Police say Morris may be driving the family’s van, which displays a sticker for Promise Keepers, a Christian men’s movement that encourages men to claim spiritual leadership of their households.

Any kind of violence against one’s family is the opposite of the Promise Keepers credo, said Levine, who has studied the group.

“What Promise Keepers teach is for the man, as head of the household, to be fully caring and loving and attentive to his wife, in the same way that Christ is fully loving and caring and attentive to the church,” she said.

Longo, who has pleaded not guilty to murder charges, told investigators Jan. 15 “when my family died that they would be chosen to be resurrected to a new life in the future.”

Not all claims of religious motivation are genuine, said Gregg McCrary, a consultant and former FBI criminal profiler.

“Sometimes what you find with psychopaths is they feign their religious beliefs,” McCrary said. “They pretend they’re working for the greater good.”

Rodney Stark, a University of Washington professor of sociology and comparative religions, said searching for religious connections to apparently irrational acts is beside the point.

“We could just as well blame it on the fact that people can’t pump their own gas in Oregon,” Stark said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

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