ATLANTA (BP)–Thirteen crosses among an avalanche of stark images, compelling testimonies and strongly worded resolutions stirred Southern Baptists to focus on the same gripping the consciousness of millions of Americans in the wake of the question Littleton, Colo., tragedy.
Why do children shoot each other? And what can be done to stop it?
Recent tragedies of teens killing teens brought thousands to their knees, tears running down their faces at a concert in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park prior to the June 15-16 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in the Georgia Dome.
Fourteen-year-old blue-jean-clad Mike Scott carried a cross nearly twice his size to stand with 12 other persons bearing crosses representing those slain April 20 at Columbine High School.
The cross bore the name of his sister, 17-year-old Rachel Joy Scott, who was gunned down April 20 by two of her classmates, who also killed 11 other students and a teacher.
The images of Littleton — as strong as any created by the horrors of Vietnam — will not be forgotten by this generation, said Jerry Drace, president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists, told the concert-goers.
“Your generation will not forget Columbine,” Drace predicted, calling those who died the only teenaged Christian martyrs in America. “What happened was not only a tragedy, but also a triumph. Children never die in vain.”
Rachel’s father, Darrell, and her16-year old brother, Mike, also took to the stage, and again at a Sunday morning worship service in the park, to describe the changes in their lives brought about by Rachel’s death, and their deepening faith in its wake. Darrell Scott said his daughter’s obedience to the Lord might be the beginning of change in America.
“We are going to see a revolution take place,” Scott said. “We are going to see a reversal this summer … and see God invade our schools this fall.”
In another unforgettable moment, Brad and Misty Bernall, parents of Cassie Bernall, appeared in the Tuesday night report of the North American Mission Board to the Southern Baptist Convention. After a gripping montage of video and photos depicting their daughter’s unwavering faith in Christ, they stood quietly while more than 7,000 messengers took well over a minute to cease their applause.
Seventeen-year-old Cassie Bernall became one of the most widely known victims of the shooting in Littleton because of her commitment to God. “Yes, I believe in God,” she told the gunman who then taunted, “Why?” before shooting her.
NAMB President Robert E. “Bob” Reccord introduced the Bernalls and asked them how they managed to make their own home a lighthouse, even in tragedy.
“We have scores of kids coming in and out all the time. We know the people in our neighborhood,” Bernall said. “I think that through all of this they know that we have something real and valuable.”
The Bernalls and Scotts’ testimonies and presence underscored a somber theme during the SBC gathering in Atlanta of how to deal with today’s violent world.
Fred Lowery, pastor of First Baptist Church, Bossier City, La., suggested in his Pastors’ Conference message that Americans are seeing youth violence as symptomatic of a deeper problem.
“CNN/USA did a poll and found that 79 percent of America sees Littleton not as an isolated incident, but a sign something is terribly wrong in America,” Lowery said.
Christians might have a difficult time reducing youth violence through governmental processes, he acknowledged. “We may not be able to change what happens in the statehouses or the courthouses or the schoolhouses, but we can do something about our own house,” he declared.
Another Pastors’ Conference speaker said more studies on youth violence would solve nothing.
“I don’t think the answer to violence is more studies of criminologists and more studies of sociologists,” said Mark Corts, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, N.C. “I believe parents are going to have to have revival. I believe churches are going to have to have revival.”
Jay Strack, an evangelist from Orlando, Fla., warned conferees about the impact of violence on today’s culture. “Do you know that more metal detectors are sold to public schools than are sold to airports, courthouses, jails, and prisons?” Strack asked. “We are living in critical, dangerous, perilous times.”
Later, in a June 16 sermon at the convention, Strack said churches don’t reach out to teenagers because “we don’t like the way they look, we don’t like the way they dress, we don’t like the music they listen to.” As a result, “It appears we don’t care.”
Urging messengers to return to their churches with determination, Strack said the church must focus on America’s teenagers. “We have to quit playing church and playing games and making people in our churches happy.”
Several resolutions passed by the messengers to the annual meeting related to issues of schools and violence. They were:
— #3, On School Violence: “We call on all Christians to pray for an end to violence in our schools and work toward a return to Christian values within our educational system.”
— #9, On Youth and Violence in the Media, the notation: “We encourage the enactment of legislation to combat youth violence, to protect children and youth from violent crime in the publish schools … .”
— #13, On Christian Influence in Public Schools, an affirmation of public school personnel, including classroom teachers, administrators and support staff — and a commitment to support and pray for them.
In the wake of Littleton, while millions seeks answers, Southern Baptists may have found not only a way to corporately express their own grief but to encourage others to focus, amid the crisis, on the power of their faith.
“I’m praying that God would show me the way to be cool with my parents and to celebrate God,” said 15-year-old Kady Steele, from Roswell, Ga. Steele, who attends Roswell United Methodist Church, attended the concert in the park June 12.
Brandon Camp, a 17-year-old student from East Paulding High School in Atlanta and a member of New Canaan Baptist Church in Dallas, Ga., said he was “amazed to see the band talk about Jesus the way they did” during the pre-SBC concert where the 13 Columbine crosses were displayed.
Camp also expressed surprise at the Scott’s family visit.
“They came all the way out here from Colorado because they want to see people get saved,” Camp said. “How awesome.”
James Dotson, Keith Hinson, Don Hinkle & Tony Imms contributed to this article.