Add the ex-Pentecostal piece to the puzzle

ExPentecostalsNews accounts about the shooter who killed four people at a Christian missionary center and church in Colorado have been quoting anti-Christian rants he posted on the Web. Using the name "nghtmrchld26," Murray spilled out increasingly disturbing diatribes on a forum where former Pentecostals discuss any number of issues. I was reading the forums, particularly those where Murray posted, and noticed this comment from one of the folks on the site:

We are not an anti-Christian Website! Ok, I just saw a reporter say that nghtmrchld26's statements were posted on an antichristian website. He was probably posting on other forums, too, but just in case it was this website that the reporter was referring to, I want to stress that we are not an anti-Christian website.

We are the Association of Former Pentecostals. Some of our members left Christianity altogether to become Atheists, agnostics, pagans, and Satanists, but quite a few of us are still Christians. We only left the Pentecostal branch of Christianity. This website is neither Christian nor anti-christian. It is simply a support group.

A simple survey of the site makes this claim abundantly obvious. The group is diverse, and members' only shared bond is that they are all formerly Pentecostal (with many former Charismatics as well). Even those folks whose notes I read who left Christianity are not anti-Christian so much as not Christian. Anyway, it appears that investigating the site isn't what many reporters have been doing, such as in this case found in USA Today:

News reports by KUSA-TV in Denver said Murray is believed to have posted anti-Christian statements on a website for former evangelical Christians, the last one sent in the hours between the two attacks.

I don't know if KUSA-TV or USA Today is to blame for the error, but someone needs to explain to them the difference between an evangelical and a Pentecostal. Also tell the Associated Press:

Murray is believed to have posted messages on a Web site for people who have left evangelical religious groups.

UPI also got it wrong:

Matthew Murray, 24, posted the manifesto Sunday, putting it on a Web site for people who have abandoned organized churches . . .

Um, no. The site was not for people who abandoned organized churches but for people who left Pentecostalism. The thing is that Murray targeted Christians specifically. And reading his posts makes it seem possible he was targeting a certain stripe of Christians. Time's David Van Biema touched on this in an early report:

New Life and [Youth With a Mission] share similar motivating ideas and agendas. The two organizations, says Jonathan Bonk, director of the Overseas Ministry Study Center, in New Haven, Conn., are both "quintessential expressions of post-modern Christianity." In very different ways, each has been promoting the spread of a user-friendly, Charismatic brand of the faith that leaves denominations behind while focusing on the dynamic, crowd-pleasing so-called Gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as prophesying and speaking in tongues. In its own way, adds Scott Moreau, Professor of Missions and Intercultural Studies at Wheaton College in Illinois, each is "cutting-edge."

FormerPentecostalsThe participants in the ex-Pentecostal forum did reach out to him as he began becoming unhinged, though he rejected their help and rejected any insinuation he was mentally ill.

Although the Pentecostal movement is huge, it is still foreign to many Americans and reporters need to report on it carefully as this story progresses. It is also difficult to navigate where this religion-drenched story is about religion and where it's about other issues, such as mental health. To that end, I thought this Rocky Mountain News story handled it well. The reporter spoke with Richard Werner, a former roommate of the gunman at the missionary school, who said that Murray used to growl and talk to himself in strange voices in the middle of the night:

"In the beginning he was just a nice quiet normal kid," Werner said.

Then Murray began to display extreme "mood swings" -- from biting sarcasm to angering other guys in the 18-man dorm by spreading rumors of homosexual behavior in the shower and violating rules against smoking or romantic relationships during the program.

There were other troubling signs.

Murray would toss and turn in his bunk at night, growling and making slow swallowing sounds, Murray said. He also would talk to himself in the halting, high-pitched speech of "Smeagol," the Hobbit-like character in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy popular at the time.

One night Werner was awakened by Murray's chattering and complained: "Hey, Matt can you just stop that. What are you doing?

"He just turned and said, 'Dude, I'm just talking to my voices,'" Werner recalled.

Here Werner discusses some of the religious issues:

For a young man from a devoutly Christian family, Murray often seemed at war with his own faith.

Unaccustomed to routine ribbing by other teens in the program, Murray would say: "I don't like the way Christians treat me."

Werner also recalled Murray asking: "Don't you think that Christianity is the reason for a lot of the problems in the world? Like war?"

The story mentions other bizarre behavior and the decision by the missionary group to dismiss Murray from the program. Again, this story needs context about the killer's background in Pentecostalism, his embrace of ex-Pentecostal groups, his anti-Christian hate speech and his apparent mental illness. Each of these things is delicate and needs to be carefully articulated. Let's hope reporters redouble their efforts.

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