When it comes to covering the Youth With A Mission shootings, journalists in the mainstream media are still searching for a template to use. What's a template? It's a pattern, an intellectual road map, a set of guiding principles for coverage based on years of experience and previous coverage (especially the coverage in major newsrooms that set the standards for other journalists across the nation).
For example: Let's say that a heavily armed conservative Christian guns down some worshippers in a congregation affiliated with the pro-gay Metropolitan Community Church after days or weeks of spewing violent, anti-gay language on the Internet. This fits the "hate crime" template.
A white racist blows up a predominantly African-American church. This fits the racism and "hate crime" template.
A Christian attacks a local mosque. Hate crime. A Muslim attacks a local synagogue. This act is transfered over to a more complex template linked to terrorism. It is not simply a hate crime.
If ex-gay activists disrupted a same-sex union in an Episcopal parish, that would be a hate crime. If gay-rights activists disrupt a Mass in a Catholic parish, that fits into a civil-rights protest template. It is not a hate crime.
In the case of the late Matthew Murray, journalists are trying to figure out the nature of the "health issues" and/or convictions that kept driving him out of conservative Christian organizations. The current Associated Press report -- click here for a version via Newsweek -- is a good way to sample what is going on. Here is a key summary passage:
A family spokesman said Murray grew up in a loving home. But other interviews and what appear to be Murray's own online ramblings portray a disturbed individual who resented his sheltered upbringing, had problems with his mother, heard voices in his head, felt rejected and abused -- and yet appeared to be searching for a place to belong.
He sought refuge in everything from an online forum for recovering Pentecostals to an occult group.
... Most information about Murray has become known in recent days through ranting Internet posts that appear to be the shooter's words. On one, a poster called Chrstnghtmr complained of not being able to "socialize normally" after being home schooled and described being an outcast who was always left out of everything.
One posting obtained by the AP was to a site called Independent Spirits, a gathering place for those affected by a strict Christian home schooling curriculum.
The assumption here is that Murray felt left out of his surrounding world in the same Denver suburbs that, well, surround Columbine High School -- where the rantings of killers clearly soaked into Murray's heart and soul. Murray had "trouble following the rules" and fought back with the weapons at hand -- like popular music, DVDs, video games and other forms of entertainment sure to offend any conservative parent.
In one post, Murray lashes out at the teachings of Bill Gothard -- a very conservative thinker whose work has, for decades, sharply divided even the most traditional of Christians. There are signs that he felt jammed into a future defined by ministry and mission work, even though his parents were highly successful in fields outside the church.
And there appear to have been other issues related to growing up.
A former YWAM staff member, Michael Werner, told the Rocky Mountain News that Murray was painfully shy and had trouble socializing after growing up sheltered. Later, he exhibited extreme mood swings, spreading rumors about homosexuality at the center and performing dark rock songs by Marilyn Manson and Linkin Park at a 2002 Christmas celebration. ...
After Murray rejected religion, he became fixated on people and groups that explore the dark side of spirituality, obsessing over the satanic lyrics of Swedish metal bands, for instance.
Murray attended events held by the Denver-based occult group Ad Astra Oasis during the last two years, but was turned down when he sought to become a member of the group. His involvement with them apparently ended in October.
This could be crucial. Note that this alternative group refused to take him in, as well. Was he already talking about violence?
Like I said, you can watch the journalists involved in this coverage searching for a road map as they try to answer the big questions: Who is to blame? Why did this happen? Is this a gun-control story? Is this a story about homeschooling vs. Hollywood? Is this a video-games story? Is this a sex, drugs and rock & roll story?
After all, a Web poster who may or may not have been Murray was throwing out some big charges that call all kinds of templates to mind. We'll end with this:
Ultimately, Murray's rage took him to the front steps of his former YWAM dormitory and New Life Church.
In an Internet post about four hours before the shootings at New Life, a poster going by "DyingChild_65" said he searched for spiritual answers. All the poster found in Christianity was "hate, abuse (sexual, physical, psychological, and emotional), hypocrisy, and lies."
The rant ended: "I'm going out to make a stand for the weak and the defenseless this is for all those young people still caught in the Nightmare of Christianity for all those people who've been abused and mistreated and taken advantage of by this evil sick religion Christian America this is YOUR Columbine."
That sounds like hate to me. The problem is that journalists want to know who to blame for that hate and, at this point, they have not made up their minds.
Thus, the search for a journalistic road map continues. It helps to remember that journalists never made up their minds about Columbine, and that says a lot.
UPDATED: Digging on through the coverage, the Rocky Mountain News offers this long report focusing on the actual content of Murray's online writings. The obvious question, for reporters, has to be whether anything that the troubled young man wrote is true.
Thus, there is this crucial section of the Rocky report:
"I remember the beatings and the fighting and yelling and insane rules and all the Bill Gothard bull---- and then trancing out," he wrote Dec. 1 under the monicker "nghtmrchld26" on a Web forum for former Pentecostal Christians. ...
"I remember how it was like every day was Mission Impossible trying to keep the rules or not get caught and just ... survive every single (expletive) day," Murray wrote.
It's hard to determine which of Murray's writings are fact or fiction.