The young killer, Matthew Murray, was clearly a disturbed individual as we have discovered from today’s reports. His pleas for help were noticed by some. These people sought to counsel him. He also posted serious threats on the Internet between his two killing sprees this past Sunday. His warnings were anguished, despair-filled cries from a man who used the screen name: “nghtmrchld26.” Murray was a home-schooled youth who had once applied to work with Youth With a Mission, an organization known for strong training techniques and very Pentecostal theology. (I am not saying this in a pejorative way, it is a simple fact.)

On Sunday Murray posted this comment: "God, I can’t wait till I can kill you people. Feel no remorse, no sense of shame, I don’t care if I live or die in the shoot-out. All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you . . . as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world."

The Associated Press reported this evening that at least eleven posts, between the two shootings on Sunday, were put on a site run by the Association of Former Pentecostals, a non-profit group that says it was created to help people who have left Pentecostal and charismatic churches.

Another Murray post added: "It’s time for me to head out and teach these (expletive) a lesson." And then this added comment: "See you all on the other side, we’re leaving this nightmare behind to a better place."

Meanwhile Murray’s family spent Tuesday quietly, "in reflection and prayer for the families of the victims and those who were injured," said a representative for the bereaved family. Murray’s family has acted with great dignity from all we can tell. They must suffer immeasurably right now and should remain in our prayers.

Murray was actually dismissed from Youth With a Mission in 2002 for what the training center has described only as health reasons. (He would have been 18 or 19 years old at the time, a fairly typical age for YWAM workers.) Murray’s parents also donated $250 to the prayer center several years ago, New Life Senior Pastor Brady Boyd told The Associated Press. The church also discovered a visitors card indicating that Matthew Murray attended services several years ago when Ted Haggard was still the minister. But Pastor Boyd said no Murray family members were members of the church and he downplayed the connections. (I do not understand this response by Pastor Boyd since Murray chose this particular church to attack and also mentioned Ted Haggard by name!)

The online rants make passing references to New Life and founding pastor Ted Haggard, who was dismissed last year after a former male prostitute alleged a relationship with him. The online threats also appear to include whole passages lifted from a manifesto written by Eric Harris, one of the two teens who carried out the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, only thirteen miles from Murray’s hometown.

Leading up to the Sunday shootings Murray gave a post with the title: "My YWAM Horror Story." He complained about being removed from the youth mission program and added, "Why was I told that I couldn’t be a missionary because I wasn’t ‘social enough’? I was told that I was ‘an introvert. Everyone else got to go on their outreaches except for a few who lied about smoking (cigarettes). The authoritarianism and hypocrisy is outrageous."  Calm reflection on policy and practice will reveal that YWAM is very heavy on authority in training very young people. This again is a simple fact, not an attack. 

In an October 6 post Murray also wrote: "We’ll make our own religion and be our own God’s instead listening to some abusive pedophile church like what I was raised in telling us who’s ‘saved’ and who’s not. During this dark period I’ve realized this is not the way just to be a martyr. I can’t walk alone any longer and I’ll fight for the ones who can’t fight. If I lose at then least I tried. If I have to give my life you can have it." Here is the classic false-martyr cry from a deranged young man.

In regard to seeking and taking psychological help Murray wrote of his need over some period of time. He said: "I’ve already been working with counselors." He added: "It’s so funny how many people want to help you and love you and counsel you and ‘work with you through your pain’ when there’s money involved."

Sadly, Murray’s troubled soul was clearly in very deep turmoil. In a time when religion so passionately moves the feelings of impressionable and immature people, both pro and con, and in a time when violence is so profoundly rooted in our culture, a sad story like this one reveals again the dark level to which conflicted people can be taken by the power of the Evil One. But merely blaming Satan in this instance can be a convenient Christian cop-out for real reflection, at least in my view.

Without blaming YWAM at all, which has done so much good for world missions, or New Life Church, which is also a place where much good has been done, I do think it would be very healthy if Christians within these circles asked some very hard questions about how they communicate their brand of “perfectionism” and “radical Christianity,” a kind of faith that can be abused by disturbed people to resolve their inner conflicts with violence. While I can recall one incident of a killer who belonged to a mainline type congregation (The BK Strangler) it is not ordinarily Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans or Anglicans who reach this level of emotional despair and then resort to such a violent reaction in killing others in the name of God. There is, in much of this type of emotionally intensive youth training, a good deal of sexual sublimation combined with overly demanding expectations to reach a certain standard of human emotion and response. Some people are simply not able to do this easily and when they become deeply disturbed the chance for a Matthew Murray will always surface.

What I am suggesting here is an open, self-critical discussion that does not attack either motives or people. This discussion should look at sexuality, as one huge component of this tragedy. It should also look at the emotional and spiritual immaturity brought about by something less than classical orthodox theology and spiritual formation (or lack thereof) that is rooted too deeply in human desires and passions, a subject the ancient Church understood much more about than the modern. In the end this kind of discussion could only help all who are Christians to learn from such a tragedy and hopefully prevent new ones from taking place down the road. We owe this to God, each other and the world that wonders about us so deeply.