The three consecutive evenings that the Focus on the Family radio broadcast is devoting to the subject of the Matthew Murray shooting rampage is shaping into a fascinating listen – and not just because it’s the first time that the parents, Ronald and Loretta Murray, are speaking publicly about their disturbed son. It’s a chance to witness in real time how a seemingly meaningless act of violence is re-interpreted as a modern-day parable that can then be pitched to a worldwide evangelical audience.
Tonight and tomorrow night, listeners of Denver’s Christian station KRKS 94.7 will hear two parts of the conversation between the Murray’s parents and David and Marie Works, whose daughters were killed December 9 when the 24-year-old shooter opened fire in a New Life Church parking lot in Colorado Springs. The previous evening, Murray shot up the Youth With a Mission facility in Arvada, killing two and wounding five.
The shooting was an particularly painful and bewildering event for evangelicals who struggle to grasp how a former member of their flock, whose parents are among some of the most devout, could perpetrate such a raw, hateful act. But if yesterday’s broadcast is any indication, conservative Christians are developing ways to portray the incident as a display of faith and martyrdom. The program featured an emotional sermon by Pastor Peter Warren that host James Dobson praised as “an example of how God uses tragic circumstances to do good.” Warren is the director and co-founder of the YWAM missionaries training center, so he had close dealings with the victims of the shooting and its aftermath.
Warren wondered “if what took place actually might have been something God allowed.” He characterized the automatic locking of a door while Murray was reloading as a divine intervention that prevented the troubled man from continuing his shooting spree upon the dozens of other youth sleeping inside. The day before Philip Crouse and Tiffany Johnson were killed, they had participated in an activity where they prayed that God use them, “no matter what it takes to bring revival” among unbelievers, Warren said.
“I’m wondering did God actually allow tiffany and Philip to be chosen for a very significant task – to save the lives of . . . the maybe forty to fifty [others] that were there. I believe that God is going to save many other lives too.”
These would be the lives of those that have been drawn to the organization because of the Murray shooting. Warren points out that YWAM membership has increased.
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“I can see Philip and Tiffany standing before Jesus right now and saying, ‘Thank you, Lord. Thank you for giving us the privilege. Thank you for choosing us!’” Warren said.
He asks if it was wrong for the survivors and church leaders to loudly proclaim to the media their forgiveness of Murray, as they did in the week following the shooting.
“Jesus did when he hung on the cross,” Warren concludes. “If there’s anything that epitomize the gospel message, this is it.”
It’s a message that reached an estimated 220 million listeners through Focus on the Family’s radio broadcast yesterday, and millions more tonight and tomorrow when the parents will forgive, praise God and reinforce the church. And suddenly Murray’s final act becomes built into the same theology that he despised. –- Jared Jacang Maher