Church Leaders React to Spa Shootings with Outrage, Introspection

A mass shooting perpetrated by Robert Aaron Long in Atlanta, Georgia, Tuesday has caused national outrage and has intensified already fraught conversations within evangelicalism about race and sexuality.

“Mercy,” tweeted Duke Kwon, lead pastor of Grace Meridian Hill in Washington D.C., “8 shot dead in metro Atlanta, most or all victims of Asian descent. Keep in mind, whether or not this incident proves to be a racially motivated hate crime, it’s gutting news for an Asian American community already reeling from the recent rise in violent racist attacks.” Later, Kwon tweeted,

The 21-year-old gunman killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent. Robert Aaron Long, who was a professing Christian and highly active in his church as a teen, claims to have committed the murders because of a sexual addiction.

Sheila Gregoire, a Christian author who has voiced extensive concerns about the way evangelicalism portrays sexuality, stated, “It’s time for the evangelical church to realize that the way we talk about sex and lust and porn poses a danger to women, as the Atlanta shooting all too horrifically showed us—and 8 people, including 7 women, died for it.”

Robert Aaron Long’s Shooting Spree
On March 16 around 5 p.m., Atlanta-area police responded to reports of attacks on several spas, one northwest of Atlanta in Acworth and two in Atlanta itself. The shootings took place at three businesses: Young’s Asian Massage, Gold Spa, and Aromatherapy Spa. According to police, Long had been a patron of the latter two businesses. One person was injured in addition to the eight people who were killed.

Authorities arrested Long hours later in Crisp County, Georgia, which is south of Atlanta in the central part of the state. They said he was heading Florida to carry out more attacks against “some type of porn industry.” Long, who has taken responsibility for the shootings, has been charged with eight counts of murder and one count of aggravated assault. He is being held without bond.

Even though the majority of his victims are of Asian descent, Long has claimed that he was not motivated by race but rather by his struggle with sexual temptations. According to Capt. Jay Baker with the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, “[Long] apparently has an issue, what he considers a sex addiction, and sees these locations as something that allows him to go to these places, and it’s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate.” Long’s temptations were reportedly so acute that he considered committing suicide, but instead he decided to attack the spa workers in order to “help” people with struggles similar to his. Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms emphasized the importance of not blaming victims and said the spas were legally operating businesses as far as Atlanta authorities know.