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Violence and the Single Factor

  • Tim Laitinen Contributing Writer
  • Published Jan 15, 2013
Violence and the Single Factor

Gun violence is tormenting America.

And most of the shooters are single men.

Consider the horror in Newtown, Connecticut, when a young single man killed 27 people, including his own mother.

This past Christmas Eve day, in suburban Rochester, New York, a middle-aged single man killed two firefighters and his own sister, while seven homes burned.

Also on Christmas Eve day, but in suburban Houston, Texas, a young single man killed a police officer and a bystander after he crashed his vehicle while being chased.

Then there’s the guy who shot Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords along with 18 other people, six of whom died, in 2011. Yup, he’s single.

And the guy who burst into the Colorado movie theater last summer, killing 12 people and injuring 59 others? Single.

Scary coincidence, or ominous statistic? Does gender combined with marital status have any role to play in such tragic violence? These are questions we don’t spend much time pondering, because for the most part, being male and single comprise two relatively generic characteristics of these shooters.

Indeed, many people more quickly point to the fact that all of these guys used guns to kill their victims. It’s been the impetus behind renewed calls for more gun control legislation. But no matter what you personally think about guns and gun control, might that debate really be a smokescreen keeping us from seeing the extent to which our sin nature corrupts our society?

What pushes people to kill, regardless of what they use as a weapon? Although it makes us uncomfortable to talk about, how much responsibility do all of us in our society have when it comes to factors that precipitate events like Newtown?  

Particularly those of us who likely have more points of contact with singles in our communities?

Some Cultural Norms are Better Than Others

Yes, each of these gunmen is ultimately responsible for their decisions and actions. And mass murderers don’t have to be unmarried males. Yet as we look for answers in these shootings, and seek to prevent violence and preserve human life, are the rest of us ignoring opportunities to model Christ’s love, patience, and peace to people who may not fit our targeted social groups?

Besides their gender and marital status, most of these shooters display another similar characteristic:  social disengagement. They were either ostracized from conventional groups, developmentally disabled, intellectually brilliant yet socially inept, or, at least in the Texas tragedy, fathering children out of wedlock. Not exactly guys most church singles groups would welcome with open arms.

As believers in Christ, and churchgoers, perhaps we’re more accustomed than most people in our society to gathering together with other like-minded people on a regular basis. We have been socialized into a “Christianized” culture. And yes, at its best, America’s church culture can provide society with intangible benefits through our patterns of behaviors and expectations. When Paul admonishes us to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together” he had plenty of good reasons for doing so. And basic, everyday accountability is one of those reasons.

It would be sloppy science to run data on each of these shooters and peg their church attendance – or lack of it – to their crimes. But here’s the point:  the more interconnected we are, the more we tend to value our fellow humanity. Even if we’d like to throttle some of them by the neck sometimes, we’d never consider murder!

Granted, church isn’t the only socialization mechanism at our disposal. But as people of faith, we understand that the power of God is available in unique ways, and for divine purposes, within our faith communities. And we’re also held to a higher standard for helping others in our fellowship get involved in serving God.

For example, even though cliques thrive in many churches, we’re supposed to act lovingly towards everyone who seeks our fellowship.  At times, of course, this “love” may take the form of wise confrontation, such as when somebody is disruptively interacting with others. Knowing the difference between genuine awkwardness and intentional abuse within one’s fellowship is key to helping everyone integrate well and participate in the church’s mission.

And, speaking of sloppy science, a cursory review of the backgrounds of these shooters paints what appears to be a mixed bag of awkwardness and abuse. Clearly, the willingness and determination to kill another human being involves a pathology most of us are ill-equipped to adequately address on our own. But it’s not as though every unmarried guy who doesn’t fit well into our groups is going to end up murdering first graders or first responders. Most misfits simply need honest friends.

Reaching Beyond Ourselves

After all, doesn’t our faith involve serving as Christ’s hands and feet to not only those we can easily befriend, but also people who require extra work on our part? Look, we spend most of our time in church discussing ways we can improve every other aspect of our faith walk. But do we spend enough time contemplating the social unpleasantries for which Christ’s Gospel also holds hope?

Might the violence shattering our national consciousness be some degree of proof that we’re not?  

Does Christ expect us to cloister ourselves in our churches and Bible studies, while we expect gun legislation, more police officers, and less violent Hollywood movies to sufficiently address the evil in our world? Yes, Christ ministered to the marginalized and demon-possessed of His earthly ministry in ways that smack us Westerners today as being too bizarre for our competencies. Yet the Gospel that broke chains binding those people in Bible times is the same Gospel that can break evil’s chains today. We say we believe it when somebody professes faith in Christ, but maybe it’s just easier to believe it when it’s people like us coming into God’s Kingdom.

Meanwhile, all those weirdos out there are somebody else’s problem.

But should they be?

We’ve learned quite a bit about the guys who’ve perpetrated this violence across our country, and generally, they’re guys “normal” people didn’t try very hard to befriend. One reason is that, yes, these guys are hard to befriend, and in our society today, we aren’t used to investing long and hard in relationships that likely won’t benefit us in a reciprocal fashion.

But if we’re heirs of the Hope of the world, shouldn’t we – of all people – be the most willing to at least make honest attempts at befriending those in our midst who aren’t easy to befriend?

Maybe it all sounds too corny to you, thinking that being a friend to somebody in church, or at work, or the gym, or in a college class of yours, could make any impact on the tide of violence washing over our country. But if our national dialog on the subject is going to dwell on institutionalized responses, where’s the one-on-one intervention going to come from? Where will displays of humanity, friendship, and the grace of Christ come from?

You’ll probably never encounter anybody as unstable as a crazed killer. But to whom might you owe that probability? To God, of course, but maybe also somebody who took the time to befriend somebody they thought was a social misfit.

And fit him into their life in such a way that Christ’s love proved irresistible.

From his smorgasboard of church experience, ranging from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Presbyterian Church in America, Tim Laitinen brings a range of observations to his perspective on how we Americans worship, fellowship, and minister among our communities of faith. As a one-time employee of a Bible church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas and a former volunteer director of the contemporary Christian music ministry at New York City's legendary Calvary Baptist, he's seen our church culture from the inside out. You can read about his unique viewpoints at

Publication date: January 15, 2013