Popular Culture Driving Teen Violence, Say Christians

In the wake of the recent shootings in Colorado, which has sent shockwaves throughout the Christian community, many leaders are pointing to popular culture in an attempt to understand the driving factors behind teen violence.

Roberts Peters, president of Morality in Media, said the way violence is presented in the media today could explain some of the recent shootings by young people.

"Today, films and other media glamorize murder and revenge and present it in the most detailed, sadistic manner possible. More often than not, media also portrays religion in a negative light," said Peters in a recent statement.

On Sunday, Matthew Murray, 24, opened fire at Youth With a Mission (YWAM)'s training center, killing two young adults and injuring two others when he was turned down from spending the night at the dormitory. Later that day, he went to New Life church in Colorado Springs and opened fire with a high-powered rifle, killing two teenage girls and wounding their father. A church security guard fired at Murray, putting him down, but an autopsy performed by the El Paso County coroner ruled Murray died of a self-inflicted shot.

Authorities say Murray, who was a former student of YWAM Discipleship Training program, appeared to have acted out of revenge against Christians, according to an online message he posted Sunday.

The shootings came just a few days after a 19-year-old shot and killed nine people, including himself, and wounded five at Westroads Mall in Omaha, Neb.

Earlier in April, 23-year-old Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty members before committing suicide at Virginia Tech.

While violence in movies and on television is not a new phenomena, according to Peters, the media's portrayal of murder has drastically changed from several decades ago.

"Murder was to be presented in a way that would not inspire imitation. Brutal killings were not to be presented in detail. Revenge was not to be justified," said Peters after the Omaha shooting.

Peters attributed the mass murders to the glamorization of violence in entertainment media, which includes films, TV programs, rap lyrics and video games.

"Only in the entertainment media is the worst of human behavior depicted 'non-judgmentally' or even worse, glamorized and promoted," Peters noted. "There is a saying, 'You reap what you sow,' and the American people are reaping what the entertainment media have sowed and we have bought for more than forty years."

Colorado gunman Murray had shown possible signs of media influence years before the shootings. He posted lyrics by industrial rock band KMFDM on a website designed for people who left evangelical religious groups. At a YWAM Christmas festival in 2002, he played what his former roommate, Richard Werner, described as "bizarre" music. The two songs he played were Marilyn Manson's "Sweet Dreams (are Made of This)" and Linkin Park's "One Step Closer" which included the lyrics "Cause I'm one step closer to the edge and I'm about to break." Meanwhile, songs played during the festival had been about Christmas, God and friendship, reported CNN.

Investigators also revealed that Murray spent three to five hours a day on his computer attending a home-based computer school for the past two years.

Spiritual leaders weighing in on the issue say acts of violence are a spiritual problem and occur when society loses the value of human life as it moves further away from God.

"Since our society tries ever more to remove God from the public eye, it is more difficult for individual persons to find him, and so we have acts of violence as a direct consequence," the Rev. Andreas Hock, professor of Sacred Scripture at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, told Rocky Mountain News.

Gino Geraci, a pastor at Calvary Chapel South Denver, told the local newspaper that the media has to take responsibility for the way it reports stories like the recent shootings, noting the Omaha mall shooting last Wednesday when the gunman, Robert A. Hawkins, left a suicide note stating now he will be famous.

"We live in a culture of death, a culture of notoriety," Geraci told the Rocky Mountain News, noting that Time magazine chose to put the Columbine killers on its cover in a prominent way.

But Pastor Reginald Holmes of New Covenant Christian Church thinks the central issue is readily available guns and undetected mental illness.

Virginia Tech shooter Cho was said to be diagnosed with mental illness. The Omaha shooter was described by those who knew him as "depressed" and reportedly had a drinking problem and smoked marijuana. All three, including Murray, were described as quiet or introverted.

"We can't trivialize something so serious by saying it's a spiritual problem. The concrete issue is addressing mental illness in America in a much more serious way. This is sickness. This is sickness," he told the local newspaper.

John Davis, a psychotherapist and counselor in the Denver area, refers to these young men as "Extreme Teens" who needed early intervention.

"Identifying and helping a young man before he becomes disenfranchised and acts out is a crucial step," said Davis, author of Extreme Pursuit: Winning the Race for the Heart of Your Son. "We need to reach out to these 'Extreme Teens' now, before it is too late."

Morality in Media's Peters, however, ruled out the possibility that mental illness and problems at home, work, or school could be the primary explanation for mass murders by minors and adults, noting that they're nothing new.

"Parents, schools, religious institutions and government have all changed over the decades," he said, "but none are saying that it is OK to kill because you have been wronged or are unhappy."

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