Asian American pastor’s Sunday sermon to issue call for prayers and action after Atlanta shooting

People bring flowers to the memorial site set up outside of The Gold Spa on March 19, 2021, in Atlanta, Georgia. Mourners have gathered to pay their respects after suspect Robert Aaron Long, 21, attacked three spas killing eight people, six of whom were Asian and two of whom were white. | Megan Varner/Getty Images

The pastor of a Korean church in the Atlanta area said he plans to tell his congregation “it’s time for us to act” when he delivers his sermon on the first Sunday after a 21-year-old man, Robert Aaron Long, was charged with killing eight people at three massage parlors in the vicinity of the church.

Christians should “not just pray, not just worry … it’s time for us to act,” the Rev. Byeong Han of Korean Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, told The Associated Press.

“I’m going to urge people with love and peace that we need to step up and address this issue, so that ... our next generation should not be involved in tragic ... violence,” the pastor said. “That’s what Christians need to do.”

Another Asian American pastor, the Rev. Jong Kim of Grace Korean Presbyterian Church in the Atlanta suburb of Roswell, was quoted as saying that he had spoken to other Korean pastors in the area, urging them to join the group Asian Americans Advancing Justice, to discuss issues of race and ethnicity and also help the victims' families to organize funeral services.

The group’s Atlanta chapter believes the shooting on Tuesday “happened under the trauma of increasing violence against Asian Americans nationwide, fueled by white supremacy and systemic racism.”

The 21-year-old suspect, who's now facing multiple murder charges, struggled with sexual sins he committed in these establishments, a former roommate said.

“I lived with Robert Aaron Long for a few months. I can tell you right now that this is not racially motivated killing, but the product of an emotionally disturbed young man who was religious to the point of mania and who felt deep shame about why he frequented these places,” Tyler Bayless revealed in a Facebook post Wednesday. “I wonder how this would have gone if he had been in an environment where he wasn’t repeatedly told how sinful he was for the things that drove him. What a tragic loss of life, and a kid that was all around one of the sweeter people you’d meet.”

Seven of the eight people Long killed were women, and six of them were of Asian descent. Two of the victims were white. 

Long told law enforcement that he would regularly visit two of the massage parlors he attacked, according to The Washington Post, which reported that police had identified the spas as places where sex work and possible sexual exploitation regularly occurred.

The suspect told police he saw the people who worked at the spas as “temptations” he needed to “eliminate.”

The Post reported that the Atlanta Police Department had earlier raided Gold Spa, one of the spas attacked by Long, at least seven times and arrested 10 of its workers.

Police had received complaints alleging that Aromatherapy Spa, another massage parlor attacked by Long, was into prostitution. And the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office has been investigating Youngs Asian Massage, the third spa targeted by Long, since 2019, the Post added.

Those killed by Long included 33-year-old Delaina Ashley Yaun, 54-year-old Paul Andre Michels, 44-year-old Daoyou Feng, and 49-year-old Xiaojie Tan, according to The Epoch Times.

Yaun and her husband had arranged for a babysitter for their 8-month-old daughter when they went to Young's Asian Massage on Tuesday. They were in separate rooms inside the spa when Long opened fire and killed Yaun.

Michels, who owned a security systems business after leaving the military, had been thinking about opening a spa himself, his younger brother, John Michels, was quoted as saying. “He was a good, hard-working man who would do what he could do to help people. He’d loan you money if you needed it sometimes. You never went away from his place hungry,” he added.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden indicated that the killing was an outcome of former President Trump calling COVID-19 “China virus,” a term that was first used by mainstream media, including CNN and MSNBC, whose lead anchors and medical experts called COVID-19 the "Chinese virus," "Wuhan virus," and Chinese coronavirus."

“Words have consequences. It’s the coronavirus — full stop,” Biden told community leaders in Georgia on Friday, according to The Washington Times.

Vice President Kamala Harris also appeared to attribute the shooting to hate against Asian Americans, alluding to Trump. “For the past year, we’ve had people in positions of incredible power scapegoating Asian Americans,” Harris said at Emory University in Atlanta on Friday.

She added that “people with the biggest pulpits” were “spreading this kind of hate.”

Robert Cherry, a retired Brooklyn College economist, wrote in an article for The Spectator magazine that the majority of attacks on Asians in the U.S. cannot be attributed to white Americans.

Sharing his research based on 2019 FBI statistics, where he looked at “black and white perpetrators of hate crimes as a percentage of men 18 to 44 years old in their populations,” he wrote, “The black rate was 40 percent, 76 percent and 303 percent higher than the white rate for hate crimes against the Asian/Pacific Island, Latino and LGBTQ communities respectively.”

He added, “Even more troubling, black rates for hate-crime assaults were 94 percent higher while for property destruction and vandalism, they were 14 percent lower than white rates.”

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