It might have been a wonderful story. Well, not a “wonderful” story. It’s a horrible story, actually. But part of the story would have been very appealing to a certain constituency: when one of the teenage killers at Columbine High School held a gun to the head of Cassie Bernall and asked her if she believed in God, she courageously said “yes”. Then he blew her away.
Oh wait. What do you mean “might have been a wonderful story”? Didn’t it happen?
The Christian community in the U.S. has seized upon this incident. It has a lot of appealing elements for them. First of all, Cassie was a young, attractive teenage girl. She had gone through a rebellious stage, including, allegedly, some dabbling in witchcraft, but her parents had straightened her out by sending her to a strict “program” at West Bowles Community Church. She wore a “What would Jesus do” bracelet. She carried a bible to school every day and was reading it at the moment the carnage began. She confessed her faith in words loud enough to be heard by her cowering classmates, though she knew it might mean her life.
So the story seems to provide a little of everything. Cassie was courageous because she confessed her sin. When she had rebelled, her parents no-nonsense, “tough love” measures worked. She carried a bible to school, where, of course, thanks to the godless liberals and feminists, prayer and bible study is no longer permitted. She was murdered by two young boys who were heavily immersed in video games, violent Hollywood movies, and rock’n’roll. Most importantly, she was murdered because she was a Christian. Because America turned it’s back on God when it banned prayer in school.
The latest fad among the ultra-right in the U.S. is to assert that they are now a persecuted minority. In a perverse way, this is the rationale they now use to assert their traditional privileged status in society. They claim that they are the only religion not allowed to have prayers in school (ignoring, with twisted logic, the fact that no other religion ever had a large enough constituency to even attempt to assert such a right in the first place, and ignoring the fact no other religion is or ever was allowed to lead classes or assemblies in prayer at any time).
It’s a story that plays into the social and political attitudes and platitudes of the Christian right.
The trouble is, the story is not exactly true. Well, it’s not true at all, essentially.
The report originated with one of the boys who was in the library, and who survived the assault. He was the brother of Rachel Scott who was killed outside of the school. He told the police that he heard the conversation and recognized Cassie’s voice.
The police later tried to verify the story. They took Mr. Scott through the library, as part of the process of meticulously reconstructing the sequence of events at Columbine. When Mr. Scott showed them where Cassie had been during the exchange, the police knew that the voice did not come from Cassie Bernall. Cassie’s body had been found in a different location. In fact, Cassie had been hiding under a table with Emily Wyant, quite some distance away from all of the other students. This is information that is not difficult to confirm.
This much is true. The gunman—most likely Dylan Klebold—asked a girl if she believed in God. The girl was not Cassie Bernall but Valeen Schnurr. Valeen did indeed answer yes, courageously, yes. But the gunman did not shoot her. In fact, he allowed Valeen, who was seriously wounded, to crawl away, without further harm.
What does it mean?
What does it mean?
The Christian community has adopted Cassie Bernall as a symbol of all that is forthright and courageous and virtuous in America, just as they have come to see Klebold and Harris as icons of deviance, immorality, and godlessness. Every hero needs a villain. Even Valeen Schnurr says she doesn’t mind that this spurious story circulates because it might bring someone to Jesus. Meanwhile, she has come under some abuse herself by “Christians” who are upset at her for disabusing them of their congenial myth.
So, she goes along with the silent consensus here among people who should know better: a little lie can be excused if it furthers the greater good.
I have trouble with this. So some minister is going to tell the story of Cassie Bernall at an evangelical service somewhere and fifteen young people, as a result of the story, will come to the front to pledge their lives to Jesus. No harm done? Not if they find out some day that Christian leaders knowingly perpetuated a lie? No harm done when reputable scholars and writers and journalists are aware of the deceit and draw negative conclusions about the integrity and honesty of the Christian community as a result? No harm done when a Christian congressman like Asa Hutchinson stands up in Congress and argues for a bill and some wavering delegate sits and listens and thinks, “Well, this is the guy who still goes around flogging the story of Cassie Bernall even though he should know better….”
If Christianity is true, would it’s adherents willfully lie about a thing like this? If Christianity means something to its adherents– if it means anything– why does this happen, often?